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Colorful Urban Gardener Display Signals Spring
By Karen Edwards
May 2006

© Photos by Gus Brunsman III

Urban Gardener, 940 N. High Street in Columbus, Ohio.

No matter what the calendar says, spring is never officially here until large pots, hanging baskets and flats full of flowers begin to appear outside Urban Gardener, the small garden shop at 940 N. High Street that creates a bit of breathing space in the Short North landscape.

It’s hard to just walk by this time of year. The colors and fragrances, like legendary Sirens, lure you up the blacktopped drive and into a trellised area where annuals and perennials of every description tempt the green thumbed and make everyone else long for even a small pot they can fill with dianthus, impatiens or a begonia or two.

Linger outside as long as you like, but don’t return to the streetscape just yet. Instead, walk past the scented waves of flowers and into the small shop where seeds wait patiently in racks, houseplants in sunny windows, and where wind chimes, crafted by two different artists, release their silvery music at the touch of a finger. The shop smells earthy and sweet, like Mother Nature after a shower, and as you make your way through its rooms, you find you no longer care about deadlines or phone calls or housework or any of the dozen nagging annoyances that make up daily life. You breathe in nature, and slowly, maybe even imperceptibly at first, you find yourself relaxing.

It’s a feeling owner Christie Nohle knows well. Gardening has been a part of her life since growing up with six siblings and a father who was passionate about his gardens.

“We were expected to help with the mowing, the pruning, the vegetable garden,” says Nohle. And she loved it all. Courses in botany and mechanical drawing turned out to be her favorite high school subjects (no surprise there), so she combined them in a career that relied on both – landscape architecture, a field she worked in for nearly ten years before opening Urban Gardener in 1997.

Landscape services
She still practices her craft. Much of the shop’s business is with clients who contract her services for planning and installing gardens, or even planting container gardens, which she’s happy to do at her shop or on site. Lend a hand with any of the work and you’ll save money.

“I may be the only Central Ohio designer who will work side-by-side with the homeowner,” says Nohle. Most nurseries send planting crews who come in with a plan, they plant, and move on. Nohle, however, is happy when owners are willing to take on some of the planting themselves. “They’ll ask lots of questions and really become invested in the plants,” she says. That means they’re more likely to take better care of them – although busy owners within city limits can contract with Nohle for maintenance services as well.

Of course, this time of year, Urban Gardener is as busy with its shop as with its landscape service, so Nohle brings on five staff members to help her through the season.

Just don’t come in and ask for spring flowering bulbs. That’s a common mistake, says Nohle. “We get our bulbs in August,” she says – in time for fall planting (when they’re supposed to go into the ground.) – but there will be forced bulbs to enjoy and plenty of other plant material there, including both annuals and perennials.

Annuals are the cheerful bedding plants you see everywhere – petunias, marigolds, impatiens, begonias. They bloom and then they die – one season plants. They are also temperature sensitive and shouldn’t go into the ground until at least the second week of May, about Mother’s Day, Nohle says. But that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Columbus temperatures can dip into the 30s at night, and that can be too low for annuals, so be careful about planting them. “Watch the weather reports,” Nohle suggests. If the ten-day forecast shows temperatures in the 30s, keep the annuals inside until things warm up, or plant them in pots you can bring inside. Otherwise, you may lose your investment in one late-season cold snap. “If you can’t stand it and just have to put a tomato plant out in the garden, then plant just one of them. That way, if temperatures go below 40 degrees, you have only lost one plant,” says Nohle.

Perennials, on the other hand, are much hardier. They’re sometimes more expensive to purchase than annuals, but since they return season after season, they provide a return on your investment.

“People are becoming a lot more sophisticated about perennials,” says Nohle. “They’re widening their horizons, and putting more variety into their gardens, not just the same old bedding plants. They’re looking for something new.”

Urban Gardener owner Christie Nohle.

The hot new plant
Urban Gardener always features the year’s “hot new plant.” This year, Nohle saysto look for the Firewitch dianthus – a magenta-colored pink that’s especially fragrant, along with a couple of new sweet potato vines.

And the “must have” plant this year, says Nohle, is the wave petunia (a previous trendsetter) in a new apricot color. If apricot isn’t your color, however, the petunia also comes in about every flower color you can name, including a lovely lilac.

Petunias enjoy full sun, so skip them if your garden resembles a forest glade – but that shady place needn’t remain plant free. Instead, Nohle suggests a nice container garden you can pick up and move to sunny spots (when and if those appear). And since Nohle suggests adding houseplants to the container (they add a nice variety, and no one ever thinks to do it), the container garden’s mobility will let you protect those plants by bringing them indoors when the weather gets cool.

No matter what you’re interested in planting – flowers, vegetables, shrubs or trees – the good news is that Nohle is happy to order it for you. In fact, she encourages ordering. After all, Urban Gardener’s petite size necessarily limits the amount of stock she’s able to keep on hand – but it also means that plants will arrive at your door fresher and they’ll be exactly what you want.

“Customers will want something Martha Stewart talked about on her show, or something that was featured in the most recent issue of Horticulture magazine,” Nohle says. If she’s given enough notice, she’ll make those available for you (as long as they fit into Columbus’s planting zone). A word of caution, however. Plants that are written up in many of the gardening magazines are often in trial stages and not always generally available. Be patient. If you’re still interested when they reach the marketplace, Nohle can order the plants for you.

By custom ordering at least some of her merchandise, Urban Gardener is rarely overstocked. However, on those occasions when there are too many flowers for her customers’ needs, Nohle says she likes to make sure the plants have good homes.

“I’ll put some on sale, and if there are any perennials, I’ll sometimes over-winter them, but I also donate plants to community organizations,” she says.

Various garden clubs, the Grandview Library, Goodale Park and the garden at Second Elementary School, which Nohle helped install, have all been recipients of Urban Gardener’s bounty.

Garden clay tile signs by Kate Lally.

The Gardener’s arty side
Because of Urban Gardener’s Short North location, Nohle says she likes to fill her shop with art, all of which is somehow garden-related. In addition to the wind chimes mentioned earlier, she also carries garden statuary, wall plaques, even handmade soaps and jewelry, all crafted by 40 different artisans, most of whom are Ohioans. Some of the work is here on consignment, and some Nohle buys outright then turns around and offers to her customers.

“We serve an eclectic mix in the Short North,” Nohle explains. College students, older couples who have lived in the neighborhood for years, singles from nearby apartments, young couples and families with children and the GLBT community – all mingle together, sharing a common bond: their green thumbs, and a general love of the artistic and the unique.

You might think that when Nohle leaves her urban oasis, she heads home to care for her own fanciful gardens – but you’d be wrong.

“A lot of my need for a garden is fulfilled at the store. I just don’t have time to take care of a garden the way I’d like to,” she says. After all, Nohle isn’t just minding the store and designing other people’s gardens. She also regularly teaches classes through Upper Arlington’s Lifelong Learning program (everything from garden design to creating a begonia wreath), and teaches the occasional group inside the shop as well.

Still, Nohle can’t completely give up her penchant for plants, so she grows pots of tomatoes, peppers, and even flowers on the balcony of her second-floor apartment, and her landlord is more than happy to have her scratching around outside, planting bulbs.

Urban Gardener is a year-round store, despite the transitory nature of Ohio gardens, so if you can’t make it to the store this month, then come in June, July, or August, when there will still be plenty of annuals and perennials, shrubs and trees for sale. And don’t forget those spring flowering bulbs are here starting in August. Come in September, October, and November for colorful mums and autumn-blooming perennials, and make sure you stop by in December for artist-crafted Christmas ornaments and fresh-cut evergreen trees from Ohio, in addition to poinsettias and all sorts of holiday greenery.

For now, however, stop by and see what’s available for your spring garden.

Of course, you may have no choice.

On these warm spring days, as sunlight lingers and the pace of the city begins to slow in anticipation of summer’s long, languid days, you stroll the Short North’s northern end and suddenly, without reason, you find yourself walking up Urban Gardener’s blacktopped drive, lured by the brilliant colors, the sherbet colors, the sweet fragrances that scent the breeze and make you almost giddy from the smell.

Don’t be surprised if you leave Urban Gardener with a hanging basket or container, even a garden flat, filled with flowers.

Because, whether you’re green-thumbed or not, there is no resisting Mother Nature’s Sirens.

Contact Urban Gardener at 614-299-4769 or and visit

©2006 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.