In the Garden with Lori and Jack

Container plants, and happy chickens.

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Jack learns how to plant in containeres. — Photo by Lori Mahoney Wescott

A lot has been going on with our busy little family lately. My husband Bill and I bought our first home, in northern New Hampshire; since January we have completely gutted it down to the studs, and been working on taking down walls and replacing everything from the foundation to the roof. We spent Valentine’s Day in haz-mat suits while Jack was hanging out with grandparents up there. Bill has been working so hard to try to get it ready for us. He’s taken a couple of trips up, and works from sunup till way past dark; he really is such an amazing man, who would do anything for Jack and me. He has a hell of a work ethic that I know will be instilled in Jack as he grows up.

This year is going to be the first year I am not planting our vegetable garden; I hate the thought of not having fresh tomatoes and a bumper crop of basil. So I gathered up all my pots, and got some big cloth tubs, and I will grow veggies and herbs this year even if that means having to get a U-Haul to move all our plants; at least Bill is on the same page, and that’s just one of the reasons I married him, haha. So the first truck of veggies that the nursery got in, Jack and I headed down hand in hand to scope out our first round of victims. We gathered up a few flats of greens and got a bunch of herbs, and headed back to the house to get the peas that I had started. Ever so gently, I showed him how to put the plants into the bigger pot, tickle the roots, and cover them with nice fluffy dirt. Jack paused and looked at me with a smile; he quickly grabbed the tops of the pea shoots and ripped them right out of their pots, and started throwing dirt everywhere. He laughed as I gasped and tried to stop him. I had to come up with a new way to get him involved in this project, otherwise I was going to have a planter filled with roots. I showed him the herbs, and picked a few of the leaves off and had him smell them. He smelled each one, and I showed him the different textures of all the leaves. Perfect, he was intrigued! A sensory activity, and we all get something out of it. As Jack was busy smelling everything and feeling the different leaves, I finished planting up our couple of pots of greens and herbs.

I do love containers with an explosion of vibrant color, but this year I am using the same concept of “thriller, filler, and spillers” to plant my veggie and herb container garden. The most important thing with growing bigger plants like tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers, etc. in pots is to make sure they have plenty of room to grow, and planning how you are going to support the plant as it grows. Herbs are great to do in smaller pots because they don’t need as much space. To get a more dramatic look to your container, you could use an interesting trellis or stake to get tomatoes or vines to climb. I used shepherd’s hooks last year, and hung citronella candles off the hooks. It gave the pots a really unique look, and worked perfectly for staking taller plants. A pot full of complementing textures with a few splashes of color can be a real focal point. And if you have kids, getting them involved will really get their senses going, as well as teaching them about different uses for herbs and growing their own food. Strawberries are also fun, because they pop out and ripen so quickly. The fruit will also add a little color to the arrangement; well, that is, until it gets eaten!

Some herbs will come back year to year, so at the end of the season try to heel them into your garden and let them overwinter in the ground. OK, that’s vague: If you have mint in your container, plant it into another pot you can sink into the ground. If you put mint into your garden and forget to take it out early, it could take over. I don’t want anybody cursing me for an abundance of spearmint running rampant through their perennial garden. Oregano is another one that can spread really fast, so beware of the growth habit of things you winter over.
Although we are moving this year, we plan on coming back a couple times a month for work. It’s going to take a while to get our landscaping business established up there. We both have met some great people while working here, and coming down to work and see family and friends is a great way for us to stay connected to the Island.

Here are some quick tips and ideas that have worked great for me:

• When planting tomatoes, bury them deep. The tomatoes will sprout roots from the stem, so burying them deeper will grow stronger roots.
• There are many herbs that work great for keeping bugs away, such as citronella, geranium, lemongrass, catnip, and mint.
• Oregano, lavender, basil, and mint have great healing properties, and are great-smelling in your outdoor living space.
• Keeping your containers closer to a door that you use a lot will make them more convenient and easier to use in your cooking. I find that I use a lot more of my closer herbs, because it seems like I’m always rushing to try to get dinner ready. I have a window box right outside the kitchen door that has some herbs in it, and I love it.
• Pick, pick, pick, pick! The more you use them, the better they will fill in, so cut away and enjoy delicious homegrown food!
• Growing herbs or greens for your chickens? Plant them in a container that you can put wire over, so the chickens can freely eat the greens but won’t be able to peck at the roots. Oregano has antibacterial properties, and young greens are filled with good nutrients to keep your flock healthy and happy.