The discussion around inexpensive containers for indeterminate tomato plants in a recent post has brought up a good point regarding how to conceal the clinical blandness of food industry buckets. The conversation in that post reminded me of a brilliant camouflage technique I discovered on a Saturday walk through my own neighbourhood a few years ago. I have shown this image during several presentations yet it did not occur to me to share it here. I’m not sure who the gardener/designer is although I’m fairly certain it is connected to the small restaurant that is located at this intersection. Whomever they are, what they have done to transform this corner with very little money is brilliant. The tomato plants seen in the foreground are growing in your average industrial food industry bucket but has been concealed using cheap bamboo blinds.
Putting something like this together is incredibly easy and very nearly free. The blinds are cut to size, wrapped around the container, and secured in place by wrapping string around everything and tying a knot. Try securing with wire first and then covering it up with string if you’re concerned the twine won’t hold on its own. Jute is a very affordable but weak string. It can be replaced with a stronger twine made of cotton or sisal. All kinds of decorative options are available in abundance in the curbside economy. Replace bamboo curtains with wood curtains, grass beach mats or any combination of discarded natural fibre rugs, mats, or blinds.
These materials will probably only last a year outdoors but at least you have given them another year of life out of the landfill. By the end of the year they may even be weathered enough to break into bits and put into the compost bin.
Another trick I employ when I can’t find anything to disguise ugly containers is to surround them with prettier pots. Organize larger, utilitarian buckets and garbage bins at the back of the arrangement, placing smaller, decorative pots with attractive plantings of pretty flowers and brightly coloured heirloom veggies in front. If the smaller pots are too short raise them up using larger decorative pots turned upside down as props. Make shelves out of bricks and discarded pieces of wood and then disguise that layer behind a lower tier comprised of smaller pots that sit on the ground. This tactic can be a little bit labour-intensive over the course of a growing season since it requires rearranging as the plants expand and grow. But containers generally require rearrangement for this reason regardless.
The fluidity and possibility for change that comes with container gardening is a positive that big money designers use to their advantage. While most of us can’t afford to swap out expensive containers for new expensive containers on a whim, with a little ingenuity and creativity any of us can fancify ugly buckets or simply rearrange pots to improve the overall look of our container gardeners.
During the spring and summer months I grow indeterminant tomatoes (large, vine plants) in large garbage bins like this one purchased for $10 each a number of years ago at the local Ikea. The flat grey colour has faded significantly over the years but the containers are still holding up under the wear and tear of hot summers and winter heaving caused by fluctuating temperatures.
I typically fill each container with a single tomato plant and surround it with 4 basil plants. With the weather being warmer this fall I decided to try and keep the rooftop deck productive AND aesthetically pleasing by replacing the spent tomatoes with attractive, cold-hardy edibles previously growing in smaller, individual containers. This also allowed me to get a head start on clean-up bringing in some of the smaller, terra cotta containers that will eventually come indoors for the winter.
In This Container:
- Tri-color sage
- Pansy (will keep flowering. Flowers are edible.
- ‘Lacinato Blue’ Kale aka ‘Dinosaur’ Kale
- ‘Red Bor’ Kale
- Cinnamon Basil (not cold hardy but surprisingly still going strong.)
Everything in this container is edible. Unfortunately, while we were away a squirrel made a hearty lunch of the dinosaur kale but everything else is still thriving and ready for picking whenever we need a bit of sage for our eggs, some flowers for a salad, or kale to flavour a soup.
I spotted this lovely gold and dark purple seasonally appropriate container combo at Fiesta Gardens recently. While I am generally not a fan of the traditional seasonal mixed container, this one is a simple concept with a limited colour palette incorporating unusual plants like the ‘Red Boar’ Kale centre piece that is edible and insanely inexpensive if you start it early in the year. Even still a plant that size at this time of year runs between $6 and $10. I would guess that the price of plants for a container like this (not including the price of the container) would total approximately $50-$100. It’s pricey, a little out of my league — I’d replace the Heuchera with something cheap like black or yellow pansies to lower the cost.
Plants: ‘Red Boar’ Kale [centre], Chrysanthemum [middle ring], Heuchera ‘Black Beauty’ [edging].
Okay so the succulents are half-dead and it’s actually a corny window display for a glasses store but this shallow Plexiglas planter box found while walking through Portland, Oregon is at heart a good idea. Shallow-rooted succulents like hens and chicks would do well in a container like this — the store owner just didn’t realize that easy-care doesn’t mean, “Ignore it and it will take care of itself.”
I’m not 100% positive as to how this was made but my guess would be that the maker very simply glued together some cut pieces of Plexiglas with water-proof silicone. You would need to apply the silicone both inside and outside of the seams to seal it tight.
The biggest issue with a project like this is the lack of drainage which can be easily fixed by drilling a few holes in the bottom. Or if you’re growing indoors where water dripping all over the place is a teeny, tiny problem then you can put some aquarium gravel in the bottom as a reservoir and take care not to overdo it when watering.
Phase 1 of “Project Deck Garden 2006″ was enacted yesterday afternoon. It was inspired by a sunny day and a headache that wouldn’t quit, which not surprisingly, was abated after a few hours in the fresh air. I won’t bore you with the details as Phase 1 involves large helpings of gardening’s lesser joys; clean-up, pot shifting, and organization. Instead I will list the enjoyable activities:
- Planting the “fancy”, or as I like to call them, the ‘Not 99 Cent’ pansies I bought last week. You know you’re shopping at a chi-chi garden store when they give you a paper bag for a couple of pansies.
- I then proceeded to cover the ‘Not 99 Cent’ pansies with several water bottle cloches (I’ve graduated to 4L bottles) as the flowers had all been snatched off. For years I’ve been blaming raccoons and squirrels but it turns out the thieves are my beloved starlings! WHY? Are the generous quantities of seed not enough? Can’t bargain with the birds. And incidentally the pansies do have a nice flavour.
- I planted two kinds of peas: a dwarf variety called ‘Tom Thumb’, and a sugar/snow variety I am trying for the first time called ‘Carouby de Maussane’. I decided on these instead of sweet peas as the flowers are purple and the peas are edible.
- Greens Galore – Mizuna, red mustard, several different lettuces, orach, purslane, and mache. I planted up just about every container that is currently empty, including some that will hold hot weather veggies since I’ve got nearly six weeks before the transplants go in and I will just remove some of the lettuce at that time. I’ve got a lot of seeds to use up. However, I just realized I’m out of arugula seeds! Ack!
- Radish Challenge 2006 – I can’t recall planting radishes this early in previous years which may say a lot about why I have rarely succeded in growing a decent, edible radish. The rooftop deck is windier than a ground floor garden, but it also gets very, very hot. The season is always a bit accelerated up there, resulting in lousy radishes (but early tomatoes!). This year I will grow a decent radish if it kills me. [Shakes fist in air]
- Carrots – I planted just a couple of the ‘Purple Haze’ in the container where the beans will go as an experiment. It really is impossible to think about this variety without singing the song… or imagining dudes with tie-dyed head bands dropping liquid acid onto their eyeballs. Just saying.
And then Davin showed up to help and informed me that in the tradition of bizarre, unexplainable things that happen around the street garden, someone had left a plastic wrapped cauliflower in the garden as a gift. But it seems, in an even stranger twist, that in exchange, they took the large paper bags that were holding the compostables that were waiting to be put out for city collection. Yes, they left the plant bits sitting on the sidewalk, but took the completely dilapitated and unusable bags. Huh? I REALLY have to get on making those signs I’ve been meaning to make since 2000.
Another seed order arrived in the mail from Greta’s Organic Gardens. I need to get on these asap as time is ticking. The bulk of these are tomato varieties I am testing out on the rooftop this year.
- Tomato ‘Golden Delight’
- Tomato ‘Principe Borghese’ – A paste tomato
- Tomato ‘Gold Nugget’
- Tomato ‘Black Seaman’ – An early variety.
- Red Pepper ‘Fatalii’ – I HAD to get them!
- Red lambsquarter
- Shungiku – There was a problem with the order. They accidently sent me hot peppers (a chili) but the replacement is on its way. I won’t use these hot peppers as I have a few other varieties on the go. The first Canadian to ask is welcome to them.
- Purple Millet ‘Purple Majestic’
Can you believe I have one more small order on its way? Yikes. And now I have to get some arugula! Yeah and did I mention the seeds I impulse-bought off a rack last week?
- Nicotiana ‘Indian Peace Pipe’ – These are by far my favourite nicotiana. They are huge (5′ tall) with fragrant, elongated blossoms.
- Marigold ‘Lemon/Tangerine Gem’ blend – I grew these last year and was so impressed, I’ve been promoting these like crazy since. They are incredibly prolific bloomers, the flowers are tiny with lacy foliage. And they really do taste like tangerines and lemons! They did really well in containers on my hot rooftop but keep in mind that the plants get to be quite large and rotund.
- Quinoa ‘Brightest Brilliant Rainbow’ – 2006 seems to be the year of hippie plants. Pretty and edible. I can not resist.
- Nasturtium ‘Mahogany’ – I have tasted enough nasturtiums to know that the red ones have the best flavour.