Secret Gardens

Mention gardens in Boston and you're likely to get a wistful description of hidden courtyards on Beacon Hill: brick spaces filled with ivy, shrubs, and decades of care. But urban horticulture also means a Charlestown rooftop brimming with pots and small planters, a South End alley reclaimed for a community garden, or a yard around a suburban house.

Short on space or experience? Container plantings are an easy way to jump into city cultivation — geraniums, impatiens, or other annuals in traditional terra cotta, ceramic, or metal pots, for instance, or herb or vegetable gardens in wooden wine crates. At Nick and Nancy Adams's Chestnut Hill house, nearly 40 containers flank the front entry to create, as Nick Adams puts it, “a constant state of bloom and textual interest.”

Behind the South End's Gray Street, a block-long alley once filled with trash has been transformed into a community garden with shade-loving ivy, astilbe, and hosta thriving along a 350-foot brick walkway residents built themselves. “Outdoor space is so precious that it's really for everybody,” says Dave Crowley, one of the project's creators.

If there's no space at ground level, rooftop terraces can be ideal for such hardy, sun-loving plants as mums and certain azaleas. Duncan Donahue and Tom Fortier planted cosmos, chrysanthemums, and trumpet vines atop their Monument Square brownstone in Charlestown, putting up a trellis to protect their garden from the wind.

“Everybody says, 'I wish we could do it on our street,'” Crowley says. “The reality is, you can.”