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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.

Image courtesy of Chris Carrington of City Gardening Guru.

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.

Image courtesy of Chris Carrington of City Gardening Guru.

DIY

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. 

City Planter Container Garden

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. 

Image courtesy of Chris Carrington of City Gardening Guru

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.

PHS South St Pop Up Garden Returns

Do you want butterflies with that? The answer is yes at Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s PHS Pop Up Garden, 1438 South Street, opening April 1, 2021. This is the fourth year PHS’s urban oasis of lush foliage, tasty food, and drink is sponsored by Solo Real Estate. 

“We have partnered with PHS South Street Pop Up since 2018,” said Solo Real Estate president Deborah Solo. “This is our local neighborhood and we have strong community ties here. Green energy and sustainability have been very important to Solo Real Estate for some time.  We are recyclers, composters, and advocators of green roofs. PHS aligns with what we feel is really important.”

Now about those butterflies. PHS Pop Up Gardens don’t just offer frozen mojitos and spicy nachos in a lively social setting. They also provide pollinator plants, including Fothergilla, Erysimum, Anemone, and Primula Veris for the purpose of attracting butterflies and bees back into the urban environment. 

The goal is to provide sufficient food (nectar and pollen) to reverse the decline of bees and monarch butterflies in our City. Bees are not only essential for the reproduction of many flowering plants but are also responsible for pollinating agricultural crops. Meanwhile, the population of Monarch butterflies has declined 90% over twenty years. 

Pollinator decline is attributed primarily to loss of habitat – farmland and open fields converted into housing developments – and to the use of pesticides. Weeds, such as milkweed, that once grew adjacent to crops and provided food for bees and butterflies are now eradicated by insecticides.

While butterflies are attracted to the PHS Garden, adults and children are drawn to delicious food and drink provided by Cantina Los Caballitos and Khyber Pass Pub. The food menu has something for everyone – vegetarian and carnivore. Kids can enjoy hot dogs, chicken tenders, and fries, while adults choose from a wide variety of light fares, including Garden Burgers, Nashville Hot ChickenWrap, and Mexican Shrimp Cocktail. Speak of cocktails, the bar menu offers a tantalizing selection of botanical cocktails, wines, sangria, and craft beer. Try a Pink Peppercorn Paloma – tequila, pink grapefruit, pink peppercorn, and lime. Or a Frozen Frosé – Aperol, Rosé, and lemon. Plus, non-alcoholic options.

Cocktail available at the PHS pop up on South Street sponsored by Solo Real Estate.
Image courtesy of PHS.

One of the highlights of the PHS South Street PopUp Garden is the plant and seed giveaways sponsored by Solo Real Estate. “We distribute plants and bulbs on a weekly basis, along with detailed instructions,” said Sharon Tice DelCotto, PHS Business Development Consultant. “Each month features a different plant. In April, PHS will give away Gladiolus Bulbs. In May, June and July, it will be Geraniums, Coleus, Gerber Daisies, etc.” 

“PHS Pop Up Gardens started in 2010 with the goal of transforming highly visible vacant lots into gardens that serve as a valuable community resource. Since then, we have had Pop Up locations all over the City,” said Tice DelCotto. “This year, we just have two locations, South Street and Manayunk. New for 2021, visitors will have the opportunity to book private spaces in the garden for groups celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and other events.”

Image courtesy of Rachel Wisniewski for PHS.

The atmosphere is like a backyard party with all the safety precautions to provide proper social distancing, mask-wearing, and contactless service. The number of visitors is limited and facemasks must be worn by adults and children until they are seated. To ensure safety, you can order and pay for your food and drinks on your mobile phone. 

PHS was founded in 1827. In 2019, the non-profit organization became fully committed to using horticulture to advance the health and well-being of the Greater Philadelphia region. This includes creating healthy living environments, increasing access to fresh food, expanding economic opportunity, and building meaningful social connections. The Pop Up Gardens benefit the many programs of PHS, including City Harvest, which brings together a network of community gardeners who raise fresh, healthy food for more than 1,200 families in need each week. For Solo Real Estate, the connection with PHS reflects our commitment to sustainability, the environment, and the community.

The PHS South Street Pop Up is wheelchair accessible and pet-friendly. Open Monday-Thursday, 5-10 pm; Friday-Sunday, Noon-10pm.

A Philadelphia Renters Guide to Houseplants

Nothing livens up an apartment more than plants. Whether you already know how to coax blooms out of a reluctant amaryllis or have a reputation as a serial plant killer, Philly has knowledgeable plant shops throughout the City, ready to help. 

Choosing the right houseplants for your apartment is like going on a first date. It’s not just about what looks good to you. It’s about matching your space and preferences to the plant’s needs. To make the process easier, we have provided a list of things to keep in mind. Jot down your answers and take them with you when you visit a plant shop. 

Before you go

Be prepared to answer questions: 

  • What kind of sun exposure do you have – east, west, north or south? 
  • Is the light blocked by any tall buildings or trees? 
  • Do you want a high, medium or low maintenance plant?  
  • Will plants be on window sills, in window boxes, hanging, or on the floor?  
  • Do you have pets?
  • Do you prefer succulents, tropical plants or exotics?
  • What is your plant budget?

South Philly

“Most people are beginners,” said Tara Alexander, owner of Urban Jungle in East Passyunk.  “They do best with hardy plants like pothos, philodendrons and snake plants which do not need a lot of care and require less light. These plants tell you when they need water. They droop!”

If you travel a lot or simply can’t be bothered with weekly upkeep, start with a snake plant. “They thrive on neglect,” quipped Alexander. A once-a-month watering will do. Plus, snake plants will rise to new heights, up to three feet tall. Alexander recommends placing your snake plant on a stand for a more dramatic effect.

Before you pick out an artisanal ceramic container, Alexander advises taking your plant home in its original pot and living with it for a while. “Some plants do better in smaller containers, others need to be transferred to a larger pot. Give it some time before making a change,” she said.

These days, everyone wants a kitchen herb garden even if they live on take-out. Urban Jungle will be getting herbs closer to Spring, but cautions that they are not easy to grow. “Herbs are outdoor plants that like heat during the day and cool nights. They need a windowsill with a lot of sun,” said Alexander. “A grow light and a humidifier will help, especially in winter.”  

Undecided? Pick up an Urban Jungle Houseplant Grab Bag – four “mystery” plants for $40.

Fairmount

Located in the heart of Fairmount, Plants Etc. is an adorable little shop with a big heart. Established in 1982, owner Dana Kalens designs and delivers some of the classiest window boxes in town, as far as Fishtown. (Speaking of classy, she also does the window foliage at Rittenhouse Square fashionista destination Sophy Curson.)

Known for its specials on Foliage Fridays and Succulent Saturdays, Kalens also offers DIY kits for making your own succulent garden in a glass bowl. Pair that with a bottle of cabernet and a few friends and it’s a party! Not into DIY? No problem. Kalen’s will have a succulent garden ready for pickup or delivery.

This is also the place to get colorful geraniums for your terrace or a tall statement plant indoors. Big things happen in this little shop!

Northern Liberties

City Planter owners Mary Costello and Peter Smith channel their 25 years of horticultural experience into making novices feel confident. “We will give you advice on how to keep your plants alive, even if you don’t have a green thumb,” said Costello.

During the pandemic, the store has been closed to the public for indoor shopping but their online shop continues to offer a wide variety of houseplants of all shapes and sizes, including African violets, Bonsai plants and herbs.

Check out their Garage. There you will find a selection of plants and containers that don’t come up to the standards for sale in the shop but are still worthy of love. Grab a bargain for bubkas. 100% of proceeds from the Garage go towards organizations in need.

East Falls

Vault & Vine combines a café and small scale event venue with a lush selection of houseplants. It feels like something you’d expect to find in SoHo or Paris, not on Midvale Avenue in East Falls. Originally launched as Falls Flowers in 2009 at another location, the owner Peicha Chang made the leap to her current concept and location in 2017.

“We promise houseplants that are almost impossible to kill,” said Chang. “And we’ll help find plants tailored to your unique space.”

Want to be surprised? Become a member of Vault & Vine’s Plant of the Month Club, a three-month subscription. Each plant comes potted in Organic Mechanics soil and includes an instructional video to help you succeed. You can pick low maintenance, pet safe and air purifying.  Members receive their plants the second week of every month by pickup or delivery. Subscriptions – which make a great gift – fill up fast.

Ultimately, the plants you bring into your apartment are a reflection of your personality and style. Delicate or audacious. Whimsical or seductive. Graceful or prickly. They will grow with you, change with the seasons and reciprocate your nurturing care.

Flowers for all Seasons

Is love sustainable? We think so, especially if you express it this Valentine’s Day with fresh flowers or a gift certificate for seasonal bouquet deliveries from a local sustainable grower. In this article, we feature two women-owned businesses that are paving the way with local and sustainable flower farming, Jennie Love from Love N’ Fresh Flowers in Roxborough and Cassie Plumer, the force behind Jig-Bee Flower Farm and American Street Flower Market in Kensington.

Urban Farming

A pioneer in urban flower growing, Jennie Love grew up on a fifth-generation family farm in central Pennsylvania. Starting with her mother’s kitchen garden, her interest in flowers later took root as a volunteer at Weavers Way farm at Awbury Arboretum, followed by a two-year intensive program at Longwood Gardens. “That was where I received my floral design training and studied the science of flowers,” said Love.

You will not find any roses or gardenias in Love’s five-acre flower farm in Roxborough. “They don’t grow well in Philadelphia’s humidity and heat,” she said. What you will find is a dazzling array of organically grown seasonal blooms, including Parrot tulips, sweet peas, bleeding hearts, poppies, sunflowers, foxgloves, peonies, antique hydrangeas, zinnias, dahlias, amaranth, mums, and more. Her Certified Naturally Grown Blooms grow in a field supported by natural rain and sunlight, instead of in a hothouse under plastic and artificial light.

Jenni Love in her farm in Roxborough. Image courtesy of Love N' Fresh Flowers.
Jennie Love in her farm in Roxborough. Image courtesy of Love N’ Fresh Flowers.

Featured in the New York Times and Martha Stewart Weddings as among the nation’s top floral designers, Love’s artistry is her unique approach to floral arrangements.  Referring to her approach as “earthy elegant, ” Love’s design philosophy emphasizes arranging flowers as if they were still growing in the field and using vintage containers, eschewing anything fussy, stuffy or boring.

 “Our farm, like most farms in the mid-Atlantic region, is dormant right now in the depths of winter. As such, we do not offer flowers for Valentine’s Day. However, a popular Valentine’s Gift is a gift certificate for our Porch Petals Prescription service, which delivers flowers, starting in April to the recipient’s door each week come spring. Gift certificates to our workshops are also a popular Valentine item,” said Love.

Prescription Service Bouquets. Image courtesy of Love n' Fresh Flowers.
Prescription Service Bouquets. Image courtesy of Love n’ Fresh Flowers.

What makes locally grown flowers better for the environment? “The ecological tax that the international flower industry imposes on local economies are the sins of the global flower industry,” said Jennie Love, the aptly named owner of Love ‘n Fresh Flowers. “The flowers for an FTD bouquet generate enough rubbish to fill a curbside trash can which stays in landfills for decades to come.” Add to that the environmental burden of chemicals, water demands, low wages, and shipping.

Fiercely dedicated to the mission of keeping her flowers as local as possible Love limits her delivery radius to the neighborhoods of northwest Philly, including Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, Roxborough, Wyndmoor, Glenside, Ft. Washington, and Ambler. Her bouquets are also available, in season, at Weavers Way in Chestnut Hill and Mt Airy.

Kensington in Bloom

On a former vacant lot in Kensington, Cassie Plumer has created Jig-Bee Flower Farm, offering sustainably grown flowers for area markets, weddings, events, and wholesale, plus a special bouquet offer and seasonal flower share, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Jig-Bee Tulips. Image courtesy of Jig-Bee Flower Farm.
Jig-Bee Tulips. Image courtesy of Jig-Bee Flower Farm.

“My husband and I bought a building on American Street in 2012. There was a vacant lot next door and we wondered what to do with it,” said Plummer. “I took a workshop from a flower grower in Vermont and learned about sustainable practices from the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. As a result, Kensington is now a major distribution center of sustainable flowers, available throughout the city.

Plummer also runs the American Street Flower Market, an agricultural cooperative in Kensington that partners with local farms to sell locally grown flowers and foliage. The flower market located at 2137 N. American Street started as a “pop up” and will soon be getting a more permanent location at Next Fab’s new location, also on American Street.

Valentine's Day partnership: Jig-Bee Tulips with Cakes and Cookies from Feel Goodies Philly. Image courtesy of Jig-Bee Flower Farm.
Valentine’s Day partnership: Jig-Bee Tulips with Cakes and Cookies from Feel Goodies Philly. Image courtesy of Jig-Bee Flower Farm.

For Valentine’s Day, Jig-Bee is partnering with Katie Legazpi from Feel Goodies Philly to offer specialty tulip bouquets ($45), along with locally-made sweets, including cookies and cakes. The flowers and sweets can be purchased online and will be available to pick-up on Sunday, Feb 14th from 10 am to noon. Jig-Bee’s bouquets of specialty tulips ($45) are grown in Plummer’s basement. “These aren’t your regular tulips. They are double tulips in beautiful colors,” she said. Bouquets can also be pre-ordered on their website and will be available at the American Street Flower Market, 1800 N. American Street, where you select from pre-made, hand-tied bouquets or make your own bouquet. 

Jig-Bee Tulip Bouquet. Image courtesy of Jig-Bee Flower Farm.
Jig-Bee Tulip Bouquet. Image courtesy of Jig-Bee Flower Farm.

Their flowers are also available at Vault & Vine in East Falls, Petit Jardin en Ville in Old City, Riverwards Produce in Fishtown, Kensington Community Food Coop, and Mullica Hill Flower Company in Mullica Hill, NJ.

Or delight your loved one with a Jig-Bee Seasonal Flower Share, delivering a series of four bouquets to their door. Are you head over heels? Jig-Bee offers a discount for a full year of monthly flower deliveries. Flower Share Bouquets are also available for pick-up in the following locations: Fairmount/Art Museum, Center City, Navy Yard, South Philly, and Kensington, and Collingswood, NJ.