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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Sustainable City Gardening

Air Date: Week of

It’s springtime, and gardeners everywhere are getting ready to get down and dirty in their gardens. Patti Moreno has her own urban oasis in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. The self-described Garden Girl plants all kinds of herbs, fruits and vegetables in 450 square feet of raised beds in her backyard. Moreno not only grows enough food to feed her family; she also runs a farm stand each summer from her front stoop. Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb visited Garden Girl Patti Moreno to see what she’s planning on planting.


GELLERMAN: Hopes spring eternal this time of year for gardeners sowing seeds and seasonal dreams - but it's not just rural folk who have the fun.


GELLERMAN: Far from the maddening calm of the country, in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, you’ll find an inner city oasis. On 450 square feet of raised beds behind her home, Patti Moreno plants a hopeful horn of plenty. Moreno calls herself "Garden Girl" and produces how-to videos about growing food in small urban spaces. She’s as city as you can get.


MORENO: I was born in Queens, raised in the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem, Lower Eastside, and a little bit of Brooklyn too. Growing up in a city, I had no idea what a garden was.

(Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

GELLERMAN: But Moreno learned after she transplanted to Boston. Now she grows so much food on the one-thousandth of an acre she cultivates that she sells the surplus produce from her front stoop.


GELLERMAN: Living On Earth’s Bobby Bascomb caught up with Patti Moreno as the Garden Girl was arranging rocks around her goldfish pond.

MORENO: Spring is awesome. It’s perfect climate, I think, to be outside. You know, you haven’t really messed anything up yet, in terms of your growing season yet - it’s just a very hopeful time.

BASCOMB: Patti Moreno is petite with thick curly back hair and contagious enthusiasm. She points to little green spikes, poking through last year’s dead leaves.


MORENO: This is literally wild onion. I don’t know how it got here - I never planted onion here. You know, I can eat it raw. I love eating raw foods. Let me show…let me pull some up.


MORENO: I won’t eat all of it. I’ll let most of it go back to seed so that I can keep getting it every single year, and there’s only so much edible onion that you can eat…(Laughs).

BASCOMB: Across the garden, Patti pokes hopefully under dry leaves. She’s looking for the asparagus she planted last spring, but there’s no sign of the little green shoots.

Patti grows three different varieties of cotton under grow lamps on her sun porch. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)


MORENO: Uh oh, wonder what happened. I don’t know if maybe the crowns are not deep enough or something. We’ll see…all hope is not lost yet. I’m going to monitor my plantings from last year before I call any of them sort of duds or anything.

BASCOMB: Along the side of her house is her container garden. In large clay pots, she grows everything from pears and peaches to olives and kumquats.

MORENO: Out here in the container garden, you can basically plant anything that you would plant in the ground in a container - you just have to treat certain things differently, so like fruit trees for example. Pay special attention to fertilizing your plants when you’re going to do those bigger plantings that should be really in the ground.

BASCOMB: She buys fruit tree saplings, but most of her garden gets its start right here inside her home.

MORENO: We are going to the sun porch, where I have all of my seedlings started that I’m going to bring outside.


Patti’s “seed starting factory” on her sun porch. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

BASCOMB: Wow, this is impressive Patti!

MORENO: So this is my little seed-starting factory.

BASCOMB: Tall wooden shelves line the walls and windows of her sun porch. Beneath long, rectangular grow lamps are countless round disks with little seedlings popping out of them.

MORENO: My new go-to growing medium, if you will, is cocoa fibers, which is made out of the shell of a coconut. They put them in these little pellet-sized, sort of, round disks. Add water, and then whatever seeds you want to start - you want to put two or three seeds right in the middle of these little pellets. Really, you just want to keep it in a sunny spot that’s warm. And Mother Nature is Mother Nature, and when it’s the right time and temperature for it to start germinating, it will. And then pop it in the ground!

BASCOMB: On Patti’s sun porch are familiar backyard vegetables - tomato, zucchini, and lettuce. But she’s more adventurous than most gardeners.

MORENO: I have just every herb imaginable - echinacea, lemon balm, feverfew, hyssop blue, mint, chives, parsley, sage, thyme, tons of eggplant, and pepper, and golden midget watermelon…Loofah! I’m growing loofah for the first time this year. You know the loofah sponge? It’s a gourd.

Patti Moreno starts watermelon seedling in her house and will eventually transplant them into her raised beds. (Photo: Bobby Bascomb)

And these were seeds that I got from Seed Savers Exchange, which is like a seed-saving company that’s into heritage or heirloom seeds. It’s nice to be able to put your time and effort, I think, into something that you can’t just go and buy at the corner store. These sort of smaller, more unique varieties - you can’t get!

BASCOMB: Even though she’s already growing so much, she still plans to hit the garden center. There’s always some new plant to experiment with.

MORENO: This year I’m just like: if I want to grow it, I’m going to do it. I’m taking advantage, I don’t care - I’ll build another raised bed or move a bed or, I don’t know, do something. And then, maybe someday, I’ll get a greenhouse (Laughs). Someday I’ll get a greenhouse and I’ll be able to just grow all year and the seasons won’t matter anymore (Laughs). I can have whatever I want, whenever I want.

BASCOMB: Patti Moreno sent me home with some seedlings. I’ll be out in my yard this weekend to plant them.


BASCOMB: For Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Watch Patti’s Video on How to Start Seeds With Toilet Paper Rolls



Patti Moreno’s Website


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