Wanda Urbanska: Container Gardening: Growing Plants in a ‘No-Yard’ World

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By Wanda Urbanska

One of Marci Murphy-Fedderson’s main gardening goals this year is to plant a raspberry bush. While this might seem like a modest undertaking, it’s more impressive when you consider that the 51-year-old Utah woman doesn’t live on a farm; she doesn’t even have a yard. Her home base is 900-square-foot apartment in Salt Lake City with a patio, and the raspberry bush is destined for a pot.

Murphy-Fedderson is one of a growing group of container gardeners, people who grow their own vegetables and flowers in the smallest of spaces, whether on a piece of pavement, a pint-size patio, or a window sill.

“More people than ever are living in urban environments… apartments, condominiums, spider holes stacked neatly on top of each other,” writes D.J. Herda, in his book From Container to Kitchen: Growing Fruits and Vegetables in Pots (New Society: 2010). These produce- and nature-loving apartment dwellers are more health conscious than their parents, he says, and increasingly concerned about reports of toxins and heavy metals in supermarket produce. The high cost of organic produce and the desire to eat local food is also driving them. What’s more, there’s a basic human impulse to muck around in the dirt and work with Mother Nature to produce something beautiful… and tasty.

 “My heart is in the garden,” says Murphy-Fedderson. Picking a green pepper that she cultivated and eating it, says the insurance contracts processer, is “good for body, mind and soul.” Murphy-Fedderson, who shares her apartment with her 21-year-old son, says that last season her garden supplied them with tomatoes all summer long. “For three months, I didn’t have to buy a single tomato.”

She has been container gardening in earnest for the past eight years, each season perfecting her potted garden universe, tweaking her methods and the mix of plants. Last year, she invested in quality ceramic pots, bringing the number to twenty, including hanging baskets. This year, she plans to increase the proportion of edibles to flowers, and to branch out to new items, such as garlic.

carrotFor the uninitiated, container gardening is a great way to give gardening a go without investing a fortune. You can add spots of color onto your balcony or window box, and cut a flower you’ve grown to present to your ailing child or your true love. Container gardening enables you to control the soil, therefore reducing the incidence of soil-borne diseases. You’ll likely deal with fewer weeds, and will enjoy increased control over climactic conditions such as late freezes. (If it’s in a pot, you can lug it back inside for the night.)

If you’re ready to plunge your trowel into container gardening, how do you get started? 

  • Start small, by cultivating herbs such as parsley and rosemary in your kitchen window.
  • Tomatoes and cucumbers are safe bets – and good starter plants – for your patio or front stoop.
  • Select a good soil grade, rich in loam and course sand or perlite. Unless you plan to mix your own, it’s better to purchase your potting soil from a reputable garden center than a big box store.
  • Though your space may be limited, try not to cram too many plants in a single pot. Space your plants appropriately, allowing them to breathe and achieve desired size.

Pots can be the most costly part of the investment, so take care of them. Glazed ceramic and terracotta pots remain popular, both for their earthy look and for those with concerns about chemicals from plastics leaching into the soil. Murphy-Fedderson mentioned that her instructor at a recent container gardening workshop showed off an old Dutch oven that he’d repurposed into pot for chives. (All he had to do was clean it out and drill a drainage hole in the bottom.) At the workshop, the instructor also challenged students to think outside the pot and experiment with unconventional container produce, such as eggplant, broccoli and… raspberries.

Once you get the hang of container gardening, you may be surprised by the satisfaction and the yield. Marci Murphy-Fedderson and a neighbor who keeps chickens have struck a barter arrangement: tomatoes for eggs. She chuckles: “I have people say to me, ‘You live in an apartment; where’d you get your tomatoes from?’”


To learn more about container gardening, go to your local library. You can also look for the following resources:

Easy Container Combos: Vegetables & Flowers
by Pamela Crawford (Color Garden: 2010)

Secrets to Great Soil
by Elizabeth Stell (Storey Publishing; 1998)

The Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide
by Stephen Albert (Booksurge Publishing: 2008)



Bio: Sustainability advocate and media consultant Wanda Urbanska is author or coauthor of nine books, including The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life (Krause: 2010). She directs the Jan Karski U.S. Centennial Campaign, www.jankarski.net.


Photo credits:
Dr Wyche's Yellow Tomato by Chiot's Run
Carrot: by hddod


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