"Are you doing any gardening this season?" This is often the first question out of my mouth when meeting someone new in the springtime. Far to often, I get a response that goes something like “I would but I live in an apartment”.
As an avid gardener who has himself lived in a few different apartment buildings, I’d like to once and for all dispel the myth that apartment dwelling folks can’t garden.
Container gardens have always been an excellent way to bring the spirit reviving power of plants to folks who live surrounded by concrete. This month’s volume of The Seed is dedicated to bringing the garden to the gardener, as we showcase, the Giving Tree Gardens approach to container gardening.
Plant Profile: Aloe Vera
Why run to the drug store when you could heal your minor burns with the nearest house plant? An aloe plant is a sheep in wolves clothing. Though it looks tough on the outside, this african succulent has a soft, healing heart.
Recorded human use of aloe vera dates back to the 16th century.
Though it came originally form Africa, the cultivation of aloe long ago spread through China, Japan, Jamaica, Russia, and the Americas. Useful in healing small wounds, burns, and helpful in treating high blood glucose levels, the medicinal uses of this plant are still being discovered today.
This tropical cactus will grow with ease in a houseplant container. Just give it a sandy potting mix and water once every two weeks. One thing to consider with most house plants including aloe is letting them grow outside for the summer. I'll transition all my houseplants to the porch or patio slowly so as not to sunburn the leaves that are used to growing indoors in low light conditions. Aloe is especially sensitive to sunlight and if transitioned outside too soon it will easily burn. I give mine one hour of direct morning light every day for a week, then I'll step it up by one hour each day week after week until it's fully ready to be outside all the time. The growth and health that results from this patient process is well worth the bother.
I consider it a blessing worth working for to have a plant with such amazing healing powers growing nearby.
PICK YOUR POTS
Planter boxes, pots, and container gardens come in as many shapes and sizes as humans can imagine.
Choose your favorite look and set a theme for your home or patio by using similarly styled containers throughout your space.
I love terra cotta for its simplicity and sleek lines. I use varying shaped terra cotta pots throughout my home to create a visual context and flow, like a melody for the eyes.
In order to add a little spice to the mix, I use different styles and types of containers in addition to the terra cotta throughout the house.
No matter what your style, make sure that the container you plant in has a hole on the bottom. Proper drainage is key to allowing soils to dry between waterings.
Any potting soil that stays constantly wet, will start to go rotten and develop unfriendly fungi. If the container that I’m using is exceptionally large, I’ll often use a plastic pot turned upside down at the bottom of my big container to take up some space, improve drainage, and make the planter lighter.
Potting soil is the sustenance for our precious plants.
Like any fine food, potting soil is best made from scratch.
I find potting soils that include freshly composted materials never need to have any fertilizers added to them in order to keep plants happy and healthy.
When I need to make a batch of potting soil in a rush, I’ll use a blend of three ingredients in equal proportions, the first of which is farm-post available locally at Kern Landscaping in St. Paul. Then I’ll grab some pre bagged potting soil, and CoirBlock. The farm-post is an excellent source of plant food while the CoirBlock made from shredded coconut hulls can replace the use of habitat destroying peat-moss products. Together with the pre-bagged potting soils, this mix will provide a nutrient rich, water retaining, fluffy textured soil, which will provide for a full season of growth.DESIGN
Laying out the design of your planters and containers is a fun challenge that can be a source of enjoyment and learning year round.
The easiest trick to making your planters stand out is to build in contrasting textures and colors.
I’ll use spiked, ferny, and broad textured leaves all in the same container. I love combining dark purple or red foliage with bright golden green flowers or leaves. Repeat or reverse these contrasts in several pots throughout your home in order to bring out more of that sense of melody. Often I’ll choose a tall plant for the middle or back of a planter and then I’ll place shorter plants around the base of these. Cascading or drooping plants blur and soften solid lines when used at the edge of planters.
PICK YOUR PLANTS
Choosing great plants for your containers is as easy as choosing great plant stores to shop at.
I grow everything from tropical palms and bananas to rosemary, kale, and sweet potatoes in my planters at home.
Have fun throughout the year and change some of your planters out seasonally. Start with pansies and leafy greens in the spring then replace the pansies with heat tolerant annuals for the summer time. As your leafy greens fade in the heat of the summer, change them out for herbs or funky tropical houseplants. When the tropicals and annuals are threatened by frost switch them out for kale, pansies, and mums in the fall. Follow up with a mix of evergreen boughs in the late fall for all winter long beauty.
Don’t be afraid to stuff your planters a little too full of annuals. At the beginning of the growing season, I’ll use more plants then I’ll ultimately need and then thin them out as they grow. This way I’ll have full planters for much more of the season then I otherwise would.
Call me impatient , but I think our northern growing season is too short to waste waiting around for our pots and planters to fill in.
Containers also present an excellent opportunity for northern gardeners to grow some otherwise not so hardy plants in our Midwestern back yards. Friends of mine have grown zone 5 and 6 hardy
in large containers which they wheel into a garage for winter storage. Bringing marginally hardy plants into a closed garage for the cold season is an excellent way of keeping lovely and delicate plants alive through our harsh winter.
I’m such a green thumb that I’d probably go a little nuts in the long Midwestern winter if I didn’t get to surround myself with houseplants. In addition to your usual suspects of spider plants, pothos, aloe vera, and sword plant, I like to grow herbs, orchids, palms, tropical pines, and just about anything that will thrive indoors throughout the wintertime. Some of my favorite houseplants have been handed down to me from family members, and friends such as a couple of Asiatic begonias gifted to me by a local business owner who hails from Cambodia. Consider mixing two or more houseplants in the same container to create an intriguing blend. I love the mix of my tall, spiked sword plant with some short round leaved sedum.
Grow your own food, or raise a cash crop at home by setting up with a few grow lights from
. Many folks find they can raise fine herbal crops, or grow amazing tropical flowers inside through the long winter with a little help from some man-made sunshine. I’ve seen Minnesota homes with tropical ginger and tomatoes growing inside in February. This miracle of modern convenience isn’t for everyone, but if you have a very low light apartment, you may consider a grow light to help brighten your space.
No matter your living space, container gardening can help bring a full and verdant feeling to your home. If you’ve been holding back your urge to garden because you’re landlord won’t let you rip out the lawn or parking lot, then wait no more. Container gardens are one excellent way of greening up your urban environment.