Gardens for Apartment Living

Gardens for Apartment Living

Victory Garden

Victory Garden

In the wake of a deep and somewhat persistent recession, one of the cooler things to do is to plant a Victory garden.

The concept, originally driven home by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his politically active spouse, Eleanor, during WWII, was adopted by many Americans to exemplify their patriotism, as well as a way to lessen the sting of wartime shortages of fresh food. It boiled down to a single choice; the nation could keep its army mobile or its population fed.

Victory gardens 2.0, spurred by Michelle Obama’s White House garden, are becoming fashionable again. Some homeowners have even dug up their front yard to plant veggies – a move that homeowner’s associations (HOAs) across the country are protesting as violating HOA covenants – a front yard must be grass. Trees, shrubs and flowers are acceptable as well, but preferably not too many of the latter, as they tend to break up that monotone landscape Americans have been taught to aspire to.

It’s particularly hard on apartment dwellers, who not only have to abide by myriad, troublesome and often incomprehensible rules, but have to find, or fight for, enough space to grow a patio tomato. Fortunately, the rules are changing under the pressure of “green” groups, and inventive Americans have created quite a few alternative growing scenarios. As in the 1930s, you can start those tomato seedlings easily, even in the smallest of apartments, with a single window, a table, and a recycled rubber gro-mat that does away with messy, dangerous heat tape.

When your plants are big enough – defined as two or three sets of new leaves, you can transfer them to a barrel planter made from recycled plastic for a truly green profile. These planters are large enough to support the rootstock of even the biggest plants, and their UV8 stabilizing package that will keep your planter looking new for up to five years.

If your landlord is into the green lifestyle, you may be allowed to fill your patio or deck full of planters, leaving only room to walk around with a watering can and a single folding chair to admire your handiwork. One of my favorite planting ideas is the vertical garden. Originally made of horizontally stacked sections of rain gutter, this up-and-down concept – as opposed to side-by-side – features ascending wooden or metal racks, or shelves, into which potting soil has been packed. This design paradigm can be translated into various mediums from guttering to wood pallets to a series of metal shelves stacked with plants. One design even has empty, quart-sized canning jars clamped to boards, about a foot apart vertically, but this could be a problem if you don’t use a drain layer, as the roots of your plants might tend to rot in standing water

With a big enough patio or deck, you can grow enough salad greens and tomatoes to take you (and your roomies or your brood) right through summer. I know this because I have done so, buying only such big-space root crops as potatoes and onions. And, in case you are wondering, cauliflower and broccoli actually thrive in a vertical garden environment, with minimal support since their stalks are very thick and rigid.

When the season is over, don’t leave your vertical garden outside. Lay down carpet protectors, add soil as need, bring the unit inside and plant it again with shade-tolerant veggies and flowers. Then set it against one of the sliding glass doors at an oblique angle so that you can get between the door and the garden to tend your plants and pick the bounty.

Because it’s winter, you probably won’t be opening the patio door that often, so you could place it on either side, but it’s still preferable to place the container garden on the non-sliding portion of the door, at least for safety reasons; living spaces should have at least two means of exiting the building in case of fire.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, vertical gardening might even become your next big thing. You could even get so involved that you buy the younger members of your brood a toy gardening kit to share your passion, and what better example could you offer them than a return to simpler but more enduring values?

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