Container Gardening

In an ideal world, you’d get to climb a tree every once in a while, but it’s be real here: the most nature a lot of us get to experience is that (terrifying) tiny spider that crawls across the ceiling above our bed at night. Even those of us who live in the greyest of cities haven’t totally managed to escape romanticizing nature, though; we look forward to blueberries in the summer and pumpkins in the fall and count down the days until crocuses finally bloom in the spring.

But Christmas trees (real or otherwise) don’t have to be the only plants you invite into your house. You can start a garden in your kitchen, bathroom or bedroom and have something living and breathing and green in your house all year long. Container gardens can be miniscule things you start in your window sill or massive jungles your cultivate on your porch. All you need is a potted plant to get started. And you really should get started; plants are damn useful things to have around. They keep your space cool, clean your air, calm you down, feed you and add something dynamic to rooms that spend most of their time empty while you’re busy whirling around working and generally being a person.

We all want to grow with the seeds we will sow

The first thing you need when you’re building a container garden is not, in fact, containers; it’s plants. I say this because, as a person who has a habit of starting projects and never finishing them, it’s really easy to collect a hundred and twenty-seven fancy containers and never find time to fill them with anything. Instead of letting your pots gather dust, motivate yourself by going out and getting plants first so that you’re forced to do something with them before they die.

I’d recommend starting your garden with a mix of plants and seeds. Like remembering to take my vitamins, watering is something that I have trouble remembering to do daily (there’s a reason I don’t have pets, y’all), especially when there aren’t actual wilting plants around to remind me that they need watered. I also make sure to start with a plant or two that I’ll use when I cook–something like basil or cilantro–so that I remember to water my plants when I go to grab a leaf or two for dinner. Seeds are a good thing to have because there’s so much more variety available whether you’re buying them from Home Depot or ordering them online. They’re also crazy cheap compared to plants and last for years, which means you can keep your garden going all through the winter.

Here are some of my picks for plants and seeds:

Avocados: My avocado plant is my pride and joy. I’ve nurtured it from a tiny(ish) seed that came from an avocado that I used to make a sandwich, to the 14-inch tall plant it is today. In nine years, all my hard work will be worthwhile when my tree finally grows its first avocado and I move to guacamole heaven. All you need to start your own plant is an avocado, three toothpicks, water, and a cup. It takes almost 2 months to even sprout, but don’t get impatient: it’ll happen!

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Mimosas: Not the drinks, the plants. Mimosa plants are good to have around when you’re having a lot of feelings. They curl up when you touch them and go to sleep every night which makes them slightly better pets than hermit crabs which, as far as I can tell, do nothing.

Herbs: Everyone needs herbs in their life. I’d go with basil (for pizza and pasta), cilantro (for everything), mint (for tea), parsley (for tabouli) and lavender (because it smells good). Buying cut herbs at the grocery costs an arm and a leg and they always manage to go bad before you can use the whole bundle so why not grow them yourself?

Beans: Beans are hands down the easiest and fastest things to grow. If you’re easily bored or bad at keeping things alive, try starting with beans.

Flowers: Everything you grow doesn’t have to be useful; you can grow flowers just because.

Contain yourself!

Okay, now that you’ve got some plants, you can start hunting for containers. You’re going to need big ones and little ones because the name of the game here is variety. Ideally, the containers you plant in will be things you collect over time, but since you’re just beginning you’ll need to jump-start your collection.

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I’ve used:

Terra cotta pots: These guys are the most obvious for planting, but are also the most expensive and potentially the most boring. A pot or two never hurt anybody, though, so grab a couple and break out your paint. Acrylics work great on terra cotta and can be sprayed with a matte finish to keep the paint from chipping off.

Egg cartons: Because they’re biodegradable and already divided up into 12 sections, egg cartons are perfect for starting seeds. The cardboard they’re made out of also makes it really easy to tell if you’ve over- or under-watered because it will be just as wet or dry as the soil it’s holding.

Eggs: Don’t just use the cartons, save your eggshells! You can plant seeds or tiny seedlings in eggshells and put them in bigger pots for decoration.

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Tea cups, mugs, bowls & glasses: Thrift stores, your parents’ basement and the sale section of places like Anthropologie are fertile hunting grounds for these babies.

Mason jars: You’d be surprised what you can find at thrift stores. Last week, I bought a pack of 5 giant mason jars for 69¢ which pretty much blows the grocery store’s 12 pack for $10 out of the water. Basically what I’m trying to say here is: don’t spend money when you don’t have to.

Cans and jars: Tomato sauce jars and soup cans are easy and weirdly pretty things to plant in. Just make sure you wash them well before you use them because mold is not something you want growing in your garden.

Hanging pots: If you’re feeling ambitious, places like IKEA sell pots that you can hang from your ceiling if you’re handy with a screwdriver.

Randomness is very difficult to achieve

Once you’ve assembled all your pots, you need to start putting together your garden. There’s nothing wrong with throwing all your containers onto the table and calling it a day, but you can go the extra step and make things doubly pretty.

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Consider:

Surfaces: If you don’t already have a table or counter top that you’re going to use for your container garden, head right back to the thrift store.

Layering: To keep your garden from looking monotonous, you can build layers by stacking books and cigar boxes so that your pots all sit at different levels.

Watering cans: Keep a full watering can nearby so that watering doesn’t become a chore. If you don’t have a watering can, a wine bottle or olive oil bottle works just as well. If you can get unsoftened water (or hose water: yum), it’ll be better for your plants, but I’ve lived plenty of places where a sink was all I had and my plants were healthier than a horse.

Fake flowers: Just because it’s a garden doesn’t mean all your flowers have to be real. I’ve got all kinds of tissue paper flowers, pictures of flowers cut out of magazines, and silk flowers I got from Hobby Lobby mixed in with the real ones.

Cut flowers: You can also go for real flowers that are no longer technically alive. Beer bottles, especially ones with nice labels, make good vases.

Cutlery: Have you ever seen those hammered spoon plant markers on Etsy? You can make them! All you need are spoons, forks and knives, a heavy hammer, and a set of metal stamping letters (which you can get for ~$8 at a craft store).

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Sun: Your garden needs to be somewhere where your plants will get enough light. A south-facing window is a good place, but if you happen to live on the east side of your building, a grow light works too. If you’re sticking with the real deal, don’t forget to rotate your plants every once in awhile or they’ll all grow lopsided towards the sun.

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