Answer: You do indeed have some tough conditions for plants to thrive. The worst condition that you describe is "dead soil"' which is a difficult condition to put most plants in!
Under the circumstances have you considered container gardening? It is quite the "in" gardening style right now, and will likely give you ALL the gardening you require to satisfy your needs. The fun thing about this "new" container gardening is that containers are no longer just the standard clay pot. Visit the local nursery as well as the nearest junkyard for all sorts of wonderful containers of every size. There is almost no limit to the kind of gardening you can do. Even the freshest gourmet mini-veggies can be picked right out your back door!. Trees? of course! Small slow growing trees can be planted in large containers, although you will have to either bring them indoors or have a freeze-free area where the tree can remain dormant during the winter. Bulbs grow fine in pots too, as well as herbs, perennials, and of course annuals.
Once you find your containers, create healthy soil by mixing some potting soil with compost, composted manure, some perlite and some peat till you have a combination that "feels right." A visit to the nursery will offer you a wide variety of plant choices. Since you no longer have to worry about "dead" soil, your major criteria for selection will be sun/shade exposure.
Since container gardening has become such a popular style, there are many fine books available to give you lots of great ideas. The best part about this kind of gardening is that if you should decide to vacate your townhouse, your garden can go with you...no loss!
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