The Beauty Of Urban Gardens: An Interview With Robin Plaskoff Horton

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According to the National Gardening Association, 35% of all households in the US grow food either at home or in a community garden. That’s a 17% increase since 2008. Urban gardening, in particular, is rapidly growing in popularity. Over the last 5 years, there has been a 29% increase in people taking part in urban gardening.

Robin Plaskoff Horton

Urban Gardens Founder, Creative Director, and Coolspotter Robin Plaskoff Horton

It’s a beautiful thing to see the revival of gardening within our communities. Robin Plaskoff Horton has made a career of traveling the world and spotting cool trends in gardening, then showing us just how gorgeous they can be on her award-winning Urban Gardens blog.

On Urban Gardens, you’ll get to experience the full circle of gardening – all the way from the moment a seed is planted to the moment you serve the bounty of your garden to friends and family. She shares these moments through her unique design perspective, and it’s stunning.

I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her travel, design and gardening experiences. She really has lived a fascinating life and has such a beautifully cultured view on the revival of gardening and how it can lend beauty to each of our lives.

1. You’ve traveled the world and experienced different cultures your entire life. How would you say that has impacted your design perspective?

One of the things I love most about publishing the blog is the opportunity I have for spotting and showcasing the work of emerging designers.  Talented people from around the world reach out to me to share their designs and projects. The virtual world of Urban Gardens really comes alive offline and through it I have forged relationships with incredible people–artists, designers, global brands and manufacturers–that I would have otherwise never met, many of whom have developed into cherished friends. I’ve traveled the world bringing to life these virtual connections, often invited to meet people I’d known for years only via the internet, Skype, and What’s App. Three years ago I stayed gratis for a week in a Paris apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower, and have yet to meet my generous host in person.

I have been invited three times to participate in the Modenus BlogTour, a small group of bloggers and design writers that visit some of the world’s most important design events. With BlogTour I have been to the London Design Festival, and Salone del Mobile and FuoriSalone during Milan Design Week (with a 3-day side trip to Venice), and in 2 weeks will be going to another BlogTour in Frankfurt for the design trade show Ambiente. After Frankfurt, I’m taking a side trip to Berlin for a glimpse of the city’s vibrant art and design community and also to scope out local designers, shops, and anything else that catches my eye. I have found that much of what I experience abroad does not make it stateside for a long time.

2. Out of all of your travels, what was your favorite experience?

I have had so many, it’s hard to narrow this down. All of the BlogTours have been amazing opportunities for me as they’ve offered me back door entrée to people and places I might not otherwise get to experience on my own even with a press pass.

In 2013 I was invited to Barcelona and Girona, Spain to see landscape artist Marc Grañen’s Phytokinetic green roofs for buses and vehicles. Marc had reached out to me several months earlier about his project, we had a lot of synergy, and through our communications, became good friends.

I spent a week in Spain during which Marc arranged a day at green wall designer Alex Puig’s studio where he invited several designers and biodiversity experts for a small day of sharing and co-creation. Through his contacts with the City of Barcelona, Marc arranged a private visit to Jardin Terradellas (a building with a an enormous green façade) that is not open to the public.

I saw the Phytokinetic bus, met some of the people connected with the project. Mine was the first story on Phytokinetic and it went viral, picked up by numerous important blogs, newspapers, and magazines. Marc has since completed several Phytokinetic projects and has many contracts in the works. He’s been featured on TV and in publications around the world, and was even in a TV commercial.

3. Was there something in particular that got you interested in design?

I was always attracted to and interested all kinds of design before I ever knew that there were people who designed objects and communications materials for a living. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I designed posters for performances at the university which got me interested in studying graphic design. I attended Cooper Union Art School in New York then got a job working for one of my professors, Rudy de Harak. Because I spoke French (I’d been a French major and lived for a short time in Paris) deHarak recommended me to his colleague Rüedi Rüegg to work at his design consultancy in Zurich, Switzerland for a few months. This experience fueled my interest in global and cross-cultural design.

4. What drew you to writing about gardening from a design perspective?

I love cities, design, nature and travel. Gardens and landscapes are an integral part of urban design.  My years of design experience inform every product, trend and project featured on Urban Gardens.

urbangardenslogoThe success of Urban Gardens is a story about an expansion of one’s reach outside of any one given discipline. I practiced design for many years as Principal/Creative Director of Robin Horton Design.  Over the years, I began doing more writing, both creatively and for clients, and as design started migrating to new media and the Internet, I became more of a “creative catalyst,” combining my design, writing and branding abilities within the world of social media. About 15 years ago, when “green” was still considered just a color, I conceived of Urban Gardens as a print magazine, then in 2009 decided to launch it as a blog.

5. What trends do you see being hot in urban garden design this year?

My readers and followers continue to show interest in beautifully designed indoor-outdoor products and, in particular, hydroponic planters. Green/living walls and vertical gardens remain very popular. Here are the trends I see continuing for a while:

  1. Small Space Gardens
    More and more people are gravitating to city living. By 2050, the proportion of people living in cities will increase to 7 out of 10. For their small intimate spaces, people are looking for creative designs that can serve multiple purposes. These small space gardens often serve as additional living space or “outdoor rooms.” City dwellers are cultivating gardens in under-utilized and other limited spaces but available spaces like rooftops, balconies, alleys (as in Baltimore), abandoned buildings, and even in potholes!
  1. Food Gardens
    Edible gardens can be both practical and beautiful. People are increasingly interested in where there food comes from and as a result are showing more interest in growing some of their own. They are installing creative vegetable gardens adapted to their small spaces, even if that means just a countertop herb planter.
  1. Urban Farming
    Even in small spaces, people are raising chickens and bees, and in some cities, goats. Lawn reform has opened up many front yards to food gardens.
  1. Thinking Outside the Planter Box
    Repurposing materials and adapting them to new uses like turning an old wheelbarrow or suitcase into a planter, even a bra (yes!) into a vertical garden. I did a contest that showcases some great ideas. You can see those here.
  1. Gardens for the Rest of Us
    Easy to care for plants that breed success. We don’t all have to be super experienced gardeners to have gardens. Novices can plant things which are easy to grow and maintain.

6. Congratulations on all of the awards your blog has won! What an accomplishment. What is it like to run such a successful blog? What advice would you give to someone that wants to start a blog about their passion?

It’s a cliché, but it’s so true: follow your passions and write about what you love and what inspires you. Share other bloggers’ posts on your blog or social channels and open yourself to what’s out there. Don’t worry about numbers—how many followers, etc. Numbers are meaningless out of context anyway. It’s the number of engaged followers that matter and people will become engaged if you publish great stuff that interests them.

Feature image courtesy of Lisa Johns

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Chrystal Johnson

Chrystal Johnson, publisher of Happy Mothering, founder of Green Moms Media and essential oil fanatic, is a mother of two sweet girls who believes in living a simple, natural lifestyle. A former corporate marketing communication manager, Chrystal spends her time researching green and eco-friendly alternatives to improve her family's life.