Written by Rebecca Gill
Helena Gouros refers to herself as an ‘Urban Gardenista’, and if you’re stumped as to what that might mean, imagine one part self-taught horticulturalist, knee-deep in dirt, and one part earth mother, adorned with an organically-grown flower crown.
Helena, who was born and raised in Sydney, founded her US-based small business ‘The Urban Garden Companion’ in 2017, and since then she has been steadily growing her multimedia urban design platform, based around her passion for the natural world. While most of Helena’s client-work is focused around ornamental garden landscapes, her popular digital platform, powered by short, shareable video and blog posts, aims to make gardening accessible to all.
“I want everyone to be able to cultivate an urban garden that they love. You don’t need a backyard – you can have ‘dirty, clean, fun’ in your window sill!”Helena Gouros, founder: The urban Garden companion
Just one watch of Helena waxing lyrical on Instagram about the wonders of growing basil from seed, and you’ll not only see the joy she derives from cultivating wilderness, but you’ll be tempted to start your own kitchen garden.
Based out of New Jersey, but servicing mainly the New York area, The Urban Garden Companion provides bespoke gardening that helps East Coast city slickers enter into the world of urban gardens. Helena has built a lifestyle brand around growing urban jungles, and in doing so she blends her love for entertainment and celebration (she’s also a working actress) with the wholesomeness of the outdoors.
“The Urban Garden Companion specializes in eco conscious, space savvy, low maintenance garden design, creating biodiversity and natural habitats,” she said via Zoom.
She works on indoor and outdoor gardens, and with both residential and commercial clients. Of late, she’s also been expanding to restaurants. She’s particularly excited about a client she helped to cultivate a living garden of forest edibles, where the produce grown on the restaurant rooftop ends up on the menu. Call it rooftop to table.
So, how did this Sydneysider end up growing gardens in New York?
“I originally moved to New York to work on Broadway, 20 years ago. Then I left, and I came back to be an actor. In the interim of doing that, I’d picked up some gardening skills in England, then I’d gone back to Australia and continued it on with them.”
It was during a stint in London where Helena was bitten by the gardening bug.
“I was working at a farmer’s market. I was surrounded by farmers who had the most beautiful produce. People would line up for hours to get just one bag of greens! And I thought, “What’s in these?”. And I would talk to them about how they grew amazing greens with edible flowers in it. And it sparked my interest. I had a rooftop, and so I just started gardening that year. And it really worked out for me, even more so after I had moved back to Australia.”
It wasn’t until years later, after NYC’s gravitational pull had lured her back, that her love of gardening became something more than a fun fling.
“I’d been walking around NYC, and I started to notice patterns, a repetition in the plants being used and plants being undervalued. And I I thought to myself, I can do this my way.”
So she set about getting more serious about her hobby. Her houseplant collection expanded, and then came the garden, and soon after, a business.
Helena says part of her mission with The Urban Garden Companion is to educate others about the environment.
“Urban development, globalization, GMO’s and the overuse of synthetic chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers have disconnected us from the natural world. They have negative impacts on our health, wildlife and our communities,” said Helena.
“I wanted to advocate for Mother Nature and show others that living a greener life and improving our environmental practices doesn’t have to be difficult.”
While she has a serious environmental message, she always makes sure to blend facts with fun and frivolity. Some examples? A one-woman show about GMO’s. English garden tea parties complemented with a keynote on globalization, topped off with a door prize for the best outfit.
“I think the gardening space should be more glamorous. That’s my goal: I want to marry fashion with gardening. I think gardening is glamorous. You can have your garden and party too! I want to show people how to have fun in their garden, so we can live more of a green life and connect people back to nature in an accessible way.”
Take a look at Helena’s Instagram account, and you can see that she practices what she preaches. In fact, her fun approach to gardening has drawn in many urban millennials, many of whom are increasingly engaged and dabbling in the natural environment around them.
“A lot of young people are becoming interested in growing their own food, and tropical house plants. I get tons of questions on tropical plant care,” she says.
When asked to share some advice on starting business in the US, Helena says that planning was crucial on her journey:
“Speaking from my own personal experience, my advice to have a nest egg or an investor. Or if you’re able, get fancy and have both. Financial freedom gives you the stability and foundation to be creative and have the capacity to grow in healthy stages. It also allows you to easily manage unexpected expenses and challenges and make business decisions aligned solely with your core values.”
Helena also dabbles in beekeeping. She is passionate about their role in the environment, and is extremely concerned about declining bee populations.
“Bees were named the most important being on earth because 70% of the world’s agriculture depends on their pollination.”
To do her part to address this problem, Helena advocates on behalf of urban honey bees. Her goal is two-fold: one, to discourage the use of chemical pesticides, which have been shown to contribute to the mass deaths of bees, and two: to inspire others to take up urban beekeeping.
“If you keep honeybees, you don’t have to harvest the honey. Just housing and caring for the bees and letting them do their own thing, is enough to keep their numbers up,” she explains.
“You don’t need a backyard to have a hive. A rooftop or patio will do. Some commercial businesses have them on their roof, and I’ve even heard of someone who keeps bees in their Upper East Side apartment, and sells the honey!”
But if you can’t picture yourself donning a head-to-toe beekeeping suit anytime soon, there’s another way to help the plight of urban honeybees:
“Really simple things, like having window boxes with pollinator friendly flowers, that also helps protect wildlife,” she said.
Helena says another way to experience nature indoors with us, is to grow a small veggie patch in our window sills or on stoop steps.
“It’s entirely possible to grow our own fruits and vegetables in a city environment. Gardens are wonderful companions and teachers.”HELENA GOUROS, FOUNDER: THE URBAN GARDEN COMPANION
“The lessons you learn from growing your own food, you can incorporate them into your career, your relationships, your marriage. A garden teaches you to be patient. You plant the tomato seed and you don’t expect to have tomatoes two days later. There’s a cycle. If you don’t care for it, if something’s wrong – you work at it.”
“You also become an observer when you have a garden. Observation, is a huge teacher in the garden. If we observed more, we could come up with solutions a bit quicker. It’s a metaphor for life, really. It’s seasonal. It’s patience. You feel really good when you get it right. And it’s also just really good bragging rights, to grow a massive tomato in the garden yourself!”