How Do You Squeeze Gardens Into Cityscapes? Think Vertical

Jan 24, 2014

In dense, concrete-locked urban areas like Seattle space for gardening is hard to come by. After all, this is a city where land is so valuable that people spend an average of $346 per square foot on their homes.

But artist and activist Joanna Lepore is trying to get people to think outside of the box. She’s asking the question: If we can build up, why can’t we garden up?

That’s the question she hopes passersby will consider when they see her recent interactive installation: a vertical garden in the heart of the Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Lepore built the garden in a wooden pallet that hangs on the side of what’s been called the Red Wall, a construction wall that encloses two city blocks being excavated for a new light rail station. A series of gutters and drip lines deliver rainwater to the herbs and edible flowers growing in the pallet.

The piece is a community art installation built in collaboration with the Seattle-based Just Garden Project and Sound Transit.

“It is a demonstration of a creative way to use urban space,” Lepore says. “I want the piece to be an inspiration that people can take home and do on a small scale.”

Lepore makes a point of using readily available, inexpensive materials that are easy to assemble and maintain. Step-by-step instructions accompany the pallet explaining how to build a vertical garden at home.

This isn’t Lepore’s first installation that challenges city-dwellers to consider squeezing gardens into dense urban environments. She has planted corn fields in the middle of the sidewalk, hung vegetable gardens near the waterfront, and even grows mushrooms out of an armchair in her living room.

Seattle’s population is expected to jump 30 percent in the next few decades. And in the Capitol Hill neighborhood alone, more than 30 construction projects have broken ground since 2011, many of them high-volume apartment complexes.

By building the vertical garden at the site of one of Seattle’s largest public transit projects, Lepore says her art will encourage people to think about how cities can grow sustainably and find ways to make urban agriculture a part of that growth.

“With urban agriculture, you’re putting something really tender in something harsh, yet it thrives,” Lepore says. “It’s a metaphor for the resilience of humanity.”

Watch an instructional video on how to build a vertical garden:

Read: Waypoints Blog's previous coverage of eco-friendly gardening.