By Lisa Schramek Adams
Somehow the fireweed is already tall and blooming signaling us that fall will be arriving before long. In my container garden, I’m dreaming about what I may do differently for next year. As an amateur gardener and I learn so much from other gardeners, in fact my questions seem to increase every year. In this post, I share some of my process to create containers and hanging baskets filled with edible perennials and annuals for a beautiful and tasty display. After all, I love painting plants from the garden, so it must have flowers too!
My garden has changed dramatically as I continue to educate myself and determine what works for us and our location. See the resource section (at the bottom of the post) to check out some of my favorite gardening teachers.
My edible garden goals this year:
- Have safe grazing areas and education opportunities for our son.
- Increase the percentage of edible plants in the garden.
- Experiment with more greens and planting from seed.
I met my goals for this summer and have been reflecting on my next goals in the garden. What failures can I learn from? What else do I want to try? Specifically, I’m thinking about the non-summer time garden work and how I can help myself get more organized.
- Label each pot that holds perennials before we put it away for the winter!
- Look for more edible flower varieties to try.
- Clean up pots and organize seed starting stuff.
When planning the container garden, I consider multiple factors. If you are starting from scratch or rethinking your system, looking at the qualities of your site and available container supports may be helpful. Document what you notice about everything now (especially the light) and moving forward into fall as our levels decrease. Consider the basic elements that control the area you have to garden, including: sunlight, space/volume, rain/covered areas, and your ability to bring in soil improvements.
Tip! Move garden reference photos into a labeled file as you take them, so you can easily find them this winter when you are garden planning!
Container supports can be simple. This season, I created additional raised areas by borrowing wood and boards from our woodshed and balancing them until stable- no nails- later I can set them aside and give the deck a good cleaning this fall. Hanging baskets are heavy, make sure you have a sturdy hook or eye installed to handle the weight. Part way through the season I appropriated a rickety ladder to hold more plants.
This spring, I became focused on the idea of a victory garden, so I planted more edible plants and flowers from seed than ever before. So many seed trays in our tiny house! It gave my spinning brain something to do and was an excellent activity to share with our little boy. I wanted to have a kitchen garden area for him to help tend and harvest from throughout the summer. Also, I started many new greens from seed and explored the idea of companion planting to help guide plant combinations in containers. I found it to be a helpful strategy and plan to use this idea in the future. Right now, I’m looking at what is fading and making notes about what we are using and loving in the containers- both to eat and look at.
I like a wild cottage garden look and I’ve chosen to pack our triangle area with hanging baskets, pots on leaning shelves, and pots on a table to make use of the available vertical space. I may have gone a little overboard this year, but we have really enjoyed our little jungle! Each year I’ve planted and altered the plan a bit, based on the previous years successes/failures, and the new ideas I’d like to try. When I first started planting containers, my experiments were typically spontaneous purchases at the plant store or seed rack. While I do still occasionally pick up a plant unexpectedly, usually it’s something I know will likely work or I purposely want to experiment with. I recently picked up some lemon verbena. Will it overwinter? It could become a new staple perennial.
Some of my favorite containers this year are very simple combinations of common plants. We create salads from our containers and like having mint or other herbs on hand for tea and cooking. I approach plant combinations like painting and look at shape, form, and color to create lush containers that can be trimmed and keep producing. Use perennials as a base year after year and add annual seeds and starts to create a pretty and edible container or hanging basket. I also create containers dominated by large plants (such as peas) with a few additional smaller annuals on the edge.
Here is the formula I’m working from:
Floral color palette: deep blue/purple with a range of soft sunset accents.
Perennial: mints, strawberry, chive.
According to companion plant lists, mint and strawberry are not happy in the same planter and strawberries can inhibit the growth of cabbage family greens and many other plants. This year, I learned from a neighbor gardener that there are some types of strawberry that produce runners and some that don’t. So I added running strawberries to my garden and may keep all strawberries separate from other plants.
Mints- Bushy to trailing, a variety of leaf forms and fuzzy medium purple flowers.
Strawberry- Large leaves, need air for fruit formation. Can be trailing. White flowers.
Chives- Vertical, can flop, round purple flowers if untrimmed.
Nasturtiums- Warm colored flowers. Varieties from 2 feet to 12 feet plants!
Peas- Subtle white flowers. Varies in size and pod. Always seeks support to climb.
Leafy Greens- From frilly bright mustard greens to dark purple cabbage. A wonderful source of texture and colors to add depth to your container and give you plenty of salad ingredients.
Lettuces- Need frequent picking to stay pretty. Cultivate a rotation of new starts to replace if needed.
Pansies & Violas- Varieties in local shops vary. My favorite edible flower for introducing a range of blue/purple.
Calendula- A type of marigold. Available in softer specialty light colors from seed.
Including edible flowers that bloom at different times of the summer will help your containers have more color as well as produce. Pansies and violas are at their best early in the season and then fade as other flowers, like calendula and nasturtium, are at their best. Look for special varieties that are different colors. Record those resources now, so when they have fresh seeds available, you can be first in line. You may have friends and neighbors willing to share perennials, as those all need to be divided at some point. Make sure you have containers and soil ready to care for your new plants immediately, so they can settle in before the weather turns chilly.
Resources– Here are a few of my favorite resources in different formats.
Color in Rain Country: Growing Flowers in Southeastern Alaska By Bridget A. Smith and Betty Harris
I continue to refer to this text for Southeast Alaska specific conditions and ideas.
Vegetable Gardens by National Home Gardening Club
A general vegetable resource guide, however I’m looking for something different.
In the Garden with Ed Buyarski (KFSK Radio) https://www.kfsk.org/in-the-garden/
A treasure chest of radio interviews with Ed all focused on Southeast gardening.
The Joe Gardener Show Podcast
A general show that covers many gardening topics for many levels of gardener.
BBC Gardeners World- with Monty Don
A long running series that covers all garden topics- perfect for obsessive gardeners.
Grow, Cook, Eat
A series that focuses on one specific vegetable at a time- from planting to cooking.