Imagine tall sunflowers swaying back and forth, a bright face or two reflecting in a window.  Below them you find the gentle faces of pansies in colors of dark purple, bright yellow and palest blue.  Nearby a large plant that, when you run your fingers over the pointy leaves, releases the pungent aroma of rosemary.  All around you see large, colorful shiny peppers, trellises of bright red, juicy tomatoes of various sizes and shapes, various types of succulent greens, beans climbing poles.  Perhaps by now you find yourself sighing wistfully, wishing that even in your cramped home and busy schedule you could find a place to plant even one lone tomato plant.  Well you can.  The above description was what you would find upon approaching my last home.  It was a townhouse and I had very little space to garden and even then, due to mass spraying for pests by the condo association, I chose not to plant anything I’d eat into the 1ft by 3ft plot so I used containers of all shapes and sizes.

Growing a garden in containers is very easy; there are pots available in any size for planting nearly anything you wish.  The first thing you should remember is that if using terra cotta pots the soil will dry out fast so you may wish to add a bit of peat moss or good hummus or compost to the soil mixture to help retain moisture.  Inexpensive plastic pots break down out in the elements so ideally enameled pots are the way to go- though if you are on a budget, plastic pots work just fine.  There are large varieties of vegetables that can be grown in containers-all herbs grow very well, flowers of all shapes and sizes too.   My first experience with container gardening with vegetables began with tomatoes and peppers, both extremely easy to grow in a pot.  Even now that I live on five acres of land I still practice container gardening.  It is easier than trying to till this very rocky land.  Last summer I harvested several pounds of French Fingerling potatoes out of four large pots.

French Fingerling potato plants

To begin you will need to decide on what you wish to grow.  Whether it is flowers, a culinary or medicinal herb garden, fresh greens for a salad garden or those sweet little mini pumpkins for decorating plan out what you need and what sort of sunlight the plants require.  Once you have your seeds the next thing is containers, you can use planters, old flower pots, large plastic storage bins or even trash cans.  If recycling used containers be sure to wash and disinfect them before reusing to avoid any spread of disease- using regular detergent and straight white vinegar to rinse will get the job done.  Be sure the pots have adequate drainage, add holes if needed and then use bits of broken terra cotta pots, crockery or some rocks/gravel in the bottom of the pot and then place the pot on bricks or something that raises it off the ground to insure adequate drainage.  If you plan to use large containers you may wish to place the pot onto something that will allow you to roll it around as needed.  Hanging baskets or pots is another idea but be sure they are watered adequately as they will dry out quickly-tomato plants that bear the very small fruits will do well as hanging plants.  Find a spot for your garden, most veggies and herbs need at least 5-6 hours of direct sunlight to grow well.  Next the soil-depending on the plant you will need a good planting mix (if you wish) or hummus, compost and rotted manure.   I usually used topsoil and manure with some hummus.  Adding some sand or vermiculite is recommended because top soil will pack right down and get as hard as cement.  Try not to use too much of the stuff.  If you have a small garden or have the money to spend then try a well balanced growing medium specifically for potted plants.   If you are planting “heavy feeders” like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes or squash then put a half and half ratio of hummus or compost to manure.  One year I took a bag of rotted cow manure and planted some zucchini seed directly and had the best harvest ever.
Pumpkin would do well in this manner too as would any kind of squash, they all love their manure.  Once you have the pots ready you may add your seed, seedlings or plants of your choice.  Water well.  You may wish to use some water soluble fertilizer to keep the balance of nutrients in the pot or with a bit of research you can find natural ways to feed your plants.

One thing to consider, if you have a pot roomy enough for your chosen plants,  is to plant companion herbs and flowers in alongside the plants or set them nearby in their own pots.  Basil would be very happy in with a tomato plant as would parsley and the basil would help give good flavor to your tomatoes.  Borage would do well planted in with tomato, peppers or potatoes and will help keep tomato hornworms away.  Chamomile, sage, thyme or spearmint planted with cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and anything at risk of being eaten by cabbage worms.  Your veggies will also benefit from being plant with or near marigolds or nasturtiums.

Container gardening is an ideal alternative for those who lack the space or time to have a dug garden.  This allows the gardener to move and change their “beds” around as the mood strikes.  In containers you have more freedom and versatility as well as another option to standard gardening.  Growing in containers is also helpful if you have limited direct sunlight, you are able to move the pots to follow the sun, or in cooler weather bring the pots closer to the house to shelter them from chilly nights.  Other reasons to consider a container garden would be pest-ridden soil, unhealthy soil, lack of space, lack of time to prepare a garden bed.  If you suffer health problems or disabilities/lack of mobility then container gardening may be just right for you.  Those with disabilities or health ailments will find that pots placed around the home, perhaps on the porch, a bench or wall can enable them to garden without having to worry about getting down to weed and perform other tasks that they may be unable to do.

For whatever reason you may not garden traditionally consider this method as an alternative.  Even working families on the go can find time for at least a few pots on the porch/deck/balcony.  Get the family involved and in no time you can have fresh herbs or vegetables handy to add to your mealtimes.  It is very satisfying to eat something so fresh and know that you grew it yourself.

Copyright © 2006-2013 Stephanie Lowell-Libby

Stephanie Lowell-Libby is a writer, a longtime organic gardener and former farmers’ market gardener living in New Hampshire where she is raising her beloved wee girl “Pixie” (who has recovered from her 2010 diagnosis Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and subsequent treatment and is healthy and thriving once again). A photographer, passionate cook, genealogist, licensed massage therapist, reiki practitioner, aspiring homesteader and spends much of her time outside enjoying all nature has to offer.