If I had a larger garden (and bankroll), I would hire Denton Tarver to come transform my container garden into a showpiece. Denton is a designer at ViewPoints Exterior & Garden Design in Manhattan and host of a program called Urban Gardener on Spaces TV. (In case you’re as clueless as I was, Spaces is a “channel” on YouTube that bills itself as “a younger, hipper version of HGTV.” It posts a variety of original 3-to-6 minute shows on YouTube about urban dwelling—shows like I Live With My Mom and Your Place is a Deal Breaker, and of course, Urban Gardener.)
HGTV it’s not. While the folks on HGTV have aspirational houses, we urban gardeners are usually working with much more modest spaces—a cracked sidewalk, a roof, a fire escape, a vacant lot. But that makes the resulting transformations all the more impressive. “If the space isn’t optimized, it becomes a landing pad for a cigarette,” says Denton. (Has he been checking out the concrete strip on the side of my house?) “When you fix it up, it becomes a favorite room.”
Urban Gardener is not a makeover, but instead draws inspiration from creative folks who’ve fixed up their space already. In the 16 episodes since the show launched, Denton and his crew have ferreted out a lot of cool places in New York City, including Bogota Latin Restaurant in Brooklyn, whose owner has created a mini-rainforest inside, complete with banana trees, palms, and birds of paradise. In another segment, he visits a backyard sculpture garden, where vines are coiling around a metal sculpture. In a third, he takes us to a patio garden where there was once nothing but concrete and aluminum siding, but is now an urban oasis filled with a multilevel array of colorful plants. Denton explains to those of us with untrained eyes what combinations of plants we’re looking at, what works together, and why.
Most of all, I like his enthusiasm and his philosophy. I met up with him a few weeks ago in Brooklyn and asked him what some of his own design principles are—and just why urban gardens are so important. “Nature abhors a straight line,” he says, and in the grid of New York City, the endless straight lines can be overwhelming. “That’s why so many gardens are shaped like kidney beans. When I design, I try to offer a meander. You do that, and life slows down a little. You leave the land of logic and reason and enter the world of fantasy, of non-linear ideas.”
Before I started my own garden, I might have dismissed this as high-fallutin’ designer-speak. But he’s right. Life does slow down. Brain waves shift into a calmer state. Or, as the owner of Bogota Latin Restaurant puts it, “Customers told me the other day that [having this indoor rainforest just] makes the food taste better.”