GARDEN + HOME

Tips to grow an urban garden

Andrew Macfarlane has always been an ideas man, working in advertising and now PR. It’s what he does to put butter on his toast. The inspiration for his hanging garden was a combination of titbits. He had a colleague who used to have his own homemade hydroponic system at the office. Andrew asked [him some questions about] how it worked, then moved on with his life.

A few months later he was with a friend who owned a restaurant in the Cape Quarter Lifestyle Village, Bedouin Café & Deli. She told him that sometimes she struggles to buy mint for her Labneh, which is a delicious type of cheese. In the dark recesses of his mind, a little light went on and without even thinking he blurted out:

“I’ll grow you tons of mint! I sort of know how hydroponics works.”

This was the first step in his self-taught journey on becoming an urban farmer.

Urban farmer extraordinaire, Andrew Macfarlane.

Andrew’s self-taught tips

Tip 1: Get the idea and just do

Often when an idea pops up we’re hesitant to act on it. In my case I had a rough idea of what it sort of looked like. I visited the local hardware store and came home with six metres of piping, a water pump, nine wall brackets, four spray paint cans – three weekends later it was done.

Tip 2: Be ready to fail

From killing a lot of plants to becoming a frequent, confused visitor in hardware stores, I’ve had to eat a lot of humble pie. Like any new ideas there are bound to be some kinks so you need to keep adapting. I’ve learnt more from my mistakes, for every project I’ve undertaken only half have actually worked. 

Tip 3: Experiment whenever you can

Diversifying the way you grow your plants will allow you to see which way is best. I had two seedling trays growing seeds, one hydroponically and the other a normal seedling tray. I was amazed at the difference, and it was fun.

Tip 4: You’ll need help

My wife, a ceramic artist, is always on hand to give me advice. She also provides 50% of the pots, both ground and hanging, in our backyard. We’re always trying something new in the backyard, where I’m the muscle and she’s the brains.

Tip 5: Just keep going

Often when undertaking a massive project, like the hanging hydroponic system, you need to keep the momentum going. If I’d stopped half way through this project it would have never been completed.

Tip 6: Space, always consider space

I chose to create the hydroponic system, not because it was hard but because with the limited space in our 4x4m backyard. In my system I can grow 35 plants on 2 metres of wall. Another thing to remember with space is the size of plants. Vegetables and herbs are great, olive trees are a no.  

Tip 7: You need a routine

If you’re the type of person who can’t squeeze an extra 10 minute activity into your day, I’d turn the other way right now. Even though I could put on a timer for the systems in my backyard I still need to maintain nutrient levels, watering and pest control. But I love tinkering in the garden so I make time for it.

Tip 8: Start [crop rotation] saving seeds from day one

I had beans in the system that eventually died due to bad nutrients. But before they were thrown into the Bokashi composter I took some of their beans and planted them. Now I have more nearly dead beans.

Tip 9: Start sourcing stuff for free

Recently I’ve started driving to large hardware stores and asking for old pallets. Certain pallets are not recollected from distributors and are actually given away for free, you just have to ask. Building your own planting boxes helps cut down the expenses on an expensive hobby.

Tip 10: Do it your way

There’s no reason why I painted the system gold, I just thought it would look cool. Luckily it came out the way it did. I’m pretty sure no one has ever glammed up their hydroponic system. But I tailored it to best suit our aesthetic Otherwise it would have looked like a drunken plumber’s handy work.

The yard is far from complete, as it is a constant work in progress. If you’re interested in seeing him complete more projects in the backyard, follow him on Instagram.

All photos provided were taken by Roice Nel

89 Comments

  1. Hi! Lovely website.
    My favourite nursery is Super Plants in Tokai, Cape Town! Their plants always look so lush!
    I’ve been dying to get my hands on a String Of Hearts and a Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma, that would be a dream come true!
    Take Care 🙂

    1. Hello

      I love Superplants in Tokai, they are reasonable and I love their indoor plant selection. I would love a delicious monster and a few new pots for my ferns.

      Be kind, be safe

    2. Hello from south of JHB! So happy I found an account with great content and similar interests 🙂 Tulips Nursery is my 2nd home/ larger garden i aimlessly wonder around when my flat becomes too small. I’m a fan of monsteria and looking at add any variegated leaf to the family. Or a ficus. Or a classic large palm. Or a…. you understand 🤦🏼‍♀️
      Be well!

    3. Your website is beautiful🤩! Loved reading your “self taught tip” blog post 🥬🥕- reminded me of how I recently started my herb 🌿 and veggie patch with the use of leftover 5L water bottle containers and lots of patience😅.

      One of my favorite nurseries are Plantify in CBD or good old faithful Stodels (Milnerton) 🙌🏽😁. Their space and plants are so inviting! Could spend hours in their store 😁🙌🏽! My plant wishlist has me dreaming of Chinese Money Plant, Varigated Monstera, String Of Hearts and String Of Dolphins 🐬. Trust me… my list goes on 😂🙈.

  2. My go to nursery is Plantify in Cape Town! They have the best quality plants! My plant wishlist includes; Philodendron Brasil and Neon, Chinese money plant, Parlor palm and the all time fave Monstera deliciosa! 🌵🤩🌿😍💚

  3. Hi,
    Gorgeous website and IG profile. I love your aesthetic. At the moment I’m loving Plantify and how they’ve been releasing plant content online during this pandemic.
    My plant list is endless!!
    I really love plants like the Deffenbachia, lacy Leaf Philodendron, Mother in Law’s Tongue and String of Beads

  4. Hi there!
    I love your website.
    My favourite nursery would probably be lifestyle garden centre. I know so many smaller ones which get really special stuff or is grown by the owners themselves.
    I am enthusiastic about plants and have about 16 in just my bedroom alone. I have only just started collecting plants and one which is one my wish list would be Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma, Monstera adansonii, calathea orbifolia and alocasia sliver dragon. 🌿

  5. Oooh I love this urban garden post, it’s super inspiring! I’m obsessed with indoor plants, my Instagram is a plant account and I can spend an entire day at a nursery. My favourite home nursery in Durban is called Hingham, my Jhb go-to is Life Style Center, my Cpt love is Folha. For online, it has to be Plantify! My plant wishlist is endless but right now I’ve got an Alocasia Amazonica on my mind, another Monstera Adansonii, Elephants Ear and a Ctenanthe Amagris.

      1. Found myself looking through your profile and I had to drop my name again
        My favorite nursery is still plant land in Pretoria they are so friendly and have such amazing plants. I always end up spending more time than expected there. My wishlist plant would have to be a pink princess philodendron 💕!

  6. Love this indoor garden!
    My fave nursery is Folha. I’m waiting to redo my work-from-home space and a fiddle leaf fig tree is on my wishlist!

  7. Hii its Zebeth 🌱
    My favorite nursery is mother city jungle based in Capetown . Although I love everything with leaves I have been eyeing their alocasia dragon scale and the philodendron selloum that is absolutely gorgeous! I’m so excited about your giveaway

  8. Hi!! Saw your competition on Instagram. I think my favorite would be folha Plant shop. It’s just like a little urban oasis. Was magical to visit and would be even more magical to buy something there.

  9. Beautiful and inspiring content. I’m learning to grow veggies and herbs and love the organic section at Stark Ayres, Rosebank, Cape Town. My dream is to grow an abundance of herbs and indigenous scented flowers to attract more birds, butterflies, bees and ladybirds.

  10. Hi! My favorite nursery is here in Durban, it’s called the Jungle nursery, and I just love their layout. I have too many plants I love, but I think my favourite is bougainvillea!

  11. Plants make the world go around.😍🍃🌱 Please help me feed my plant obsession and bless my Zen Den with a large Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree. I’ve already got the perfect pot for her new home.🤣❤ Its so hard to choose my favorite Nursery cause they’re all so special to my soul, but I saw the freakiest treasure at Lifestyle Nursery in Jhb.🌱🌾💕

  12. My favourite Nursery is Potted Gifts in Crowthorne, Johannesburg. Amazing variety and affordable…heaven for a person who is nuts about plants. I’d love to add a Chrysalidocarpus to my collection

  13. My favorite nursery is plant land in Pretoria and my fav wishlist plant is definitely a maranta leuconeura 🎉new plant mom and loving learning about all the babies 🌱! Xx

  14. As a new plant mom I havent yet found my favourite nursery … there is one close to home I have my eye on for now though , Hart Nursery ❤ I would really love this voucher to get some soil and pretty pots as all my plants are still in their original plastic pots and I really want to get into repotting 🙂 So far all my plants are from Plantify , Stodels and SweetstemsCPT ( online plant business ) xx

  15. Hi! I have enjoyed browsing Linksfield Nursery as it’s around the corner from me here in Joburg and is a wonderland! At the moment I am saving up for a beautiful delicious monster and can’t wait to have it right next to my couch. Love this website and giveaway. Have a wonderful day!

      1. Love your website, everything is brief but very clear and informative. I especially enjoyed your self taught tips!
        I am a young adult and I just moved in my new apartment before lockdown and my house would use some aesthetic earthly feel as I love plants, and I am a plant mom but I mostly own cactus’s in my res back in uni. I would love this opportunity, my favorite nursery would be Plantify – Urban Plantery in Cape Town.
        On my plant wish list would be Monstera, Snake plant, and Mother-in-law’s tongue.

        Thank you for this giveaway 💓

  16. We always end up at Stodels! So great for kids and a large variety. I’ve always wanted a mother’s in law’s tongue. Recently learned there are quite a few different ones in the “Sansevieria” family 🙂

  17. Hello. Thank you very much for this competition. My favourite nusery is in Durban. A guy from Zim his name is Talent, started a business of selling goodies made out of straw. He started propagating his indoor plants and that is how it all started. I know all of this, cause he use to come get coffee from the shop i use to work at, só i have been buying his stuff. He finally has a fiddle leaf in stock i am itching for one. Só i hope him and i win. You can check out his page @africanhandmadeproducts.

    P.s
    My other babies(plants) need more brothers and sisters😂

  18. Hey there!

    Competition Time💃🏽

    I was so excited when I saw this giveaway I struggled finding the post on the website so that’s why I went on the contact me tab crossing fingers it’s the correct platform.

    I am based in Johannesburg South and my go to and favourite nursery is Rainbow in Alberton! They have everything I mean every plant you can think of! From the small to biggest my only problem is when I go there I never leave with one plant like I planned cause I want to take them all! 😅

    My plant list is quite long but for now if I’m to choose I’d definitely get me a Fiddle Leaf Fig 🌱

  19. Thank you soo much for this giveaway!!!!!
    My favourite nursery is Atrium plants online store. And on my plant wishlist is a scindapsus pictus exotica

  20. Hello! My favorite nursery is a online one, Mother City Jungle. They have a beautiful variety of plants, including my favorite the 20cm Fishbowl with Philodendron Selloum in it. Lovely competition, thanks for hosting it!

  21. Hi there!
    My favourite nursery is the Cape Dutch Gardens in Noordhoek! 😍
    I am so passionate about plants and am looking to add a mostera deliciosa to my collection one day! 🌱

  22. I love gardening! My favourite nursery is Gardening Concepts in Midstream, Gauteng. A Maidenhair Fern has been on my wishlist for a while now!

  23. Hey lovely!
    I’m new to the blog and enjoying it so much already! I am also a newby to indoor plants and recently started adding indoor plants into our home. I would love to add Mother in Law’s Tongue and String of Beads into my home too. My fav nursery is Hingham in Umhalnga

  24. My favourite nursery is Blackwood’s (Assagay) but I follow The Aloe Farm on Facebook and their nursery seems to be incredible. I would LOVE to go there the next time I’m in their area. My next plant that I have on my wish list is a Fiddle leaf fig plant, because my one is not doing too well!!!

  25. I love my succulent plants. I would love to get myself a Haworthia limifolia. My favorite nursery is Floradale Nursery in East London Beacon Bay.

  26. Amazing IG profile and website! My favorite nurseries are Plantify and Afdaksrivier. 🌿I’ve only recently gotten into plants but within a week I bought 7 new plants (including golden pothos, monstera adansonii, burgundy rubber tree, fiddle leaf fig, snake plant and monstera deliciosa) and I can’t seem to stop! I would love to get an alocacia, Areca palm, yucca and a jade plant to add to my collection. 🌱

  27. New to your page and websit (loving it), looking forward to reading more about your tips and tricks on life. My favourite Nursery would be ‘Die Blomwinkeltjie/Eb’s nursery Potchefstroom, yes it’s only one place. 😊 I have many different babies from the succulent family but would like to test my green fingers with bigger house plants and first on my list would be a MONSTERA DELICIOSA.😍

  28. Thank you for a great read. I have always loved flowers and plants.
    I dream to have a piece of land where I can grow plants and flowers like dahlias and roses. Also my dream to visit the Netherlands while tulips are in bloom. I love to spend time at Cape Garden Centre and D’Ville Garden Centre.

  29. What a great read!
    I am so excited to have stumbled upon this 😀
    I am slowly expanding my own indoor jungle and consider myself a plant hobbyist. I have a beautiful collection of plants that I have been growing for the last year, and recently had a REALLY bad pest infestation – I lost at least 20 of my favorite plants (cry with me).
    I have already spent my monthly budget replacing my favorites, but that means I haven’t been able to buy myself any of my wishlist plants, like a Hoya Carnosa, Monstera Deliciosa and a Prayer Plant. Which is why this voucher would mean so much to me…
    Please help a girl out, and treat me to a plant ‘haul’ at Super Plants Tokai 🌱🙏🏼

    1. Ag no, that’s horrible 🙁 i also had to let one of mine go because of darn fungus gnats. Fingers crossed!

  30. Hi there, my favourite Nursery is Plantify and on my wishlist a large Cathalea Orbifolia and an indoor Stralizia. My hearts desire is to get a few indoor plant with large foliage.

  31. I live in Queenstown, a small town, so we don’t a nursery with a great selection but I love the Floredale Nursery in East Londkn. So many great memories with my mom on a Saturday morning walking up and down all the lovely plants and goodies they had. I now do this every other Saturday with my boys.

    I’ve been trying for years to grow a decent Burro’s tail, it’s a fiddly plant that needs a gentle touch. Been nursing mine for 2 years. Every new little leaf gives me such joy.

  32. Hi, I really love your feed and I’m also a huge plant and flower lover. My favourite nursery is St. Clements at Musgrave Durban. My plant wishlist is; The Aloe Vera, Cactus, various Mathithibala and Ivy.

  33. Love the blog! Fave nursery is Stark Ayres in Cape Town – what a wide variety! And my plant wishlist includes a juicy big palm to fill up a corner in my lounge.

  34. My favourite misery is the Tulip Garden center in Johannesburg south, it is so close to my house and it really feels like an amazing atmosphere. My first memory there was when I was meeting my mentor to talk about some issues I was having emotionally and I saw all these beautiful plants that I never seen in person because my mom hates plants… and as an artist I loved the colours, shapes and atmosphere the plants can invite into any space. Although super strange I love roses so much, daisies (My birth flower)Areac bamboo,draceana compacta, ficuses(all kinds), lillies, chamaedorea( any indoor long beautiful gentle giant), orchids(don’t I have to even go into detail)….. orchids just do it for me and aspidistra elation. The reason why I love this gentle peacemakers is because I love how calm they all are. I love painting next to them.

  35. Hey there! Competition Time how exciting? 🙋🏾‍♀️🎈I was so excited when I saw this giveaway because I felt like it’s my chance to finally get serious about this plant stuff! I am based in Johannesburg and my go to and favourite nursery isa the garden shop! I usually have lunch near by but never get to actually buying a plant (due to budget constraints) They have everything! Think of the plant of your dreams?… guess what? It’s there!😂😍
    My plant list is quite lengthy but for now if I’m to choose I’d say a Fiddle Leaf Fig.

    Gundo (@thebusinesscaseforart)

  36. As mentioned, my fav nursery is the lifestyle garden in Randpark. The little ones tend to get special treatment 😍🥺. I am highly enthusiastic about plants (I love hiking), but do not own any of my own because I don’t not own the space I share. I would however love to start in a space like my room at least 🙂 my wish list is as follows: Chinese evergreen as well as the alocasia silver dragon 🌱

  37. Okay so this is EXTREMELY WILD, but I’ve actually never owed a plant before in my life. I once had to look after my roommates for a few months as she was away, and unfortunately it died 😔 she’s never let it go and I still feel quite babe. So it’s made be super insecure about looking after anything ever again. But the lord knows just how much I absolutely adore Mother Nature. Having combed through your website, I’ve really gained all the insight and knowledge I think one would require to raise some plant babies 🥺😍🥰 my favourite, wish list consists of: philodendrons, spider plants, goldern pothos and ficuses as these are extremely elegant in a home! 🙂 now that I live with my partner I think he would aid in me successfully looking after a plant, he makes me take care of the flowers he gets me often ! ❤️🥰🎈

  38. Found myself looking through your profile and I had to drop my name again
    My favorite nursery is still plant land in Pretoria they are so friendly and have such amazing plants. I always end up spending more time than expected there. My wishlist plant would have to be a pink princess philodendron 💕

    Sorry I posted this as a comment first time round

  39. Love your Website and Content❤️. One of my favourite plant shops is Hart Nursery. My plant Wishlist is never ending but a few I would love to add is moonlight caladium, snake plant (sansevieria) and Chinese evergreen.

  40. Such a good read. I have a tiny balcony with a few plants…because plants are life!…but I’ve learned the hard way what plants like direct sunlight and which do not. I would love to include lavender and rosemary for my bee friends as well as Imphepho. The Greenhouse Nursery has some amazing plants.

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