City Grows: Urban Oasis in Upper Lawrenceville
The first and only plant I’ve ever owned was a cactus by the name of Chunk. An accessory in my college dorm room, Chunk was cared for about as much as you’d expect any 18-year-old to nurture a cactus. Still, the spiny plant persisted, enduring six-plus years of my abuse. Or, at least, what I thought was abuse. One summer, I took a proactive stand for Chunk’s health. I watered the cactus more, gave it more sunlight, changed its soil often. Then, it died.
“You probably loved it too much,” Patty Logan tells me. “That’s what I tell everyone who says they’ve killed plants.”
Logan is the owner and founder of City Grows: one of Pittsburgh’s greenest hideouts. For me, her expertise comes roughly two years too late — but for those currently in pursuit of a green thumb, there’s no better starting point than an organic urban garden shop.
When she opened City Grows on Upper Lawrenceville’s 52nd block in 2014, Logan’s intentions were immediately clear. Her shop would contain exclusively natural, sustainable products — from the plants themselves to the locally made candles, preserves, and teas she keeps in stock.
“Everything in here is certified organic, and we recycle everything,” she says. “We want to do things the right way.”
Though she resides in rural Murrysville, Pa., Logan recognizes that the bulk of her customers dwell within the city. Accordingly, the shop’s green life is optimized to accommodate urban gardeners, from size to sunlight needs. “All of our things here can grow in these old row houses with no light,” she says. “Everything grows well in the shade. At the most, even under my grow lights here, I water them every three weeks to a month. At the most.”
Minimal light, minimal water, minimal effort. Suddenly, plant care in the city sounds doable. Especially when you factor in any number of City Grows’ free classes — terrarium, garden planning, seed starting, small-space gardening classes, and more — all taught by Logan and the occasional guest speaker.
To give you some background, the Lifespace crew visited City Grows for the first time last winter, when bonsais, air plants, succulents, and cacti were thriving. Given the snow on the sidewalks, Logan’s foliage-filled space was a rather unexpected change of scenery. How, exactly, does a garden like that exist in the midst of an East Coast winter?
“You do it all indoors and under grow lights,” explains Logan. “My husband and I have a greenhouse at our home. We live out in the country, so we have a lot of space. I do a lot of growing on my own, but I also have two local growers that are certified [to grow] organic also. We’re the only place you can find potted herbs in the middle of winter.”
It’s springtime now, which means that City Grows’ outdoor courtyard is flourishing. A permanent fixture at the back of the shop, the small garden boasts tomatoes, peppers, and “all kinds of seedlings.” Says Logan, “People now know to go back there and know where everything is, so they just go pick it out. We also carry all of the pots and everything they need.”
A seasoned gardener herself, Logan says that Lawrenceville was the first and only neighborhood she considered launching a business in. As it turns out, she’s a real estate veteran, and a wise one at that. A woman after our own hearts.
“I actually chose [Lawrenceville] before I even found this particular spot,” Logan says of her Butler Street space. “And that’s because there’s so much advancement in urban gardening going on in the area.
“The young folks that moved in here are really going back to the roots. They’re doing their own gardens, they’re raising chickens, they’re keeping bees. They’re doing all kinds of cool stuff.”
This shift in the neighborhood’s demographic is recent, but rapid. In the past year, Lawrenceville has welcomed a slew of new businesses and residents to its community, and continues to make local headlines for its redevelopment and real estate efforts. In particular, Upper Lawrenceville, or the 10th Ward, has seen dramatically positive changes in very little time.
In August 2014, when City Grows opened, Logan recalls a business strip all-too different than what we see now. “You know, I was down here in the Twilight Zone by myself since I got here,” she says. “It seems like years. There was no one else storefront-wise who was open besides me. And then, when Mauramori [Cafe, formerly at 5202 Butler] closed, there was no one here but me. But it’s so nice now that everybody’s moved into the 10th Ward again.”
As City Grows’ home base continues to grow and develop, we’ve got a feeling the down-to-earth urban oasis — and its lively inventory — will be doing the same.
City Grows / 5208 Butler Street, Upper Lawrenceville / 412.781.2082
↑ Sold year-round and made locally, City Grows’ dried wreaths are entirely edible, from garlic bulbs to chili peppers. “If you hang them in the kitchen, you can cook with them,” says Logan.