Perfect for gardeners with little green space, this garden plan will help you grow a productive food garden in containers.
By Niki Jabbour
Groundbreaking Food Gardens (Storey Publishing, 2014) by Niki Jabbour is a stellar collection of unique food garden plans from some of the best gardeners and designers in North America. Choose from 73 plans, each with its own theme and detailed illustration. In this excerpt, get plans for growing a productive container garden.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Groundbreaking Food Gardens.
Growing a garden in containers on a sunny deck, balcony, or patio is an easy way to keep aromatic herbs and ripe vegetables within easy reach of the kitchen. If you’re going to the trouble of growing edible plants in pots, you’ll want to pick the best-tasting varieties. In their garden plan, which measures less than 50 square feet, Renee Shepherd and Beth Benjamin feature over a dozen varieties of attractive edibles, all with outstanding flavor, and most bred specifically for container culture.
For would-be vegetable gardeners without room for an in-ground plot, or whose yards are steeped in shade, container gardening makes it possible to grow food. The containers can be placed on cramped city balconies, high-rise rooftops, backyard decks and patios, or anywhere else with a flat surface and some sunshine. Those with sore knees, bad backs, or other physical limitations may prefer the ease of gardening in elevated pots, which reduces the need to bend and stoop.
Illustration by Mary Ellen Carsley
1. Pole beans: ‘Emerite’ (on trellis)
2. Peas: ‘Sugar Snap’ (on trellis)
3. Swiss chard, arugula, and parsley: ‘Rainbow’ Swiss chard; ‘Rustic’ arugula; flat-leaved (Italian) parsley
4. Parsley: flat-leaved (Italian)
5. Chives and kale: Portugese (sea) kale
6. Lettuce: ‘Monet’s Garden’ cutting mix
7. Basil: ‘Italian Cameo’ or ‘Windowbox’ bush (4 to 8)
8. Mesclun: ‘Wine Country’
For 5-Gallon Containers
9. Tomato: ‘Sungold’ (1, caged)
10. Cucumber: ‘Bush Slicer’ (1)
11. Swiss chard: ‘Rainbow’ (3 or 4)
12. Tomato: ‘Super Bush’ (1)
13. Zucchini: ‘Astia’ (1)
For 1-Gallon Containers
14. Basil: ‘Cameo’ (4)
15. Parsley: flat-leaved (Italian) or curly (3 or 4)
16. Marigold: ‘Summer Splash’ (1 to 3)
17. Chives (3 or 4)
18. Lettuce: ‘Garden Babies’ (4)
19. Nasturtium: ‘Empress of India’ (4)
A focus on quality. With a little planning, virtually any type of vegetable or herb may be grown in containers. As it’s difficult to duplicate the productivity of an in-ground plot, Renee and Beth recommend gardening for quality rather than quantity, choosing gourmet varieties based on their flavor and vigor. Their plan for a potted kitchen garden includes well-tested vegetables and herbs that thrive when grown in containers, such as ‘Astia’ zucchini, ‘Garden Babies’ lettuce, and ‘Super Bush’ tomato. Renee notes that container-specific varieties can be compact plants with full-size fruits, or they can be truly miniature in stature with baby fruits.
Multitalented plants. When container gardens are located in outdoor living spaces where you will be entertaining or relaxing, it’s nice to have plants that taste and look good. With the belief that a food garden can also be a beautiful place, Renee and Beth’s gourmet plant choices are based on several criteria: they must be visually pleasing, they must have outstanding taste, and they must produce over an extended period of time, ensuring the longest possible harvest. Even the salad greens that are included in this plan are bolt-resistant, attractive, and long-standing varieties that will provide months of fresh greens for salad, stir-fries, and sandwiches.
Keeping containers looking fresh. To boost production and ensure the garden “will always look good,” Beth recommends seeding a fresh pot of greens and other quick-growing vegetables partway through the season, while the older plants are still going strong. When the first crop has peaked it can be switched out for the fresh container filled with plants almost ready for harvest.
Sizing up. Renee cautions you to read your seed packet carefully before planting, and to choose the right size container to save yourself time and frustration. Most crops in Renee and Beth’s plan are grown in long planter boxes and 1- or 5-gallon containers; the small pots are reserved for the most compact crops, including basil, marigolds, and ‘Garden Babies’ lettuce. Leave at least 1 foot of space between pots to ensure adequate air circulation and room for the plants to grow.
To get your edible container garden off to a good start, fill your pots with a high-quality potting mix and be sure to water and fertilize your crops consistently. Potted vegetables and herbs need more water than plants in in-ground gardens, and their moisture levels should be checked daily.
Trellising with containers. At the back of the garden, Renee and Beth include several trellises to lend support to vining ‘Sugar Snap’ peas and ‘Emerite’ pole beans. Growing vegetables vertically is a smart way to use space, and also it leads to larger yields per square foot and makes harvesting easier (less need to bend). If nosy neighbors are closer than you’d like, use trellised crops to create a living privacy screen. Edibles that can be grown vertically include small pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, beans, and peas. Ornamental gourds and flowering vines are other options for privacy trellises.
1. To overcome a lack of ideal in-ground garden space.
2. To shorten your trips to the garden. Grow the plants that you’re going to eat close to the house for easy harvest—especially when you’re busy in the kitchen!
3. To simplify gardening in extreme climates. When it’s very hot, you can provide shade by moving the containers beneath trees or into the shade cast by the house. Where it’s too cold, simply place your pots in the warmest parts of the property.
4. To put plants at a convenient level for those with bad backs or physical limitations
5. To enjoy exceptionally flavored vegetable and herbs that are not easily found (or too expensive) at local supermarkets.
6. To have your kale and eat it too. Because many of these plant choices are both delicious and attractive, it’s a clever way to beautify a deck or patio.
Excerpted from Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Niki Jabbour, illustration by Mary Ellen Carsley used with permission from Storey Publishing. Buy this book from our store: Groundbreaking Food Gardens.