Sunday, June 29, 2014

(Mis)Adventures in Container Gardening: Creative Growing & Herbal Disasters

My most recent trip to Ireland really inspired me to explore container gardens.  In previous years I'd been blessed with access to home gardens and/or a community garden plot, both planted in the ground.  However I had to move during the growing season that year and was really sad about my garden plot being far enough away to often not get there for many, many days at a time.   Also, not having that daily checking-in on the plants I was cultivating felt ungrounding, especially during housing transition.

It's said that the best fertilizer is the farmer's footsteps.  And weather you start plants from seeds or they come to you bigger, being able to witness their day to day growth is really special and a true education that can't be taught in a classroom or through books.  (Not to mention how much easier tending/weeding is when it can be done little by little, rather than during marathon gardening sessions that can feel overwhelming!)  Witnessing my friends' creativity while visiting them in Ireland inspired me to begin a container garden on my balcony upon my return, so that whenever I finally found my next home*space, I could bring my beloved plants with me.

I've documented some of the creative ideas, thriving plants, and botanical disasters for our viewing pleasures.  I will probably continue adding tips, lessons, and photos to this post, so feel free to check in on it again later and/or share comments below. 

Disclaimer:  I am not a "master" gardener.  I am a plant-lover that tends to wing it and am a perpetual optimist, encouraging others that it's not to late to transplant seedlings well into the summer, etc.  I believe in working with what you've got, DIY/DIT (do-it-yourself/do-it-together)-style and on the cheap.  I plant with care and say "good luck to you" to the plants, give them good soil, water, and sometimes brews of chamomile or seaweed, but rarely do I coddle them at all.   Check out some books in your local library/bookshop or online resources if you're interested in creating raised beds that are accessible for folks with physical limitations, vertical herb gardens, and more!

In Ireland:


Left: Sunflowers growing from a basket-container in an outdoor space converted into a pantry/growing space.  Note the gorgeous design of the glass in the door!  Love those.
Right: A set of drawers converted into a garden for Calendula and other plants.  Covered with plastic mesh to keep out lil critters.  Both photos from Kinvarra, Co.Galway.





Above: Container gardens at a hotel in Limerick, designed by my friend Val.  Check out her food blog Val's Kitchen.




Val's amazing container garden- Transforming a wee space into lots of food.




More Val's garden: using vertical space to grow lots of plants.  Love this paddle with notches that she got at the farmer's market - holding 4 pots of plants.






Above: Val's window gardens.



Above:  Vibrant azul/azure pots of greens, flowers, scallions, and more by the sea in Cork.


And back to the States:




Above:  So when I returned, I gathered some pots and started growing on the porch!  Looking for pots?  Check with local landscapers, the recycle center/dump, put a note up at work, let your friends know, etc.  A lot of people are happy to pass containers on!  Also, sometimes you can find them up for grabs on the side of the road, or at yard sales.  No need to go and spend lots of money buying new containers.  While in general I prefer natural materials, I prefer plastic containers over clay pots for plants, as they hold water better and require less watering.

Have you seen those mini-greenhouse?!  I was given one.  And then...



...this happen.  I went to the hardware store for a few minutes and when I returned, the seedlings I'd just planted were like this.  If your intuition doubts the plastic joints holding it all together, listen to it!




Then that same day, I found a big, low, sturdy table for free on the side of the road.  Planting the seedlings, Take 2!  Actually, when the mini-greenhouse collapsed all but two stayed in tact, so I really just apologized to the plants and moved them to their safer location.




Above: Trellising the peas.  Wait, what's growing in the peas?!  Oh, dang it!  Lesson learned:  if you put your containers under the bird feeder, things such as this will happen.  Especially if the primary visitors are grackles that only seem to want the black sunflower seed and send all other seeds down into said containers.  Overall, germination for the seeds I planted was great.  Germination for the seeds that the grackles planted was outstanding!





Above:  Whether planting in containers, or a garden in the ground, I like putting the plants that you're going to be harvesting closer to you/the kitchen and making them easier to get to.  ie. In a garden, there are certain crops you're only going to be harvesting once or a few times (Corn, Garlic, Pole Beans, Winter Squash), while there are others you'll be harvesting much more often (Chamomile, Cilantro, Greens).  Also, if having a pot of Basil on your porch will mean you'll harvest it more and enjoy your summer more, even though your garden is only 10" from your front door and you could plant Basil there, put a pot of Basil on your porch!  Enjoy the summer!







Above:  I thought that perhaps the popsicle-stick fortress I constructed for the Catnip plant would protect it from the neighborhood kitties.  I was wrong.  However, a friend successfully grew Catnip in their garden by surrounding it with prickly Milk Thistle plants, keeping both of her two cats out.  When I planted two Catnip plants in a home garden, I successfully communicated to the neighbor cat that one was for him.  The other was for me.  I pointed and explained over and over one day.  After that day, I would find "his" Catnip covered in his golden and white hairs and well-loved (read: crushed, and perpetually bouncing back).  Mine was left to grow and for me to harvest.  Thanks kitty.





Above:  I usually prefer growing edible/medicinal plants because they are so versatile and beautiful, but near to houses that may have lead paint or other badies, I prefer to grow flowers.  Just for pretty.  Or spiritual protection.  Or to use in foot baths.  Or for the butterflies and bees to enjoy.  I think it's also good medicine for workaholic, efficiency-oriented people to welcome some just-for-the-beauty-of-it-in-the-present-moment into our lives.




Above:  I love that in my village there are guerrilla gardening faeries that tuck plants along common ground.

In the kitchen: I like (re-)sprouting food to have fresh food in winter and just to be thrifty.  When I chop up scallions (aka green onions), instead of composting the octopus-y roots, I either put them in water or in a pot of soil.  They don't grow back as strong, but if you're just looking for some chive-y flavor, here you go:










Also, I was given one of these shapely glass containers to "force" bulbs in late winter/early spring.  While it feels pushy to "force" plants long before any bulbs have pushed up through the thawing earth outside, it is quite amazing to witness the growth of the green sprout, watch the development of the roots, and then have the total luxury of fragrant blossoms.  (I was so busy relishing the paperwhite blossoms that I forgot to photograph them!)