Monday, July 18, 2011

In a Tight Spot ... for Gardening

Jenna Hecker is the Technology/Reference Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

I am not the best candidate for a garden. I live on the second floor. I have no garden hose, and my backyard is paved over. The house where my apartment is located was built in 1875, and the lead paint that was used at that time is still present in any of the soil surrounding the house.

I felt like my desire for home-grown green beans was never going to overcome all of this adversity, until a friend suggested container gardening. Container gardening allows urban and lead-soil plagued New Englanders to grow food in small and unusual spaces. I decided to research container gardens before I began.

I checked out “Ortho’s All About Container Gardening” By Sally Roth and Pamela Pierce (635.96, Roth). The book gives step-by-step guidelines for new container gardeners, discussing which containers are best for different environments, and what to consider when you begin like portability, ease of watering, and protection from pests.

I chose several large, plastic pots and Tupperware tubs as my containers of choice, and got a friend to drill holes in the bottom for drainage. For a great guide on how to choose soil, put together a container, and choose plants for my garden, I swallowed my pride and grabbed “Container Gardening for Dummies” by Bill Marken. Typically, I won’t check out any book that I feel is insulting me with its title, but this “Dummies” book is well laid out, plainly written, and extremely informative when it comes to mixing soil, and choosing plants appropriate for containers.

I chose to plant a few varieties of tomatoes (For those of you who are curious: Ida Gold, Italian Grandmother’s Tomato, Roma Paste Tomato, Cherokee Purple, and Grandma Mary’s Paste), some small breeds of Japanese eggplant, green ‘provider’ bush beans, a variety of lettuces, alpine strawberries (a delicious, ever bearing, smaller variety of strawberries that are very prolific), sage, mint, a few varieties of basil.

To plan how to situate my pots on my fire escape – both for the best sun exposure and the least threat of tripping over them if there was a fire – I went to “The Patio Kitchen Garden,” by Daphne Ledward. Ledward’s book talks about the care and maintenance of specific container-grown vegetables.

With the help of the book and various gardening websites like and, I learned how to keep my strawberries from getting attacked by my cat, squirrels, and other furry and troublesome fire escape visitors.

I learned about companion planting from, and co-located my marigolds and basil with my tomatoes to keep pesky insects away. Another resource that I found very useful for identifying garden pests and learning how to control them was “The Container Kitchen Garden,” by Anthony Atha. The book is a great all-around container gardening resource, bringing you from the planning stages of container gardening right through to the eating-and-enjoying piece. There are a number of great recipes based around plants that are typically grown in gardens in the back, as well as an index that describes interesting container based plants (like my alpine strawberries!), with a calendar explaining when to plant and pick them.

My garden is set up for function rather than aesthetics. There isn’t much space to walk around on my fire escape, and it’s not a particularly safe hang out spot. Many container gardeners, however, relish in the opportunity to create an aesthetically pleasing garden that is also moveable and therefore can change constantly.

“Contain Yourself,” by Kerstin Ouellet is a great guide to designing and planting floral containers. Oullette goes through ‘recipes’ for floral arrangements that work well together in containers, as well as which sorts of containers work best with which plants.

I don’t make my own containers. Gardening for me is about planting – I am just not artistic or handy. However, many people see container gardening as a way to combine a love of flowers and vegetables with a love of building and design. “Gardening with Containers” by George Carter is a great how-to guide for people interested in making their own garden containers, or designing containers using a variety of innovative and interesting materials. This book focuses on non-edible container gardening, but has amazing, creative project ideas for aesthetically pleasing and innovative container design.

Container gardening has become one of my most meditative, fulfilling, and delicious hobbies. My yield this summer has already been enough for salads, stir fries, and lots of healthy snacking. For more information on how you can start gardening in small spaces, head to the library to find the books I’ve mentioned, as well as many more!