Review of Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey, Workman Publishing, 2002.
Rose Marie Nichols McGee, current owner of the renowned Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany, Oregon, teamed up with garden writer Maggie Stuckey to write Bountiful Container, a definitive manual of container gardening. We're not just talking Shasta daisies and marigolds in a pot on the porch, either. These ladies are into gardening for food, and explain in full detail how to grow a bounty of edible stuff -- vegetables, fruits, herbs, and edible flowers -- in containers.
Why grow stuff in pots when you can grow them in the ground? Because not everyone who catches the gardeing bug has access to a plot of ground. Some are apartment dwellers stuck on the upper floors with only a tiny balcony, or just a window box, or even just a window to work with. Some live in planned communities or retirement homes and do not have the freedom to tuck a tomato plant into the earth. Some have mobility problems, and find it difficult or even impossible to navigate across bumpy ground.
And then there are the impatient sorts, who don't want to deal with soil-borne diseases, underground pests, and other problems that plague in-ground gardeners.
McGee and Stuckey spend time reviewing types of pots, going well beyond the traditional clay pot or wooden half-barrel. Grow salad greens in an old salad bowl? Why not? A kid-size container garden featuring violas growing in the back of a discarded toy dump truck? Sure! A hanging basket fashioned from a thrift-shop colander? How thrifty! When you've finished the chapter on containers, you'll find yourself looking around garage sales or the Dollar Store thinking, "Hmm, could this be a good planter? Could this? Or this?"
The chapter on soil discusses planting mixes, which, in spite of the common term "potting soil," don't contain any actual soil. Rather, potting mixes must carry out the dual and seemingly mutally exclusive roles of retaining moisture while allowing drainage, a feat they accomplish by mixing spongy, absorbant peat moss with light perlite or vermiculite.
Finally the section on the plants themselves gives dozens of ideas of edible plants to choose from, with a list of varieties that are especially suited for containers. Interspersed are ideas for theme gardens: a child's garden, a salsa garden, an ethnic foods garden, and more.
The one drawback to container gardening is keeping them watered. Plants in the ground can send roots down deep to find water reserves if they need to, and even shallow-rooted vegetables have their roots embedded in soil that is protected from the sun, but in containers, those roots can't go any further than the bottom of the pot. In hot weather, containers may have to be watered twice a day to keep the plants healthy. Some folks who plan to travel in the summer assemble a drip system on a timer to keep their containers watered without depending on some hapless neighbor to come and run the hose for them.
Even if you have an in-ground garden, you may want to try containers for their decorative effect, or for hard-to-grow veggies. I've successfully grown peppers, melons, and other crops requiring a long, hot summer in our mild Pacific Northwest summers in spite of the shorter season by putting them in containers and placing the containers in a warm spot. The peppers flourished alongside a blacktop driveway, while the melons sprawled all over a sun-baked deck. Sound like fun? Then try the Bountiful Container for complete instructions.