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Urban gardening gains popularity

MUDDY PAWS--The Muddy PAWS limited-space urban garden at the Providence Apartments on Wall Street in northwest San Antonio is an example of urban horticulture supported by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the state’s Master Gardener association volunteers. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo.)

Managing the Muddy PAWS limited-space urban community vegetable garden at the Providence at Wall Street apartment complex in northwest San Antonio is "a lot more fun than it is work," according to Margie Noonan, a Bexar County Master Gardener.

Noonan, also a Texas AgriLife Extension Service technician-horticulture in San Antonio, coordinated with apartment management, residents and others to help build a 16-by-28-foot semi-enclosed community garden inside what previously was a trash compaction storage area.

With apartment owner and management support and funding, and Noonan, residents and the complex's landscaping company providing vegetables, materials and sweat equity, they built four 4-by-8-foot raised, handicap-accessible garden beds. These now provide tomatoes, jalapenos, cucumbers, squash, bell peppers, strawberries and other produce for apartment residents, and wall baskets and other containers mounted on the interior garden walls produce a variety of herbs.

The garden was named Muddy PAWS in reference to the residents "getting a little muddy" working in the garden, plus the PAWS acronym for the apartment complex, explained apartment leasing agent Marlene Ramirez, who initiated the project.

"It's been a great experience and a lot of fun for people of all ages in our community," she said. "It helps them understand sustainability and provides them with a new interest."

According to David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension horticulturist and Bexar County Master Gardener program coordinator, other urban gardening involvement in the county includes the Children's Vegetable Garden Program in cooperation with the San Antonio Botanical Garden and several youth "teaching" gardens in area public elementary and middle schools.

"We've also seen a growing interest in the county about container gardening, mainly from people with limited space or wanting a more controlled environment for their plants," said Bexar County Master Gardener Don Hall.

Some planter choices by Hall and other container gardeners include barrels, flower pots, window boxes, cut-off milk or bleach jugs, Styrofoam coolers, plastic storage boxes, plastic-lined baskets and large-diameter PVC pipe.

Home vegetable gardens, small-acreage gardens, various types of limited-space gardens and community gardens represent resurgent or growing trends in urban horticulture, according to AgriLife Extension horticulturist Douglas Welsh, Ph.D., co-author of the Texas Master Gardener Handbook, a statewide guide for Master Gardener volunteers developed at Texas A&M University. He said these trends are not like "the more indulgent, cocooning trend of a few years ago, but a smart and positive way to survive the economic downturn."

He also noted that with urban landscapes becoming smaller and urban density becoming greater, choosing what to do with limited outdoor space has become even more important. This, along with other factors, has contributed to the development of square-foot "modular" gardening and other types of limited-space gardening.

Welsh said an indication of the increased interest in gardening for self-sufficiency is the 200 percent to 300 percent increase in vegetable seed sales in nurseries, garden centers and feed stores throughout the state.

He said future urban gardening may continue to evolve to a point where horticulture is an integral part of people's daily lives, with composting container, rainfall-capture systems and communities of gardeners producing fruits and vegetables for distribution through neighborhood markets and centers.

In response to these and other urban horticultural trends and community needs, AgriLife Extension and Texas Master Gardener volunteers are involved in numerous urban gardening and horticultural education-outreach activities throughout the state, Welsh noted. Some urban AgriLife Extension offices and Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Centers have demonstration gardens where county residents can see how to plant and maintain a home or community garden.

Information on container vegetable gardening can be downloaded free of charge online at the AgriLife Extension Bookstore website, http://agrilifebookstore.org, and searching for publication E-545. The site also has several additional free publications on best practices related to growing fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants.

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