Robin Horton is the creative director of Robin Horton Design. Her blog, Urban Gardens Web, features eco-friendly garden designs that are innovative and just downright cool. We spoke to Robin and asked her to share her ideas about garden design. As we see it at UrbanFig, growing edibles is essential, but doing it in a well-designed space is the icing on the cake.
UrbanFig: Your website has wonderful garden design ideas, what do you look for in a design that makes you want to share it?
Horton: I am intrigued by things that are unique, innovative, thought-provoking even if not possible yet to produce or buy as I think they are essential for stimulating creativity and getting readers to think design. I also like things that are easy to implement and great for small spaces. Most of all, I am attracted to ideas, trends, and designs that extend and blend the boundaries between indoors and out.
UrbanFig: What advice do you have for urban farmers wanting to grow food, but in a well-designed space?
Horton: A windowsill will do it for the space-deprived. Raised beds—if you are crafty, you can get some lumber and build them yourself, or you can buy one of the many well-priced and well designed ones on the market. You can really grow food in anything in the smallest of space. You do need light, but even indoors you can add artificial light, yes? That’s what my father-in-law does in the winter.
UrbanFig: What is the first step to good garden design in your opinion?
Horton: The first step to good garden design is the same first step as in considering any design opportunity or problem: ask yourself what you want and need. What do you hope to accomplish? How do you live and how do you plan to use the space? If entertaining guests is important, then that might be a starting point, knowing that it’s one of your goals and will be an essential element of your design plan. That might mean you design a space that incorporates a conversation area, dining area or one that works for both.
UrbanFig: What resources would you suggest people use to start designing their own garden?
Horton: If you are not a DIY type, then consult with a professional who understands plant requirements, drainage, etc. The internet—and Pinterest!–is a great place to start looking for ideas and inspiration. Design blogs like Remodelista, Apartment Therapy, Dwell, Design Milk—are a great source of information and ideas–there are so many I can’t begin to mention them all! Begin looking at things you like and make note of what you like about them. You may not be able to accommodate the exact thing you see, but it will allow you to begin thinking of your needs and desires for the space.
UrbanFig: As gardening (that is, “farming”) is trending in urban areas, how do you see gardens playing a part in architecture in the future?
Horton: Oh, this is a big subject! By 2050, almost 80% of the earth’s population will live in cities and they will all need to eat. There have been and will continue to be many large scale urban agriculture plans that we will need to consider. The ideas of some forward-thinking people, such as Dickson Despommier of the Vertical Farm Project, have been criticized for being impractical or too costly. But as the world’s urban population increases, there will be less land on which to farm—we will need to come up with alternative solutions out of necessity. Indoor farming is not a new concept. We’ve been growing in greenhouses for a very long time. There are current hydroponic solutions that can work very well in urban high rise buildings, either indoors or on rooftops. Apart from the food issue, more architects and planners are exploring and using green roofs and walls, not just for their aesthetic value, but for their ecological benefits. They conserve energy by insulating and also help with storm water runoff and plants are natural air filters.
UrbanFig: What role do you see “urban farming” playing in outdoor design?
Horton: Some vertical garden walls are being used to grow edibles, some for restaurants. A courtyard of raised vegetable beds can be as colorful and “decorative” as ornamentals—you can have your beautiful garden and eat it too.
UrbanFig: What’s your favorite urban garden planter (hanging, vertical, etc.) that you’d like to share with UrbanFig readers?
Carol Carimi Acutt
Horton: Gosh, I have so many! I love many of the lighted planters like the ones from Rotoluxe as they perform dual functions as both lighting and planter. I like many modular pieces that can be arranged in patterns, and then the newer collections of soft planters like those from Bacsac or Art Terre are wonderful for urban gardens as they are lightweight. Eserro makes the Garden365 mobile garden planter that is on castors so you can chase the sun or move it easily—great for apartment dwellers.