Thursday, March 26, 2009

Container Gardening

This post is from our friend, Meghan, who lives a block from each of us. She has the greenest thumb I have ever seen. Her backyard puts most full-sized gardens to shame. She gets everything going around Memorial Day. She gets the pots ready first, then shops for the plants, and replants them. If she doesn't have time to replant right away, she just leaves them in their original pots for a few days and keeps them watered.

Now I'll turn it over to Meghan.

It was the summer of cantaloupe, 1984.  I can still remember the feel of the juice running down my arms as I held the first of the season over my shoulder at the kitchen table. It was straight from the garden in the back yard, and it was dessert. Caught up in the excitement, my father had cut it up quickly before being made to piece it back together (thus the juice) when my mom remembered to run for the camera. And I was the one who got to hold it. And smile. I was also the one who got to take the first bite, ruminate a bit and then proclaim it delicious, because I was the one who grew it. 

When I was a kid, I lived in a neighborhood full of single-family houses lining the streets, where driveways with basketball hoops and backyard pools were abundant. Suburban, sure, but we were within the city limits. We could walk to the end of the street to catch the bus downtown, but we also had room in our yards for gardens. In my father's case, a garden full of fruit trees, caged tomatoes, bean poles, squash hidden under enormous leaves, strawberries, blueberries and of course, at times, cantaloupe.  

For the past five years, I've lived in a condo in Somerville with a brick patio in the back that is, at most, half the size of my father's garden. But each summer, using what I learned watching my father, I've made the most of it. My answer to lack of space? Container gardening! It is a perfect system for a small backyard (especially one with questionable soil). You can plant pretty much whatever you want, and the containers can be easily moved around to create more space, less space, to catch the sun longer, or to make room for yet another ride-on toy. The cheap plastic terra-cotta colored pots that you can get at any home improvement or garden store have served me well for years. A handful of rocks at the bottom to help with drainage, bags of potting soil and compost mixtures, some slow-release Osmocote pellets to help fertilize, and you're good to go.

As for the plants, I usually hit up a combination of Home Depot, local places like Ricky's in Union Square, and this beautiful little nursery in Bedford, NH -where my father knows everyone by name- to find the healthiest/least expensive young plants. I grow at least two tomato plants in my largest pots, the grape or cherry variety having always done the best. Burpless cucumber plants climb from pots up plastic netting (that used to protect Dad's blueberries from the birds) at the back wall. And always, ALWAYS, I must have basil, rosemary, chives, parsley and thyme scattered about or sharing space in pots on the steps, pots by the barbeque, pots tripping my upstairs neighbors as they head to their side of the yard. I've had success with squash and eggplant, have been bombarded by mint, and have dabbled with peppers. I have never had success with dwarf or "patio-size" plants- which I have come to believe are meant for gardens on verandas or super-large window sills, not for someone who is expecting to be fed, which I expect to be-all summer long.  And so far my containers have not let me down.

Last summer, my three-year-old son was allotted a container all his own and was able to choose what he wanted to plant. I suggested cantaloupe. He had other ideas, and they were the best strawberries we had ever tasted. Can't wait to see what he has in mind for this year.