By the time late February rolls around in northeastern New York, the people here are noticeably cranky and socially awkward after 4 months of freezing rain and snow. The gardeners I know (and everyone else I know, really) long to be surrounded by the color green again instead of the color gray. When I start to feel like this, I usually try to get in and visit my friend who works at the local hydroponic store. On the occasion of my first visit to the store in 2011, I was astonished at how many products they carried that were useful for me in indoor or outdoor container gardening. And a visit will inevitably drum up some inspiration for new container gardening projects in the near future. For example, seeing the turbid lettuce, cilantro, mustard greens and pepper seedlings growing at the store was nearly intoxicating. And I reflect on how we can provide for wildlife on a smaller scale than we usually think of.
I have an aunt who lives in Brooklyn, and she has a rooftop garden fine enough to be on the Prospect Heights annual tour. She has given me pointers on the art of container gardening over the years; the most memorable suggestion being to stuff the bottom of each
container with unfinished kitchen compost, leaves or clean plant debris, for the purpose of stalling moisture in the container.
Here is a pot of fingerling potatoes from my container garden last year, at planting time and two weeks hence. The set-up was devilishly easy- after getting the potting medium together, I pulled over-grown potato eyes from the paper bag of farm market local grown, organic and neglected potatoes. Half-hearted watering produced leafy green production reminiscent of a fairy tale about bean stalks, or Gremlins.
I like to grow vegetables, herbs and annual flowers in my container beds. Harvesting fresh food literally right outside our front door was delightful last season, and the diversity of plants that included fruits, pollen, nectar and bright color attracted a ton of wildlife visitors and residents. We had no aggravated pest issues. I would notice Cucumber and Japanese beetle visitors, but they never got to epidemic or devastating proportions. I think it’s because of the strong predator insect and arachnid presence we enjoyed, especially this fella:
Our native wildlife need native plants and trees to complete their lifecycles. So when planning for inground and permanent new plants, I prefer NY natives. There is something to be said for the sheer fun of annuals though. They grow rapidly and if you pick them you often trigger a prolific bloom sequence that can last months! Being able to pick the flowers is especially fun for children, and we mostly want our native perennials to complete their lifecycle without being picked. Many of the annuals are useful bird food after going to seed.
We grew Dahlias this past year in our container gardens, along with Rosemary, Sage, Lemongrass, Broccoli, Red and Green Peppers, 3 different Heirloom Tomatoes, Zucchini, Cilantro, Cucumbers, Basil, Green Beans, Kale, Lettuce, Sweet Potatoes and Fingerling Potatoes and unsuccessful watermelon. A multi-colored parade of insects showed up, and new birds came to our yard to patrol the insects. This Monarch butterfly was a late season visitor, the photo was taken at the end of September. He/she must have been carbo-loading before migration.
Container gardening is a fantastic way to connect with nature for those of us with limited space and/or budgets. Creativity, flexibility and attentiveness make the container gardening experience enjoyable and often successful.
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