Tag Archives: Container Gardening

Happy Earth Day! Beginners Guide to Getting Your Garden Growing

It’s Earth Day, a few weeks into Spring in the Northern hemisphere, and no time like the present to get your garden going — even if (and perhaps especially if) you’re a total gardening novice.

Fear not. Even if you’ve never grown so much as a pansy, the following steps will get you and your garden up and running.

Select your site. Ideally your plot will get 6-8 hours of full sun per day. If such a site is not available, be sure to buy crops specifically intended to grow in the shade. If you don’t have adequate flat space, explore other outdoor space like patios, pass-throughs, or decks. You can still get a lot of usable space by planting in large boxes and having plants climb up trellises, which many love to do. Your space needn’t be too large. A 10×10 foot plot can support a few rows of different crops. Often gardeners get overly ambitious and plant more than they can reasonably maintain. If your site is traveled by munching animals, such as deer, you will want to construct some kind of fence around it.

Prepare the soil. Use a pitchfork to loosen the ground, preferably down to about 8 inches. Clear the surface with a heavy-duty rake. Break up dirt clods and pull weeds. These can be added to a compost, if you’ve chosen to compost. If you wish, you can buy packaged soil for a nice even top layer that will have some nutrients in it, especially if you suspect your soil is poor. (You can always take a sample into your local garden-supply store for an opinion.) Either way, some sort of packaged fertilizer should be added as well. A general mix for new plantings is usually good, but the folks at the garden center may have more specific advice based on your soil and what you’d like to grow, as well as how much organic matter you want to add. Always water thoroughly before adding fertilizer. (And have kids wash hands after handling.)

If possible, plan some paths in your garden. They will make it easy to water, weed, and harvest without stepping on plants. Some people cover the paths with tanbark or other material (available at garden-supply stores) to mark them and to discourage plants from taking root there. Make sure you have a good path for your hose and a water source.

Plant the seeds or seedlings. For most people, this part is especially fun. Follow the packet instructions for seed spacing and conditions. You may want to lay a line of string as a guide, or create a furrow. Some stores carry seed tapes, which you just lay down in a straight row. Tapes are great for tiny hard-to-handle seeds like carrots, which can be difficult, even for adults. Large, easy-to-plant and -grow seeds include nasturtium and pea. If you’re planting bedding plants, be sure to give each lots of room to spread out and grow. Try to anticipate the heights of your plants to get the tallest ones into the back. And don’t forget to grow something that you’d like to see or eat!

Fertilize. If you didn’t add fertilizer to the bed while preparing the soil, you’ll want to add a little bit while planting. There are fertilizers on the market that are designed specifically for new growth. Your local garden center is the best bet to point you toward a good fertilizer for your garden and conditions. Many people fertilize plants again at about six weeks into the growing process.

If you are gardening in containers, get the biggest containers you have space and money for. Check for adequate drainage holes. If you don’t have good drainage, you can add netting or pieces of broken pottery to the bottom of the pot. You may also want to add perlite, which will aerate the soil while helping it retain moisture. Fertilize as you would in a garden plot.

Water your plants or seeds. New transplants and freshly planted seeds like lots of water. The best kind of watering is done gently and deeply, so that the water soaks through to the growing roots of the plants. Once your plants are established, you will probably need to water every other day or so when the weather is sunny. (Plants in containers usually need water more often than plants in the ground.) If a plant droops during the day, or the soil feels dry more than a couple of inches down, it needs water. It’s best not to water in bright sunshine because the sun can evaporate the water or even cause burned spots on the plants.

Keep up the good work. Continue watering and caring for plants as needed. This can include pulling out obvious weeds and cutting back any growth that has died or become unattractive.

Be sure to harvest what you’ve grown. Sometimes I’ve been so proud of my work and/or not sure when to harvest that I’ve let plants go past the point when they’re edible or useful and all the way to seed. Take a chance and cut and enjoy what you’ve done. More will usually grow back!

Get comfortable. There are lots of items available to make gardening more comfortable. I suggest knee pads, if you’re going to be doing a lot of kneeling, a sun hat to protect your skin, and old shoes you don’t mind getting dirty or gardening clogs made specifically to get wet and dirty. (A pair of gardening clogs lasts for years. They’re also very comfortable and you can leave them outside.) Most people like gardening gloves and there are a range of them on the market. I find them irresistible to buy at gardening and hardware stores, with their cute patterns, but I almost always end up taking them off and getting my hands really dirty — the better to feel the plants, the dirt, and what I’m doing.

Have fun entering one of the oldest and most rewarding hobbies around!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Photo Friday: World’s Favorite Tulip

As many readers know, I am an inveterate, unabashed, unapologetic lover of tulips! The most recent burst of rain and wind pretty much took the last petals of our tulips, but they were glorious again this year. A full report is coming. For now, there are these, Darwin Hybrids that really are called World’s Favorite.  Bright, large, dramatically colored — they did not disappoint. Neither did the great blue sky I found them under one recent day.

I hope you’re enjoying Spring in its full flower!

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: Signs of Spring
Photo Friday: Gather ye Rosebuds
First of Spring: Larkspur, CA

Top 10 Vegetables for Home Gardeners

Tomatoes top the National Gardening Association‘s list of the Top 10 most popular vegetables grown by home gardeners. A whopping 86% of gardeners said they planned to grow tomatoes, when surveyed.

Here are the Top Ten and the percentages of people who said they planned to grow them:

1. Tomatoes (86%)
2. Cucumbers (47%)
3. Sweet peppers (46%)
4. Beans (39%)
5. Carrots (34%)
6. Summer squash (32%)
7. Onions (32%)
8. Hot peppers (31%)
9. Lettuce (28%)
10. Peas (24%)

On the bottom of the list? The lowly Rutabaga only had 1% of gardeners’ support.

Looking for other Gardening lists? See these for ideas about:

Top 10 Heirloom Vegetables to Try

Top 10 Vegetables for the Urban Garden

10 Shade-Loving Vegetables

Once you’ve been inspired to plant, you may want to check out my earlier post, How to Get Growing if You’re a Total Beginner. Tomato season may be winding down (though hope remains for my Oregon Spring cherry tomatoes and a relatively warm fall), so the Gardening Association suggests planting fragrant fall annuals such as snapdragon, stock (below), and sweet alyssum.

Photos: Jean-noël Lafargue (top), Susan Sachs Lipman

Poster: University of N. Texas Libraries

How to Save Nasturtium and Other Seeds

I love nasturtiums and this summer I had a real cascade of them tumbling over the deck boxes in their bright colors and peppery scents. I went to weed them the other day and noticed that many had gone to seed and still many others had dropped their seeds on the deck. I gathered the seeds excitedly, figuring that since they were intact and recognizable as the nasturtium seeds I’d planted before, I should be able to save these for planting in the future.

I since found a couple of wonderful resources about seed saving.

Mr. Brown Thumb has a lot of great information about collecting nasturtium seeds, complete with a video. He says that larger seeds are best, and that it doesn’t matter if the seeds are brown or green. This is good news because I found plenty of both.

About.com has a lot of great information about seed saving in general, including which other seeds are good candidates for saving:

Methods and Timing for Saving Seeds

Always choose the best quality plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables from which to save seeds. Look for disease resistance, vigor, great flavor and productivity. Next year’s plants will only be as good as this year’s seed. Harvest seeds either:

  • When the seed pods have dried on the plant (flowers, beans, broccoli, lettuce…)Keep an eye on the pods as they start to brown. Most seed pods will open and disperse on their own. You can catch seed by placing small bags over the seed heads when they look ready to pop or by pulling the plant just before completely dry and storing upside down in a paper bag.

Storing Saved Seed

  • Make sure the seed is completely dry, or it will rot or mold in storage
  • Remove as much of the chaff as possible
  • Store in a paper envelope, labeled with the variety and year
  • Place the envelopes into an air tight container, such as a canning jar
  • Store in a cool, dark, dry place
  • Stored seed is best used the following year

What Seeds Can Be Saved?

Open Pollinated or heirloom, self-pollinated plants are the only varieties that will grow true from seed, meaning the seedlings will be exactly like the parents. These are the seeds worth saving.

Self-pollinated plants are the easiest to save and include: Beans, Chicory, Endive, Lettuce, Peas, Tomatoes. You can also save many heirloom flower seeds such as: cleome, foxgloves, hollyhock, nasturtium, sweet pea, and zinnia.

I dried my seeds on this old bulb storage crate from the Netherlands. It’s come in handy for all kinds of drying projects.

I stored my seeds according to the above guidelines. I’ll plant them next year and will let you know how they do.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tulipmania 2010, Part 2

In my last post on tulips, I featured the Parade and Apeldoorn tulips and gave some background on the Tulipmania that gripped otherwise sensible people in 17th century Netherlands. This post will continue to highlight the beauties that graced my spring container garden.

I highly recommend planting tulips, as an easy individual or family project. It’s one that will bring you a lot of joy for relatively little effort.

Apricot Beauty

I love apricot-sherbet colored tulips, and the early-blooming Apricot Beauty did not disappoint. A single tulip with a nice classic shape on an 18″ stem, the Apricot Beauty looked great with its companion flowers, the Beau Monde and the Negrita, and, in particular, really helped welcome Spring.

Beau Monde

I find the delicate, bi-color Beau Monde to be very painterly. An early Triumph, with a pleasing shape on an 18″ stem, it featured wonderful blush-colored swipes on bright white petals.

Negrita


Accompanying the prior two in their early spring box was the Negrita, which, interestingly, lasted much longer than the other two. This is a beautiful Triumph tulip, with a great shape and distinct deep magenta color. It’s a good performer, and stands 22″ high, with a wonderful drama and color to it that allows it to mix well with lots of different flowers or stand on its own.

White Parrot

The lovely White Parrot tulips were the last of all the tulips to come up. This is a great, late-season creamy white tulip with varying brushes of grass green traveling from stem to flower. Fairly large flowers sit on 20-22″ stems. Though I found the typical parrot “frills” to be a bit more subtle than they are on other types, this is just a very pretty flower.

Until next year!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tulipmania 2010, Part 1

A few centuries ago — before the peak of the dot-coms and the housing market and, well, banks and investment companies — it was a flower that caused a giant investment craze and its subsequent crash.

Drawn by their intense color and beauty, wealthy 16th and 17th century Dutch and Germans paid increasingly extravagant prices for the Turkish exports. In 1634 a Dutch man paid roughly half his fortune for a single bulb, solely for the purpose of admiring it. The mania continued to increase. More and more people sold their houses and land to purchase tulips, until their money was fairly worthless, goods and services were priced beyond what people could afford, and people had to barter in the bulbs. Still, they threw themselves lavish parties, with beautiful tulips everywhere, until at last a tulip deal, for 10 Semper Augustus bulbs, went sour. On that first default, people started to panic. Prices dropped precipitously, and people found themselves in financial ruin.

This is the Semper Augustus bulb:

Luckily, today, in the U.S. in 2010, I can get beautiful tulip bulbs for under $1 apiece, refrigerate them (through our mild northern California winters), plant them, and have a deck full of lovely tulips in spring. All but the last of this year’s tulips are a memory. But, what a memory they were!

Parade


Pictured at the very top of this post and above, is the Parade tulip, which performed extremely well. The bulbs are huge, and the bright vermilion red flower sits atop a sturdy stem that rises to a great 22″-24″ height. They seemed to last a long time, too. I planted them to alternate with the Golden Apeldoorn tulips. Both are Darwin Hybrids that came up at the same time, in the middle of tulip season.

On sunny mid-afternoons, their petals would fly open in the sun.

Golden Apeldoorn


A beautiful companion to the Parade, the Golden Apeldoorn matched it in size, color and majesty. It has a wonderful rich yellow color, a beautiful shape and a sturdy 22″-24″ stem.

You can’t beat this bright, cheery color combination for welcoming spring.

My next post will feature my other spring tulips: Apricot Beauty, Beau Monde, Negrita and White Parrot.

Tulip history is from the excellent 1841 (reprinted in 1980) book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay.

More information about choosing, storing and planting tulips can be found in my earlier post here.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Drawing, Public Domain.

Who Brought you to Gardening?

As a wonderful treat yesterday, I awoke to a lovely post on my friend Alison Kerr’s blog, Loving Nature’s Garden. Alison is a very talented observer of the natural world. From her, I’ve learned all about birds, flowers, and critters; ideas for getting myself and others outdoors; and Alison’s special relationship with her own Kansas habitat, which she shares with a great deal of wisdom and humor. And did I mention how thorough she is?

Her new post is about all the people who have influenced her to be a gardener, a wonderful trail back to her grandfather who bought baby leeks, her grandmothers who made rhubarb pie and grew wildflowers, and her mother who grew improbably warm-weather crops in Scotland. All these threads of course led to Alison’s own love of gardening and the way it connects her to family members who came before. It is a beautiful piece, with great pictures of everyone, and of course it led to a flood of hearfelt comments from readers sharing their own memories of the people who influenced them to love getting their hands dirty and growing things.

She got me thinking about my own gardening heritage, which I shared:

My family has always grown something, on patios and decks, in windowboxes and raised beds. At 9 we moved from an apartment to an old house that miraculously had a greenhouse, great beds and soil, and wonderful sun. My mom grew beautiful roses and spent lots of time lovingly cutting and arranging them. She had long, pretty fingers and I can still see picture them tending to her roses.

My dad and I took to the greenhouse, to propagate and experiment. Into the beds went cucumbers, tomatoes, marigolds, zinnias, and other cheery and fairly easy flowers. My dad worked hard at his job and gardening was a way to spend relaxing, fascinating time together.

I still always grow something, now with my own daughter. I love sowing the seeds, watching new shoots come in. Our shadier spot is home to peas, lettuce, pansies, cosmos, and tulips that are just coming up now.

I really appreciate Alison’s continuing inspiration and her getting me to think about who brought me to gardening, which I probably would not have done without the prompt. (Such can be the beauty of the internet.) I recommend you take a look at Loving Nature’s Garden, and visit often. There’s always a link to it on my front page.

My mom was also an avid photographer. The rose pictures are ones she took of her garden.

Here is my dad with a prized cucumber from a fruitful growing season.

Photos by Bunnie Sachs and Susan Sachs Lipman