Now in bloom: City Grows, Lawrenceville’s urban oasis
May 6, 2016
I’ve only ever owned one plant: a cactus, to which I assigned the name Chunk. Intended as a dorm accessory during my first year of college, Chunk was cared for to the degree you’d expect an 18-year-old to nurture a houseplant. To my surprise (and despite my neglect), the cactus persisted.
Six years later, under the false assumption that Chunk had been neglected and unable to thrive, I fought for its health. I watered the cactus more, gave it more sunlight, changed its soil often. Then, it died.
“You probably loved it too much,” says Patty Logan, owner of Upper Lawrenceville’s City Grows. “That’s what I tell everyone who says they’ve killed plants.”
Logan’s expertise comes a bit too late for me — but for city dwellers currently in pursuit of a green thumb, there’s no better starting point than an organic garden shop.
When she opened City Grows in August 2014, Logan’s intentions were clear: The shop would contain only natural products, from the plants themselves to the locally made candles, preserves, and teas she keeps in stock. “It’s all certified organic, and we recycle everything. We want to do things the right way,” she says.
Though she resides in rural Murrysville, Pennsylvania, Logan recognizes that the bulk of her customers dwell within the city. Accordingly, the shop’s green life is optimized to accommodate urban gardeners’ sizing and sunlight needs. “All of our things here can grow in these old row houses with no light,” she explains. “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 — held in-shop by Logan and the occasional guest speaker.
For reference, we 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 an unexpected change of scenery. How, exactly, does a garden like that exist amid an East Coast winter?
“You do it all indoors and under grow lights,” Logan tells us. “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 [on Butler Street],” she says. “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.”
The neighborhood’s demographic shift is recent, but rapid. In the past few years alone, 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. Upper Lawrenceville in particular has seen dramatically positive changes in very little time.
In City Grows’ earliest days, Logan recalls a scene very different from what we see now: “You know, I was down here in the Twilight Zone by myself. It seems like years. There was no one else storefront-wise who was open besides me. Then, when Mauramori [Cafe, formerly at 5202 Butler] closed, there was no one here but me. It’s so nice now that everybody’s moved into the 10th Ward again.”
As the area continues to develop, we’ve got a feeling that its resident urban oasis will be doing the same.
Photos by Tara Bennett
↓ Sold year-round, City Grows’ dried wreaths are made locally with garlic bulbs, chili peppers, and other edibles. “If you hang them in the kitchen, you can cook with them,” says Logan.