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Best Plants for Small Urban Gardens

As the weather warms up, you might be inspired to add some greenery to your home or apartment. For those living in multi-family residences — such as our own Optima residents — that means finding the right plants to accommodate your space. Whether you want to cultivate an indoor forest or try planting outdoors, here are the best plants for small urban gardens.

Indoor Options

For indoor gardening, you should check out your light exposure before you buy any plants. Working with south-facing windows is drastically different than north-facing windows, and knowing how much light your home gets is crucial to cultivating happy plants. At Optima, our units always feature floor-to-ceiling windows – perfect for all exposures and for creating the ideal indoor growing environment.

Snake plants, bamboo plants, types of pothos and spider plants can all thrive in indirect light. For sunnier spots, try options like aloe vera, jade plants, succulents and types of cacti. Many of these plants are also low-maintenance when it comes to watering. 

Outdoor Options

Stoops, balconies, patios, decks and rooftops all have the potential to be a home for a small garden, if you can master container gardening. Year-round foliage will depend on your environment, but for seasonal summer greenery, many herbs and vegetables double as decor and a source of fresh food. Peppers, salad greens, tomatoes and green onions are easy to grow in containers or pots, as are most herbs.  

Plants are a huge part of our design process at Optima, through our vertical landscaping systems, green space and sustainability initiatives. Bringing the outdoors in can help make any space more vibrant, more joyful and more green; we hope you feel inspired to add some plants to your own urban garden this spring!

The Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

When Optima expanded to Arizona in 2000, we were enthralled by the new frontier and its unique climate. To this day, we continue to be inspired by the desert landscape — and there’s no better place to indulge that passion and find new inspiration than at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. The gardens, which are located just a short drive from Optima Biltmore Towers in Phoenix, and Optima Sonoran Village and Optima Camelview Village in Scottsdale, are also perfect activity for our residents.

The Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden
The Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is a 140-acre sprawling wonderland of flora and fauna nestled among the red rocks of the Papago Butte. Visitors can see thousands of species of towering cacti, lush trees, alluring succulents and brilliant flowers from not just Arizona, but all over the world. Overall, 50,000+ plants cover five thematic trails, and the garden is proud to care for 485 rare and endangered species among that number.

The garden was first established back in 1939, when a small but passionate group of Arizonians were compelled to act and preserve the beautiful desert environs. Among them was Swedish botanist Gustaf Starck, who rallied others to the cause with a posted sign reading “Save the Desert.” Eight decades later, Desert Botanical Garden has expanded, thanks to the generous investment and care of many. Alongside its impressive collection of plantlife, the garden also offers specialized tours, special events, seasonal exhibits, concerts, family exhibits and two places to dine: Gertrude’s restaurant and the Patio Cafe. 

The Desert Botanical Garden has reopened during COVID-19 with increased safety precautions in place. Tickets must be reserved in advance, but the garden’s limited occupancy amidst its sprawling gardenscape makes it the perfect place for socially distanced fun. Whether you’re looking to reconvene with nature or just while away the day in a beautiful setting, the Desert Botanical Garden is the perfect place to find inspiration and relaxation.

Creative Container Gardening

In cities throughout the country, container gardening is a staple in multifamily housing where space may be limited. And while at home during shelter-in-place orders, many were inspired to test out their green thumbs. We’ve always prioritized green spaces within our projects, from rooftop foliage to lush vertical landscapes, and we love to see our residents doing the same. For those looking to get creative with container gardening, here are a few ideas and inventions to help inspire:

Know Your Basics

This may seem like a no-brainer, but understanding factors like lighting, drainage and materials can drastically affect which plants thrive on a patio or terrace. You’ll also have to choose between annuals, perennials, herbs or greenery. And of course, consider your location. Plants that thrive in Arizona’s climate may not translate well into Chicago’s weather. Knowing your home’s plant hardiness zone can help you decide what to grow. 

Embrace Edible Greens

Don’t let growing your own food or herbs intimidate you; it can be done, even if you have limited space. In fact, gardening your produce in containers can actually help you control growing conditions and potential pests. Larger pots, proper drainage, and potting mix specifically designed for containers will help your efforts. For an extra growth boost, plant flowers that will attract pollinators. For more in-depth tips, the Old Farmer’s Almanac has extensive resources for all things container gardening. 

Try New Technology

It’s 2020, so gardening technology has evolved to meet your needs. If you travel often or forget to water your plants, invest in self-watering planters. If you want a show-stopping tower of plants,  The Farmstand takes container gardening to the next level, with options to grow 200+ varieties of plants with minimal user effort. Or if you want to keep track of the health of your plants from your smartphone, check out devices like the Parrot Flower Power

Whether it’s in Illinois or Arizona, our passion for bringing the outdoors inside serves to inspire and welcome. We hope it inspires our Optima community members to do the same. 

Green Space Spotlight: Optima Kierland Center

As we began construction on Optima Kierland Center, we envisioned a beautiful community that embraced the desert surroundings and welcomed residents and visitors alike with beautiful Modernist design and, of course, gorgeous green space. A multiphase development project, each building within Optima Kierland Center is connected to the others through aesthetic structure and physical pathways amidst lush gardens. More than 5.5 acres of landscaped open space create a park-like setting for both our neighbors and our residents. 

Within the building, our innovative vertical planting system features self-containing irrigation and drainage, including the vibrant and colorful planters at the edge of each floor. The system ultimately culminates into a beautiful rooftop garden, one of the many amenities throughout the building. Within the individual residences, hanging gardens and expansive, private terraces bring the outdoors in, perfectly designed to let our residents enjoy the surrounding greenery. 

As with all of our projects, we designed Optima Kierland Center to take advantage of the beauty of the surrounding environment and to integrate our design with soft, natural elements. Working in tandem with our expansive amenity spaces, our green space gives Optima Kierland Center residents endless opportunities to enjoy — and be a part of — the outdoors. With the next two towers underway and with 7180 Optima Kierland 50% sold, we eagerly await the completion of what will be a truly stunning community.

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Glencoe, IL





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