We love working with all kinds of clients — each has their own story and garden dreams, and it’s rewarding to help make those dreams a reality. We especially love when kids are involved — it brings great pleasure to see families involving their kids in the garden, helping to pass on the important lessons about the nature of food. One of our clients, Katie, is doing just that with her container garden.
Katie is like many folks in our area — she loves cooking and eating good food, tries to serve healthy food to her family, and would love to have her own veggie garden. She is also a busy working mother and doesn’t have much time to devote to planning or preparing a garden. In fact, the whole notion of a garden has felt a bit overwhelming. So she enlisted Sprout to help get her garden going, and that’s just what we’ve done.
We have a very simple four-step process to help make things easy for our clients: 1) We discuss our client’s garden vision & do a site walk-through; 2) We gather our materials; 3) We plant; and finally 4) We coach our client on plant care. Here’s how this process worked with Katie’s garden:
First, a garden walk-through. We begin by discussing Katie’s garden dreams and interests. We meet at her house in Alexandria, and talk through her vision for her garden. She wants to start small to be sure a garden will fit within her family’s schedule and abilities, so we decide to focus on a few key herbs and veggies. She loves salads and is an adventurous cook, so we choose a variety of leafy greens and herbs, as well as a few low-maintenance veggies.
We also walk around her yard, assessing the space. We talk about sunlight, water & drainage, and wildlife (they have deer, squirrels, birds and an occasional fox in their area). Her yard is heavily shaded by mature trees, but their deck gets plenty of sun, so we decide a container garden on the deck is her best option.
Then we gather our materials. Katie has a bunch of containers she wants to use, so that’s easy; otherwise I’m happy to select and source appropriate containers. I purchase the soil (I use Gardener’s Gold potting soil — it’s high-quality and organic), and the plants (I buy herb and veggie seedlings from DeBaggio’s Herbs in Chantilly — a great farm/nursery with an unparalleled variety of plants).
Be sure to use potting soil when planting in containers — it is specially blended to work well in confined spaces.
Now we’re ready to plant. I bring our materials to Katie’s home, and get to work. First I lay out all the containers and seedlings, matching them up and determining where to plant each one.
Plan before you dig. Line plants up with the containers they’ll go in, to be sure everything has an appropriate space.
Then I fill the pots with soil, remove the plants from their containers, gently loosen the compacted roots, and tuck them into the soil, lightly filling in around them. If you use good potting soil, you won’t need to add any compost or fertilizer. Finally I give them a good soaking. It’s that simple!
Katie’s garden includes several varieties of leafy greens (rucola, spinach, chard and leaf lettuce), sweet peppers, two varieties of tomatoes (Better Boy and Juliette), and a selection of herbs (rosemary, cilantro, parsley, and two varieties each of thyme and basil).
Great greens — lettuces, spinach, chard and a variety of herbs. This will make for some very fresh and tasty salads!
Katie loves French cuisine, so I’ve selected rosemary and two kinds of thyme — Golden Lemon and French — to complement her cooking.
Katie would also like to include her two young children in the gardening process, so I prepare an extra container and give her a package of carrot seeds with instructions for how to plant them with her kids.
I also give her a little gift of strawberries for her kids to enjoy. The plants are fairly developed already, so I know the reward of picking and eating the sweet berries will be soon forthcoming. It’s helpful to have a quick payoff for younger gardeners who may not have the patience to wait a full season to reap their gardening reward!
The strawberry plants are already flowering, so fruit is not far behind.
Finally, we discuss plant care. I talk through all the plants with Katie, explaining the few care tips she needs to know. We’ve designed this to be a low-maintenance garden, so the care is quite simple — basically just providing supplemental water when rainwater isn’t enough. Their hose isn’t convenient to the deck, so I recommend a large watering can that her kids can help with. We talk about how and when to harvest the different varieties (e.g., clipping lettuce leaves from the outside, pinching off basil so they don’t get leggy, etc). Finally, I let her know that if she has any questions or concerns, she can email me photos or call any time. I’ll be back in a few weeks to check on the growth, and to stake the tomatoes when they’re ready.
So that does it for this phase of Katie’s garden. We set her containers in the sun, and she’s ready to go. She’s excited about having her own edible garden — something she has wanted for a long time. Now comes the fun — planting seeds with her kids, and enjoying the fruits of their labors.