Small Footprint, Big Yield: Create an Easy Micro Organic Urban Garden Today!

April 28, 2009 by


There are two things urban gardeners are short on: space and time.  The Urban Garden, brainchild of Bill Arquitt, resolves both of these issues, making it efficient and simple to plant a vegetable garden with up to 55 plants in a 3-foot deep by 4-foot wide footprint.


The contained six level tiered system is nearly maintenance-free, eliminating heavy weeding, and its northwestern cedar construction renders it naturally bug repellent.

  • Very interesting variation of raised bed gardens! I haven’t seen anything like it.
    Your photos are beautiful. You have a great website here.

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  • John

    Typical shity dweller idea. Please boycott the use of NW Cedar. It is a second growth only tree. We have scant few left. It is not a farm-able tree.

  • Kathie

    what an creative idea. Perhaps a different type of wood might be better. Thanks for the idea!

  • Joe

    I don’t get it. It might be my ignorance and the page doesn’t explain, but how does raising it in a stepped fashion increase overall space? 3×4 space is 12 sq ft of plantable space. Raising it does not increase the overall footage. Is there some correlation with root depth and the boxes stacked have no bottom so plant roots go down? Setting the steps on the original bed makes that space unplantable. I don’t get it except it is esthetically pleasing.

  • aj

    I don’t get it either. How does it give you more space? How do you utilise the lower box when most of its area is covered by the other boxes?

  • TUA

    DUMB, DUMB, DUMB. More soil, more wood, slightly less growing space than a plain old one level box.

  • I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  • Ang

    Same as other comments. I looked at the picture and wondered why they tripled the amount of dirt needed. Poor design unless you were actually using deep root plants in back. Doesn’t appear to be the case. Looks nice enough, but doesn’t solve any problems.

  • This set up, properly situated, would solve a gardening problem I have. It could maximize use of limited sunlight (available from only one direction), which is often a problem in an urban area where properties are close together.

    A similar setup could be obtained with containers on risers. It would be easier to use recycled materials to construct risers.

  • Scott

    The pyramid shaped box would be useful as an herb garden. More sun for the plants facing sun side, more shade for the plants away. Better drainage up top. So it provides several different mircroclimates in the same area.

    As far as the stepped one goes. I agree with above posters. It’s purely for show. Not really any practical purpose to it.

  • All the boxes unstacked and the same amount of soil would give you 3.5 times the growing area! The same growing area in a single layer would require 1/3 less wood. Otherwise, looks cute. Shame to waste all that Northwest Cedar – the boards will rot in a few seasons, but it takes a tree a hundred years to grow to a harvestable size.

  • paulo henriques

    Are we stupid?Or too lazy to think?This is the same as a raised box garden.And it’s Patent Pending!!Come on.!

    Space saver?
    Now this is a real space saver imho
    Grow 100 pounds of potatoes in 4 square feet

  • Wasted space…an no deep room for root systems. Plus, it appears you have hollyhocks planted in the lowest “box.” As they grow, not only do they require significant water, but they will also block sunlight from the plants behind. One other note on using the NW cedar. Someone above mentioned it was “2nd-growth.” Not true. A lot of cedar is cut from old-growth forests, which are in horrible threat of being reduced and gone from our region forever. Don’t use cedar! Use your head and just plant on the damn ground using soil, compost, and steadfast determination.

  • Adelle

    Boggy Woggy: how do you suggest an urban dweller “just plant on the damn ground”? if you live on the 15th floor of an apartment building, and have a 10×10 balcony as your personal outdoor space, there isn’t a lot of “damn ground” to work from, you know? These terraced boxes present a way to plant a garden in a very tiny amount of space. a simple raised bed brings “the damn ground” onto a balcony, true…but leaves precious little room for anything else…stacking the growing spaces on top of each other this way allows same square footage into a smaller physical footprint. Think, people. This website IS called “urbangardensweb” you know? How to grow your own veggies in a city is the theme.

  • Dana Kluesner

    Thank you Adelle! Granted, I do believe using a different wood would be better as I do try to be environmental. I also live in an apartment. I am on the lower floor but planting in the ground is completely off limits for me. I have a small patio that this design would be perfect for. Thank you Urban Gardens!! I love the idea but will use a different wood.

  • joe

    The deeper boxes would be great for celery which requires 3-4 feet deep of rich loam soil to grow well. Root vegetables like carrots would also love the deeper levels. Larger plants like zucchini, tomatoes etc would likely need pruning to one or two vines but one needs to sacrifice if attempting to fit many plants in such a small space.

  • Jane Slater

    Very nice idea. I was thinking it would be good for someone who had trouble doing a lot of bending down. Also, it has a clean and attractive design for a small space — and weeds from my little yard couldn’t get in!

  • Linda K.

    Why not use the recycled plastic wood? No rot, keeps some plastic out of landfills, saves trees…

    Also, you could simple shop garage sales for planter boxes and put them on cinder blocks or other elevating materials to save one’s back.

    Overall, I liked the idea of the “stepped” garden to take advantage of solid walls or one-way sunlight.

    Very nice site!

  • Great Idea, Would be easy to plant and weed.

  • Fred

    nice idea but if you angle the face boards(top out bottom in) you will increase the surface growing area and reduce the footprint of each level, while the roots can grow into the deep soil at the back. works well for strawberries.

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  • Your idea looks very neat and efficient. Keep up the good work.

  • that is seriously something so inventive and creative, good stuff

  • daveleo

    this design makes no sense at all.
    does NOT increase planting area but uses tons more dirt and way too much wood.

    why …??? … the “benefits” given are simply wrong.

  • Who is going to carry the hundred pounds of dirt up to the 15th floor? and where is the excess water going to go? Down to the 14th floor? what happens when the wood rots and dirt goes everywhere? Is there going to be a big stain on the balcony and will I have to pay to have it removed?

  • I don’t get it, either, but am curious about what’s in the parts of the boxes we can’t see? Are they full of soil all the way back or is that just dead air? It raises things up nicely but doesn’t create or save any space. ???

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  • chia

    I think such a design would work well on my 1m x 1m balcony! (Not 5 tiers but maybe just 2!) I was told container depth was important for tomatoes, and most deep pots also tend to be wide. I have 3 large pots lining my balcony wall and there isn’t space for a second row of pots on the floor! The featured design is a lot slimmer, yet probably a good depth for my tomatoes, and I would be able to fit other sorts of veg/flowers on the lower level.

  • greggers

    all these doom and gloom people bitchin, but no real ideas to improve or replace this idea, hmmmmmmm so much for the unlimited ideas right?

  • Very cool. Thanks for this inspiration!

  • Good idea (it gives each plant more root space) once tweeked.

    1. Different material (I’d design w/recycled plastic)
    2. Each “box” just 10-12″ deep of soil – w/drainage of course).

    This would keep it light for roof, terrace, or balcony install.

  • Andrew Maxwell

    This is very strange. No increase in net growing area, many times the amount of soil required, and NW cedar? Seriously? This is about the least eco-conscious raised bed I have ever seen and it looks just terrible. Stick with recycled wood on a flat surface, people.

  • Yeah, I’m sorry I don’t get it either, all those materials and expense and wasted soil with no extra gardening space acquired. Perhaps the article could have achieved so much more if it were given a different title such as “Make this beautiful stacking herb garden”. I love the project, but the name doesn’t do it justice.

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  • rooftop gardener

    This is brilliant! (but yeah, different wood)

    For everyone complaining that this doesn’t increase the space you have to garden. . .surface area isn’t the only thing that matters with a garden! Some plants need root space. One reason container gardening sucks for some plants. This lets you plant the ones that need lots of room for roots near the top, and the ones that get by with shallower roots on the bottom (as Joe said earlier).

  • Robin Plaskoff Horton

    Thanks for this comment. Good points. This particular post has received many responses, some negative. Maybe some don’t know about the root space issue?

  • Robin Plaskoff Horton

    Oh dear, jjj…this post seems to have gotten your goat…it’s not flat because it is supposed to allow more planting area in minimal space and it is also paying attention to the root depth…

  • bob

    That won’t work. You have a watering problem. The distribution of water leaves the top level dry and the bottom soaked and standing in water. Been there, done that. No way to keep plants going at all levels at the same time w/o the lower ones getting root rot.

  • CPL

    That is the fastest way to waste space, money and time. Being gardening for twenty years, last ten I’ve been able to feed myself and my family with square foot gardening on an acre.

    It certainly looks pretty though, complete waste of time to even attempt to build.

    BTW what’s the deal with the cedar. You can use ANY cedar to keep bugs out along with beer can traps and marigolds.

  • Robin Plaskoff Horton

    Thanks for your feedback. Some readers have reacted as you have to this concept, others really love it as they don’t have the creativity, knowledge, or time to set up as space-saving garden in their limited spaces. This enables them to grow their own food, which is what the ultimate goal is.

  • Robin Plaskoff Horton

    Thanks for your comment, Bob. Some have commented as you have, others say that this is not a problem.

  • Josh

    I wonder about using some kind of mesh underneath the tiered step design, so the higher tiers could have longer root space. So the top tier could work well for carrots, or something which would sprout up tall.

  • Oh that’s really cool and easy to maintain, plus it looks really nice.

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  • Kim

    Very creative idea. It seems like it would work out great for any type of garden…flower or vegetable.

  • You will have just as much planting area by using only enough lumber to make a 3 X 4 raised bed. There will still be 12 square feet and you can still plant 55 plants. You just won’t be wasting resources and money by constructing the extra tiers. Light problems can be eliminated by placing taller plants where they will not overshadow the other plants.

  • I’ve been thinking about setting up some raised beds myself. I love, not only how useful yours look, but how beautiful they are, as well.

  • Nicole

    Thanks for all the great advice, comrades! Vivé le revolution!

  • Wayne

    Not matter how you build these things, you still have the same 12 square feet of growing area; it really doesn’t increase the growing space. Is there really any advantage?

  • Luke A

    Hi!Great site!I have one suggestion as i have read the comments and can see many points of view..But rather than be negative and pessamistic-What about taking the basic design of the raised level garden and implement it by using stringers?..You know, like a set of stairs? It would be exactly the same as stairs just leave off the stair treads and use two braced legs in the back.One could use a single piece of plywood or osb for the bottom.It would use considerably less soil.I also like the ladys suggestion to use composite “wood” made of recycled materials thus giving our fine northwest ceder a repreive.I’m gonna give it a go!Maybe i can upload a pic if it goes well.Again Excellent site and happy green living/gardening!!

  • Syl

    I am a container gardener and really like your project. Thanks for sharing as I may do some additional containers this summer, and yours would certainly fill the bill and a good way to use up scraps of lumber and accumulation of other stuff..go green…enjoy good food..

  • With the right plants, and location, you could help increase feed for hummingbirds and plant wildflowers to help feed the bees that pollenize our food products and fruit trees. For those who have limited garden spaces, raised beds are the way to go.

  • Robin, you keep calling this a space-saving design. It might look good, but it does NOT save space. Do the math. It’s primary virtue is its appearance, but its actual growing space would be greater if it only used the bottom layer. As for the deep-rooted carrots, there are short varieties (Danvers half-long, for instance) as well.

    I garden in 240 sq. ft. in raised boxes with 10 ft tall trellises. Raising them higher would not add a single square inch to the plantable area. Lowering them would take nothing except convenience away. Those trellises are what make the difference, not the height of the boxes. Thanks to those trellises, I grow >$10.00 per square foot per year in those boxes, canning or drying most of it. It sure makes a difference in my grocery bill.

    Plain old ordinary yellow pine, treated with linseed oil, will last at least ten years … that’s what my boxes are made of and they are presently in their 12th year and just now starting to get ratty-looking.

    Joe said that celery “requires 3-4 feet deep of rich loam soil to grow well”. Really? The soil horizon below the first 12″ rarely has appreciable amounts of organic material in it. See here: . I can give my plants 4′ of root depth … but that is unusual and only because I have 2′ deep boxes over 2′ deep trenches that were back-filled with baled straw 10 years ago. As the soil above subsides it is replaced with lightly forked in compost. I know of no other (sane) way of getting organic material 4′ deep. The boxes shown cannot possibly make good financial sense.

  • Robin Plaskoff Horton

    Thanks for your comment Bill and a lot of what you point out makes perfect sense. It’s great to have everyone’s point of view on these things, and I really appreciate your feedback. I like to showcase many things, some that people don’t really like for various reasons while others love those same things. I encourage the dialogue.

  • I love the look of this idea, but I used 5 gallon buckets with ollas buried in them to plant my garden this year. I have a yard, but the choke vines and the mint are so invasive that nothing lasts long in my beds before being overrun. And, everything dries out quickly in other pots, so it dies. So far, my little garden is looking good and it takes up very little space. Look at for instructions!

  • Linwood Campbell

    All the comments are very interesting. I think you can “stair-step” your raise bed if you want or just create a single layer raised bed – the idea is to do something for yourself and the environment. A good resource that one person mentioned is “square foot gardening” ( Whether your bed is on the ground or on legs to prevent bending over, all of these thoughts and ideas are moving in the right direction. one final thought – balcony gardeners could always use something plastic akin to the bottoms of rabbit cages to catch excess water runoff, and then let the sun evaporate the water – might work! Just glean what you can from these sites and run with your own ball!

  • This is an old design, but still very nice and effective. I once saw in Africa a similar idea but using drums. 2 drums of different diameters were used to create a vegi patch that handicapped verterains in wheelchairs can tend to.
    And as if by accident, it looked stylish as well!

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  • Love the variation on the terrace theme – makes such a great use of space without compromising sunlight access.

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  • Mag

    Can’t some of you see how to do this? I can. There are 2 ways to look at this. You can have 3 levels with only 12 inches to grow your roots (which you would then need to block off each tier and support the next tier) or when completely full of soil you can tier the upper levels to the plants that need longer roots. So, maybe carrots or something for the top layer. I can see this working very well for some people.

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  • phil

    need some detail on construction and how to fill it with dirt. Is the whole thing filled or are there bottoms to each level?

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  • Missa Ndrea

    Unless plants are growing *on top of* other plants, no space is actually saved. And of course, in order for plants to grow *on top of* other plants, you need a trellis. Getting tired of seeing the stair design touted as a space saver when it is not.

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