Container Gardening..It’s A Thing

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Let’s start with this:  I am not a gardener.

I am just a city girl, that likes to look out a window and see green, against all that brick and concrete!  And I love to walk down a city street and pull my hand gently along the gigantic lavender plants that people who actually are gardeners planted 100 years ago.  When I see open spaces at friends homes, I like to fill them with plants.  And…I like to roast potatoes with fresh rosemary, and to send the kids out to clip it.  Chicken with fresh thyme or sage; it just tastes so good. And to make fresh pesto with bundles and bundles of basil is just the best easy summer meal ever!  Fresh homemade lemonade and smoothes with mint, yum!  Kids LOVE to pick, pinch, and clip something out of a garden and put it in a blender.

AND…I am just so, so happy…when I can start and finish a project.  Know what I mean?  Think of that awful list in your mind and pile on your desk that are just never done.  You know what can get done?  A container garden…that amazing place where you can start and finish a rewarding project in a reasonable amount of time.

And then you just need to keep it alive.  But heck, if you are reading this blog, chances are you are a mom and already an expert in the bare minimum requirement for keeping things alive, yes?  Same with plants.  Sunshine+enough water+love=alive.

So here’s the real profile:  city girl, that likes things that look pretty, smell good, and likes to eat fresh food, loves a doable project,  and is willing to share a few lessons learned in hopes of inspiring you do to the same!

Herbs:

Herbs are so worth the effort and great in a container of any size!  You can stuff it full of all of them!  They’ll grow indoors or out.

1/Mint:  technically, I don’t think it’s supposed to come back…but guess what?  Mine always does.  Like a weed.  It’ll take over a pot if you let it, so you only need a few starters to get it really going.

2/Basil:  one and done, plant it,  pinch it, eat it, love it, it’s not coming back.

Some of the herbs you can grow and dry to use in the off season.  I struggle to do that with the basil, but these are super easy:

3/Oregano:  smells so amazing, and mixes well with the basil, thyme and rosemary on fish, chicken and meat on the grill!

4/Sage:  fresh sage, lemon, salt, pepper, olive oil and chicken or fish wrapped in foil on a grill and you are done.

5/Rosemary:  best herb ever!  Just let it do its thing and it’ll grow into a gigantic beautiful bush.  The Irish in me has never met a potato I don’t love and they all taste better roasted with fresh rosemary!

6/Bay Leaf:  Use them fresh, or dry them and add to soups, stews and sauces when it’s cold and those meals are super important!

7/Thyme:  cut it back at the end of the season and yes, it’ll come back, thyme and thyme again.  Giggle.

8/Lavender:  might be my favorite thing to plant.  We cook with it, flavor smoothies and lemonade with it, but also we clip it and place it in jars as a centerpiece, or tuck just one shoot in a rolled napkin or at the center of a plate for just a touch of love on a table.  And when we harvest all that’s left at the end of the season, you can dry it and use it to fill little linen sacks that cost nothing and let the kids stamp some art to create beautiful gift sachets.

There’s just something super rewarding about cooking with fresh herbs.  If you want to start somewhere, this would be it.  Try it.  It’ll taste good.  Promise.  It’ll smell great in the process.  And it will be something super beautiful for you to see that you got done, every day!

Greens and Height:

So…herbs are one thing, they go wild and look beautiful, and they give you pleasure and then the whole thing is over.  Don’t make me make a metaphor outta that.

If we’re aiming for things that look good and green and can live in a container…and that we aren’t going to eat, here’s my magic recipe:  something interesting in the middle, something with height, or something that stays green, and then underplant it (even with herbs!)  This seems to work for containers and window boxes.

9/English boxwood:  my absolute favorite, mostly because they stay green.   They space well, so you can do rows of them.  Also, you can shape them, or let them go crazy and do their own thing.  They define a planter really well, with just the right amount of height.

10/Trumpet Honeysuckle:  I love a lattice.  I love it more when it’s steel cable.  More on that later.  Sometimes, if you have a wall that needs some love, or a space that needs some division from whatever is on the other side of it…planting things that climb, and giving them somewhere to climb is both architecturally and of gardening interest.  My two favorites are climbing hydrangea.  Mostly b/c I like green, white, and purple flowers.  And Pennsylvania Red Trumpet Honeysuckle.  More on why in the critters section for that one.  They won’t make it through winter, they die back, you cut them back, and they bounce back come spring.  Which is why…it’s important that the thing on which they grow be independently interesting enough.  Make sense?  But what a beautiful way to create privacy or to let the garden climb vertically!

11/Sky Pencil:  Need a little organized privacy in a planter?  Try this one.  Especially in front of a window that needs half cover (think a powder room), planted in a tall planter, all in a beautiful row.  They are almost like super tall boxwood look.

12/Topiaries:  These are so fun especially in a giant urn, with underplanting that flows over the vessel! And they are a great way to gain visual height!

13/Japanese Maple:  Shape it ‘lollipop’ style, or just let it go!  They are a fantastic container sized, just big enough tree.  Mine holds a special place in my heart because it was a gift from a neighbor after a funny interaction.  That’s a story for later.  The birds also love to nest in it, which is just so fun for the kids especially!

14/European Hornbeam:  I had to hunt mine down.  But that effort was so worth it!  If you are local and want to know where I found mine, just message or comment.  You need a gigantic container…because really, ok, fine, it’s a tree.  But again, you can shape it, or let it go all wild!  Just pretend it’s cared for hair, trim it all the time and it will eventually take shape.  Or don’t, and it’ll still be gorgeous.

The Hornbeam and Maples still lose their leaves seasonally, but then I like to just add lights to their branches for fun in the off-season.  And their height still defines a space in a container, even when they aren’t so green.

Underplanting:

Once you have something tall in the container to give it some height and definition, just underplant the heck out of it.  I like to underplant boxwood with lavender.  And I love to underplant everything with thyme.  Dual purpose, why not, right?  Use the herbs for cooking, enjoy the beauty for greenery that will come back.  You can also find pansies that will survive winter…tell me that’s not amazing!  And plenty of things that will seasonally drape over a pot, like these.  Underplanting defined by the non-gardener:  plant low smaller plants below the major plant, all around the edges.  Beautiful!

Critters, Creatures, and a Natural Habitat:

Here’s what I’ve learned living in Center City Philadelphia, go to your local garden and crop share vendors and they’ll tell you what works where you live.  My favorite are the amazing folks at Greensgrow Farms.  They LOVE to talk about these things, and it’s a super fun outing with kids!  They also often have amazing workshops…like this one on container gardening at Greensgrow West…2 days before Mother’s Day!!!  Treat yourself!

Pennsylvania Brown Bats:  endangered.  Obviously we should want to help save them.  They need a place to sleep, like this bat house, mounted on a southern exposure, approximately 20-30 feet hight.  And they need water sources.  Here in Philly our two rivers count.  And then…they will eat more mosquitoes than any mosquito machine could ever kill.  Fair trade, right?  And they are super cute.  Genuinely, they are!  The kids LOVE them!

Monarch Butterflies:  also, need some help from us people.  Plant a container of whatever grows best in your area and maybe they’ll visit you, along with their bird and bee friends too in their migration paths!

Hummingbirds:  amazing.  THEY are the reason I do the RED.  Red Pennsylvania Trumpet Honey Suckle.  This is what they like to eat.  And if you plant it, they will come.  And I promise there’s nothing more magical than reading to your kids outside in the evening and being surrounded by hummingbirds!

Ok, you get the picture.  Fun, doable, and totally worth it.  So get yourself some containers and get to it!  Here a a few of my favorite planters, lots of styles, many on sale, and many available in various sizes, which is fun for grouping!  xoxo A

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About Author

Fierce lover of momming, 3 amazing kids, blessed with the most wonderful family and friends, likes coffee black, wine dry, chocolate dark, and salt chunky, resting position is in motion, particularly where salt water and wind are involved. Moderately obsessed with home design. Feels super lucky to be a part of this community. xo

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3 Comments

  1. love this!..I have a bat house it is awesome…better than living in my attic!…so Annmarie…if I send you a pic of my mantel…can you give me ideas?

  2. MN girl here, mint comes back, even after our crazy winters. And if you plant it in the ground it will take over everything.

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