Container Gardening 101
If you think gardening requires a yard, look around. The City is in full bloom and not just in its parks. Flower-bedecked window boxes and ornamental containers are bursting with color and fragrance from Fishtown to South Philly, from Queen Village to Clark Park. We spoke with local container gardening expert Chris Carrington of City Gardening Guru and with City Planter to help you find the best options for your home and share some tips on how to get started with container gardening.
Know your zone
The USDA has mapped out the country and divided it into eleven growing zones, determined by weather patterns and average low temperature. Philadelphia falls into zone 7B which provides a moderately long growing season and an extensive array of flowers and plants that will thrive here.
Once you know your zone, identify the quality of light where your container will be placed. Full sun is best for: Marigold, Butterfly Bush, Zinnia, Sunflower, Lavender, Nasturtium, Sweet Pea, and Geranium. For partial sun, consider Petunia, Snapdragon, Phlox, and Begonia. Shade blooms include Coleus, Begonia, Hosta, and Bleeding Heart. Looking for green plants that like shade? Choose from: Creeping Jenny, Heuchera, Euphorbia, Smoke Bush, and Ferns.
Hire a Guru
Chris Carrington, the founder of City Gardening Guru, specializes in designing container gardens of every size and shape, from individual planters to lush tropical jungles for decks, patios, and roofs. Her services include design, sourcing, installation, and maintenance, ensuring that your plants are thriving and appropriate for the season.
A Bella Vista resident, Chris is actively involved with the South Street Community Garden, PHS City Harvest Project, Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP). “I care deeply about sustainable agriculture, food justice and community outreach,” she said.
Chris also volunteers her time to design and maintain the nine outdoor garden containers at Whole Foods on South Street. “They were interested in planting gardens that are not only beautiful, but that are also educational and sustainably native – supporting our local pollinators,” she said.
Initial consultations are free, after which Carrington draws up plans that reflect the homeowner’s budget and preferences. She then sources containers from two local manufacturers, Pottery Pots and Campania. Next, comes the delivery of plant materials, including soil, typically an organic blend from Organic Mechanics. Plants come from local nurseries.
City Garden Guru can provide regular garden maintenance which comes with a one-year guarantee on the plants. Or they will offer guidance so that you can care for your garden yourself.
If you have a more modest budget and want to DIY it, City Planter in Northern Liberties has a large assortment of planters, outdoor plants, soil, and tools. They are well versed in container gardening and can provide some advice for aspiring container gardeners.
The most common issue that gets brought up? Under and overwatering your plants. Do not count on rainfall to keep your plants hydrated. Containers require vigilant watering and in the summer, you may be watering once a day. City Planter has a great resource on their website with watering guidelines. They also provide “rehab” services for plants in dire need. Just send them a photo of your sick plant and they will provide diagnosis and treatment.
City Planter is currently closed to the public, but you may order online and use their curbside pick-up service daily or stop by their Walk-Up Window Saturdays and Sundays. They also have a discount section on their website titled “The Garage”, which consists of cuttings, pots/containers, and plants that do not meet their standard for retail sale. All the proceeds from items in this section are donated to local non-profit organizations.
Another easy way to get started on your houseplant journey is to stop by the PHS Pop Up on South Street! Solo Real Estate sponsors plant and seed packet giveaways throughout the season, and you could win a free plant just by stopping by to enjoy the space during their open hours.
Location, Location, Location
Container planting can enhance the curb appeal of your home or business. Window boxes can bring a splash of color and visual interest to any facade and modular trough containers can be used to create privacy screens or block out air conditioners and meters in backyard spaces or on roof decks.
*Because of their smaller size, containers require vigilant watering. In the heat of the summer, you may be watering once a day. Be sure when you water, you are watering thoroughly, more than a gallon per plant is usually required. It is unwise to count on rainfall to keep your plants hydrated.
The National Wildlife Federation says, “Gardeners are both stewards and guardians of our environment, and can make a difference in the fight against climate change.” Does this apply to container gardening? You bet! Whether you install a single window box in your rental apartment or turn the deck of your townhouse into a leafy enclosure, you will improve air quality and add beauty. Not just to your dwelling. But to our City.