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Top 10 Container Garden Must-Haves

Top 10 Container Garden Must-Haves

Wouldn't it be nice to have something lush, green, and joyful growing outside your window? Now is the time to start planning a super simple, super satisfying container garden. You don't need a green thumb or any gardening know-how. I've spend the last 5 years researching planters, garden tools, and so you can just use this post as your shopping list. My garden grows in the tiny patch of sunlight in my Brooklyn backyard, so if you live in or around Zone 7, my plants should work for you, too.

1) The Best Self-Watering Planters! I bought these Terrazza Raised Beds ($179 each) in 2013, and they're one of the best purchases I've ever made. (Scroll down to see the lush garden I grew in them!) Each of the planters below offers 9 square-feet of growing space, with a depth of 12 inches, and an 8-gallon water reservoir. I water them regularly, but the reservoir means I never have to worry about missing a day or two. You can also get a half-sized, rectangular Terrazza Trough Planter ($125), which I've since purchased for my raspberries and roses.

Terrazza Raised Beds from Gardener's Supply, ready for planting.

The best self-watering beds for a square foot garden: Terrazza Raised Beds in full bloom!

2) Tall Cages for Vegetables! In the photo above, you can see the super-tall, 65-inch tomato cages against the wall, where they're being used to grow cucumbers. Below, you can see them against our house, where they were used to grow Scarlet Runner Beans. And below that, you can see how the giant structures just fade into a full-grown garden. They're easy to move around, and I'll never go back to those ridiculously little hardware store tomato cages again!

urban garden

3) Tomato Ladder for Vining Veggies! If you're growing a single tiny tomato (below, at left) or cucuamelon (below, at right) in a pot, you don't want the bulk of a giant cage, but you still need some height. These amazing stacking tomato ladders come in sets of 6 ($49.95), and you can stack as your plant grows. With a v-shaped design, they work much better than stakes, and they're made of powder-coated steel so they won't rust.

Patio garden with stacking tomato ladders from Gardener's Supply.

My 2-story Brooklyn container garden! The tall tomato plant on our upstairs patio is using the slim stacking tomato ladders to grow what appears to be a free-standing tomato vine.

4) The Best Tiny Vegetables! When I need a big heirloom tomato, I hit up my friends at East Durham Farms. I find it frustrating to garden all summer only to end up with one or two big vegetables. Instead, I grow higher yields of tiny, vining crops. If you're growing vertically in containers, it's hard to beat White Flower Farm's Teeny, Tiny Tomato Collection. The 3 plants in the collection produce so many tomatoes that you'll be sick of them by the end of the summer! This year, I'm just doing the Super Sweet 100 Tomatoes. I also highly recommend growing cucamelons, since they're cute, easy, and hard to find if you don't grow them yourself.

Super Sweet 100 tomatoes grown on my patio.

Super Sweet 100 tomatoes grown on my patio.

5) A no-care, bloom-all-summer flower! In my garden, the busiest bloomer is Geranium Rozanne, a perennial with lavender-blue flowers that I bought years ago from White Flower Farm. (I've bought plants from many growers, but as I list my favorite plants, I realize that the majority of them were shipped to me from this family-owned Connecticut Nursery.)

Geranium Rozanne from White Flower Farm.

6) The Square Foot Gardening Handbook! If you're getting serious about gardening, you need to read All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space by Mel Bartholomew. The best bit of advice Mel gives is a recipe for soil to fill your gardening beds: 

  • 1/3 vermiculite
  • 1/3 peat moss
  • 1/3 compost (If you buy more than one bag of compost, get more than one type to vary nutrients in the soil)

With Mel's soil mix and growing techniques, my urban garden has had glorious results.

7) Eye-Catching, Easy + Nutritious Kale! My son, Archer, is completely obsessed with Kale Nero di Toscano. He the leaves right off the plant, and I blend them into smoothies or shred them into salads. I love how their giant, crinkly, deeply blue-green leaves look among my herbs and flowers. I've grown this from seed, but my seedlings are never as huge an hardy as the plants I buy annually from White Flower Farm.

Kale Nero Di Toscano in my herb and flower garden.

8) An Easy-Care Rose!  I bought a Rose Julia Child from White Flower Farm when I was pregnant with my daughter, Ramona. I imagined pruning and fertilizing my rosebush while my summer baby slept in a basket at my feet. As it turned out, Ramona liked to be held at all times and pretty much never slept! Luckily, Julia didn't need nearly as much attention as Ramona did. All I do is water her, and she is consistently covered with deeply fragrant, buttery blooms. My rose lives in a Terrazza Trough Planter, flanked by the crinkly, blue-green leaves of two kale plants.

Rose Julia Child from White Flower Farm.

9) Raspberries! I grow two plants in a single Terrazza Trough Planter, but if I wish I had room for more! I bought an Autumn Bliss raspberry plant and Anne Gold raspberry plant after a helpful conversation about container-grown berries with Farmer Keith at Backyard Berry Plants in Indiana. (Seriously, if you have any questions about berry-growing, his website is an amazing source of information.) His plants aren't cheap at $25 each, but he ships large, healthy plants that fruit in their first season. The Autumn Bliss berries (pictured below) are large and sweet, but the yellow Anne Golds are my favorites. They're almost tropical-tasting, without a hint of tartness, and they always get eaten before I have time to take a picture.

10) An Overflowing Flowerpot! If all you have is a single planter on your patio or fire escape, I can't say enough good things about the Pastel Patio Annual Collection. It's a $47 bouquet that lasts all summer (in full sun with daily watering). White Flower Farm recommends a container at least 15 inches in diameter and 6 inches deep. If you aren't into pinks and purples, check out the long list of beautiful, ready-to-plant annual combinations at White Flower Farm.

Pastel Patio Annual Collection from White Flower Farm.

If you have any questions about container gardens, or any suggestions for new plants I should try this year, please contact me in the comments.

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