No yard? No problem. It’s possible to have a thriving green space with veggies, herbs, flowers and even trees amidst the brick and concrete of the city. All you need are some cool containers, the proper tools and materials, and a little know-how.
When deciding what type of garden to plant, start backwards. Ask yourself, how’s the sun in my yard or in the front of my house? Do I get direct sunlight all day or maybe just an hour or two in the morning? Am I committed to regular plant care and watering every day, or do I want something low-maintenance?
Next, pair your existing conditions with appropriate plants. When possible, go indigenous. Select native plants that are likely to thrive in your garden setup. Some local favorite flowers include the Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, and Butterfly Milkweed. Some veggies that grow well in the oh-so-unkind Maryland summer heat include peppers, lettuce, beans, beets, and tomatoes. And most of the popular herbs love the Mid-Atlantic growing season. Rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, parsley, catnip, and mint do well when grown with other like plants. Make sure to read each plant’s requirements before choosing a container size, pot mate, and location.
Speaking of container size, when it comes to gardening, size does matter. While small containers may be cute and easy to tuck onto a step or to place on a table, they’re typically not the best choice to launch a healthy garden. The larger the pot, the more moisture it will retain, and that’s one of the keys to plants not only surviving but thriving during a hot Baltimore summer. Select a container that’s both attractive and of the appropriate depth and shape for each plant. For example, root veggies need depth, but not a lot of width. On the flip side, a tomato plant may grow to be 2’ wide and 4’ high, so it needs a very large container to properly grow and expand.
“Tomatoes need a minimum depth of 12 inches. A little less for peppers and cukes. Lettuce and herbs can be grown in shallow containers,” says Canton resident and avid gardener Kayris Gray Wall.
Another rule to a great city garden: consider the critters. Rats like to burrow. Using containers instead of building permanent beds is one way to prevent infestation. Elevating the containers on stands or via built-in legs is recommended as well.
So it may seem like there are a lot of guidelines—and there are—but one area where you can say “to heck with the rules” is in the creativity of the container. Your garden can have as much character as a John Waters film; you just have to know where to look. There are lots of garden centers and a great local non-profit salvage yard to explore when on the hunt for unique ways to infuse your personal style into your container garden.
You can use anything from an old dry sink or whiskey barrel to a clawfoot tub. Just make sure it has a hole or holes in the bottom to allow for proper drainage, and when space allows add a layer of chunky gravel to the bottom before you add your soil.
One final step before you plant is doing a little research on what type of soil and fertilizer to use. Different plants require different nutrients. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. We asked Courtney Below of Canton Ace Hardware to give us a few pointers.
"At its core, your basic potting mix is just dirt, and it's not until you add soil amendments such as vermiculite, perlite, compost, fertilizer, and other raw materials like bark that you end up with a suitable mix for your container garden,” explains Below. “When selecting a mix, you want to consider what plants you'll be placing in your pot, and where they'll be positioned throughout the season. The amount of watering, shade, pH and space your plant will need also plays a prominent role in your gardening success.”
Below further advises: “Be wary of soils that advertise ‘moisture control’ as these can be made with a type of absorbent plastic that is fine for decorative plants, but are not ideal for herbs and edibles; instead, try adding vermiculite, or even rocks to your soil mix to improve drainage and reduce the risk of root rot. All these products are readily available at your local Ace hardware store or garden center, so if you like to get your hands dirty and plan to have several containers this season, consider saving a few dollars by making your own potting mix!"
To talk to some more local experts about details when planning the garden that’s going to make your neighbors say “Wow!”, check out these nearby merchants and organizations.
Local Gardening Resources:
Canton Ace Hardware
Patterson Park Audubon Center
RoofTop HoT Urban Farm and Sustainability Services
The Loading Dock: A non-profit building materials re-use center
Blue Water Baltimore Herring Run Nursery: A non-profit specializing in native plants