Between the Rows: Guides to scaling back your gardening habits

  • Gardeners of any age will find lots of inspiration from “Container Gardening Complete” by Jessica Walliser and the “Houseplant Handbook” by David Squire. METRO CREATIVE COMMONS


Friday, January 26, 2018

A number of years ago, I watched a television show about centenarians and the likely reasons they were living such long and healthy lives. The interview with one man, a devoted gardener, particularly struck me. He lived in a house on a large piece of property that included a woodlot that he tended, vegetable and ornamental gardens. As he grew older, and his strength began to diminish, he decided he would have to give up working in his woodlot. As time went on, and he became less mobile, he also gave up his vegetable and flower gardens. In response to these losses, he turned to window boxes, where he would still get his hands in the soil and tend his flowers. He had found a way to keep doing the thing he loved.

He isn’t the first person who’s had to scale back, but many don’t know how. “Container Gardening Complete: Creative Projects for Growing Vegetables and Flowers in Small Places” by Jessica Walliser provides tips for doing so. For me, the key words are “complete” and “creative” projects. Gardeners of any age will find lots of inspiration.

Walliser supplies information about the basics of gardening — soil (in this case potting soils) watering, fertilizing, managing pests and plant diseases. Anyone who has gardened before will be very familiar with this information, although it never hurts to go over the basics, or to be able to review cures for pest damage or disease.

Some of us are would-be-gardeners who have limited space but would like to take up gardening. The question in that scenario is usually, “How do I begin?” Besides providing answers to that question, Walliser also dives into the great world of containers.

Containers come in all sizes, from small ceramic bowls for succulents to large handsome containers of metal or resin, and magnificent containers for small flowering trees. We can also let our imaginations run wild as we consider what items we have around the house that can be repurposed, and create a unique and possibly humorous container.

A major value of the book is the interspersed directions for how-to projects. These range from simple trellises and many other supports, self-watering containers that are much less expensive than commercial containers, and vegetable growing bins. There is also information about brand new types of containers like fabric Smart Pots, crop pockets that make use of pocketed closet organizers, and gutter gardens that call for roof gutters that can be attached to a sunny wall, filled with potting soil and small plants like herbs.

“Houseplant Handbook: Basic Growing Techniques and a Directory of 300 Everyday Houseplants” by David Squire presents another way to enjoy green and blooming plants if you have no outdoor space. Many people who begin growing houseplants find that is an easy way to enter the gardening world.

This is an excellent book for the novice gardener, beginning with instructions on how to examine a nursery plant carefully for disease or insect damage before buying it. This is followed by information about potting soil, watering, repotting and grooming plants, as well as how to handle chemical or non-chemical treatments for pests and disease.

A useful section explains propagating, beginning with seeds, a variety of ways to take cuttings from stem and cane cuttings, to every kind of leaf cutting. I surprised myself when I tried making begonia petiole leaf cuttings and ended up with half a dozen new healthy begonia plants. It seemed quite miraculous to me that a new plant would be created from a single leaf.

In fact, when I visited Andrews Greenhouse in December, I was fascinated by the flats of leaf triangle cuttings sending out new begonia shoots. A new plant from just a tiny section of the mother has been created. There are many mysterious examples in the garden — life will not be denied.

The major part of the book is given over to a catalog of more than three hundred plant varieties that provide all necessary information about size, light and water needs, as well as how to handle them in the different seasons. Some common houseplants like pocketbook flower (Calceolaria) are not expected to last for more than one year, but others like Schefflera can last for a decade or more. Some are familiar, like philodendron, and others, like gunpowder plant with flowers that shoot out pollen, are more unusual.

There is no denying that houseplants, many of which will clean the air, will make a house seem like a more lively home. Containers for houseplants can be standard terra cotta or plastic pots, or “Container Gardening Complete” might help you turn your container, and its plant, into a work of art.

Both the “Container Gardening Complete” and the “Houseplant Handbook” have clear and beautiful photographs that will give you new information, new ways of looking at plants, and new ways of displaying them. For new gardeners, or small space gardeners, both these books are useful and enjoyable reading.

Pat Leuchtman has written and gardened since 1980. She lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.