City life is vibrant. Every street bustles with life, lights, and excitement — and in New York, that vibrancy defines day-to-day life. Like most cities, however, NYC has far more buildings than trees, leaving some residents wishing for just a little more greenery to balance out the bustle in their daily lives.

Simple gardens may be the answer for these city dwellers: according to urban mindfulness professional Dr. Jonathan S. Kaplan, having or being around plants can reduce stress, improve concentration, and better a person’s psychological health. Even apartment-bound residents can benefit from a few homegrown greens; cultivating a garden from a windowsill, balcony, or rooftop takes minimal effort and can provide that pop of calm greenery that city life sometimes lacks.

 

Starting Your Garden

There are two key limiting factors in any urban garden: space and light. If you live in a relatively dark apartment with no balcony and few windows, you aren’t out of gardening options — but the choices you do have are slimmer than those someone with an open rooftop would enjoy. Before you begin picking out plants for your garden, you need to assess your home and determine how much light and space you can realistically provide for your plants. Then, choose accordingly! Here’s a quick breakdown of what you can grow in shady, partial-light, and full sun environments:

Shady or Partially-Lit: A window sill or balcony that takes in six hours of sun per day is a partially-shady environment; any place that sees less than four falls into the “shady” category. These low-light homes are perfect for herbs and greens such as arugula, some lettuces, chives, and chili peppers. Visit your local garden store for more options! Every plant will have a tag that tells you how much light it will need to thrive.

Full Sun: Unless you are uncommonly lucky, you probably won’t find a perfect full-sun growing spot in a city. Aspects of a city’s architecture — buildings, fences, cars — naturally block light that might otherwise suit a full-sun garden. However, if you are fortunate enough to have a balcony or roof that enjoys over six hours of sun every day, you can stock up on plants such as basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, or cucumbers.

 

Prepare Your Container

Whatever you do, don’t try to cram several plants into a single window box. Young plants need more space to grow than most new gardeners think; a five-gallon pot that might look like it offers enough space for two or three plants is truthfully only suitable for a single tomato plant. Be strategic in your planting! Assess the amount of space your chosen plants will need at maturity, and plan according. If you opt to cultivate window boxes, make sure that the seedlings you group together have similar light and water requirements — you don’t want to accidentally over- or under-water one plant for the sake of keeping another alive.

Once you choose your plants and settle on a type of garden — rooftop, window box, or even a single planter — you can start preparing for growth. A trip to your local garden store can provide you with the three main components your plants need to grow: pots, planting soil, and fertilizer. If you’re on a budget, keep it simple. You don’t need an expensively glazed ceramic pot; your herbs will flourish just as well in affordable black plastic.

City life is invigorating and exciting, but there’s something profoundly soothing about caring for plants amidst the hubbub. Regardless of whether you have a small apartment with a single free window or a home with an expansive yard, cultivating a garden is simple and relaxing. If you put time and effort into the soil, your plants will grow into a reward that goes far beyond simple leaves or fruit.