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!