Starting Your Sustainable Urban Garden

Posted on Thursday, 4 March 2021 under Stories

Design your green space to be climate-friendly forward. The next time you establish a perennial or biennial garden, be sure to source plants that are adapted and suited to your regional climate. Urban gardening is your opportunity to help restore the landscape by sourcing native plants. Since these species are best suited to grow in your region, they are often the easiest to maintain.

“Native plants are adapted to our local climate and usually don’t need a lot of fertilizer. They’re typically drought tolerant once they’re established, unlike a lot of ornamental plants. Of course, they play an important role in the local ecosystem; providing food and shelter for local wildlife,” says Environmental Youth Alliance’s Philanthropy Officer, David Palmer.

Plant Hardiness Zones suggest what plants are capable of withstanding the winter months based on the coldest temperatures in your region. This scale is largely dictated by water availability but also factors such as altitude, soil aeration, and day length. Take notice of your microclimate conditions: neighbouring communities may find themselves in different zones.

“This means not falling in love at the nursery. It means doing your homework first which takes a lot of discipline,” says Metro Vancouver Landscape Architect, Karin England.

Logo for Grow Green overlaid on an image of a purple flower

Photo courtesy of Metro Vancouver/

Sustainable gardens also take into account things like water consumption, biodiversity, habitat creation, and food security. Metro Vancouver’s online gardening resource, ‘Grow Green’, developed in partnership with the UBC Botanical Garden, has been designed specifically for the region’s climatic conditions and helps urban growers plan out their green spaces with these factors in mind. “It is a resource for avid gardeners, beginners, or anyone who’s looking to get out there,” says Metro Vancouver Communications Specialist Jay Soper.

In addition to understanding your Zone characteristics, consider where you are planting. Take into account the availability of sunlight and ensure there is enough space for plants to grow. Observe how well your soil drains so you can minimize your water consumption.

There is growing evidence that the displacement of native plant communities results in the loss of native insects and birds who depend on a very limited number of plants for survival. Share on X

There can be serious harm to these insects as a result of their habitat being replaced by non-native species. “If you put yourself in the shoes of another species, you can start to build in those [sustainable] values into what you do in your residential landscape,” adds England.

Sustainable home gardening not only protects and promotes species biodiversity but also diversifies our local food landscapes. Sharlene Singh, School Gardens Program Coordinator with the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC) says growing locally bred seeds protect the resiliency and longevity of regional food systems.

“I think we forget sometimes to eat seasonally and grow locally. Home gardeners can choose open-pollinated seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation that should be able to withstand weather extremes and insect damage. So, if you’re looking to do some gardening think about seeds that could be disease resistant and drought tolerant because our climate is changing,” adds Singh.

To learn more about how your garden can help the environment, check out our Climate and Food Story series.