DESIGN

A Foolproof Guide to Growing an Absolutely Glorious Container Garden

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden

Our good friend Fareena Alam, lives in a charming London flat (an apartment to the North Americans amongst us) with her husband and six-year old son. Here she tells us how one random, unplanned packet of seeds turned her penchant for killing plants into a magnificent urban garden that doubles as her ‘happy place’. As a bonus she also created an amazingly comprehensive  guide for the rest of us, featuring beautiful and easy plants for beginners.

 

How I Transformed My Brown Thumbs To Green And You Can Too!

It was a running joke with me that my home is a place plants come to die. I would bring the most vigorous living things home and somehow managed to ruin them all.
I know I’m not alone. So many friends insist they struggle with any sort of gardening. What a shame because having greenery in and around our homes is beneficial in countless ways. For years, I’ve spent oodles of cash indulging in this love, with little to show for it except the bone-dry clumps of stems and roots I used to surreptitiously chuck down the rubbish chute.

So why is it so hard? For myself at least, it comes down to a few simple mistakes.

  1. Not choosing the right plants. I didn’t choose plants which were hardy enough to resist common pests and diseases.
  2. Not watering them. I’m ashamed to admit that I used to put off watering my plants until I’d kill them enough to be able to say to myself There’s no point trying to water them now!
  3. Not knowing the importance of “dead-heading” a plant or when and how to do it., i.e. removing faded flowers and leaves.

All this changed last Spring, when the truly-gratifying world of gardening opened up to me in an unexpected way. My then 5 year old son grabbed a pack of Nasturtium seeds from our local supermarket as we whizzed around for groceries. He insisted on taking them home despite my apprehensions. These will never grow, I thought to myself, but we’ll have fun trying

We went home, popped the seeds into old soil, watered them and waited…but within a few days, we experienced an unexpected family bereavement and left immediately to drive cross-country –  the tiny, buried seeds all but forgotten in our rush to leave.

Imagine our surprise then, when we returned  home a week later to find these cute little seedlings:

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Nasturtium Seedlings

For the first time in life, I felt like a gardening shero. I could actually grow things!

Armed with my newfound confidence, I jumped headlong into experimenting with more varieties of plants and seeds. After all, if these seeds could grow, maybe others would do the same?

MAMANUSHKA.com || Foolproof Guide to Growing an Absolutely Glorious Container Garden || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Planting With Kids

Within an incredibly short space of time, planting and growing has become a  hobby that gives me untold joy and serenity. It’s an activity my son loves joining me for and my husband says he’s never seen me more relaxed doing anything else.

And the best part? It all happens without a grand garden space, no front lawn – not even a patch of a muddy allotment. Instead all our growing takes place on the little balcony of our second-floor urban apartment.

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden

All this is to say, if I can do it, with my sketchy history and location, you can do it too – even if you’re a notorious plant-killer like me, even if you don’t have much space or time, you too can grow things and partake in all the excitement and happiness it brings.  This is the ideal season to begin and when you’re ready, start with the super resilient and hardy plants I’ve picked out below, follow the few easy care instructions I’ve noted and prepare for seasons of abundant green-fingered delight.  I’ve also included a resource list of where best to source seeds and plants, so get going! You won’t be disappointed.

 

Geraniums (upright)

My geraniums (sometimes known as pelargoniums) have seen me through my worst “I can’t be bothered to water the plants” years – yes, years. Months of total neglect would go by and yet, with a little watering and dead-heading, they forgive me and spring back to life with gusto each year.

If there is nothing else that will grow in your hands, geraniums will. No garden should be without them.

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Geraniums

Tips for Geraniums:

  • Buy Gereniums from your local garden centre, where you’ll find them already flowering. They’re worth the price.
  • Order jumbo plug plants online. These will arrive as large seedlings, offering good value for money but will take a few extra weeks to grow to flowering size.
  • Plant your geraniums in pots that are up to 20 cm in diameter. Bigger pots or putting geraniums in the ground may produce leggy geranium bushes.
  • Make sure the pot and soil have good drainage at the bottom – which essentially means excess water won’t sit around.
  • Give it some liquid fertiliser 1-2 times a month to boost flower production. I usually add some to the watering can.
  • Geraniums adore regular dead-heading – remove leaves and flower stalks as soon as they start to fade by simply using your fingers to snap the base of the stalk against the direction of growth. The more you dead-head, the more your geranium will push out blooms.
  • Give geraniums a good prune (with a clean and sharp pair of scissors or secateurs) when they start to get leggy. They will thank you by pushing out beautiful new shoots within days.
  • Did you know you don’t even need seeds to grow geraniums? If you know someone with a plant, ask them to cut a woody stalk for you. Once home, simply place the cutting in a little vase of water, place on a sunny windowsill and roots should appear within 4-8 weeks. When the roots are big enough, pot them up in some good soil and DONE.
    MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Rooted Geranium Cuttings

 

 

Trailing Geraniums

I once ignored a trailing geranium for the better part of a year. It didn’t have access to rainwater either so it slowly turned brown, dry and brittle save for 3-4 lonesome green leaves. One day, I removed all but the green bits, gave it some fertiliser and began watering it every other day. This is what it grew to become after several weeks:

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Trailing Geraniums

Trailing geraniums come in a many sumptuous colours, and will benefit from the same care suggested for upright geraniums (above). They’re a must-have in my garden and I prefer them to ivy.

 

Lobelia

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Lobelia

Lobelia produce delicate little flowers in shades of white, pink, purple and blue but the plants are surprisingly hardy. They’re supposed to flower from Spring until the first frosts in early Winter but in London at least (Hardiness Zone 9a), the ones on my balcony were still green and in bloom amidst the light frost, sleet and snow of January. I highly recommend these gorgeous little plants, in both the small bush and the trailing varieties.

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Lobelia

Tips for Lobelia:

  • Buy them as jumbo plug plants, if available. The smaller plug plants I bought were relatively cheaper, but had a low survival rate as they’re so delicate at the beginning.
  • Or you could grow from seed on a bright, warm window sill for real value for money from about March onward. Once the last frost has passed, transfer your seedlings outdoor. Alternatively, plant seeds directly outdoors after the last frost in your area.
  • Plant at the base of taller plants for a fuller look
  • Water well on hot and dry days, or if the soil feels dry to the touch
  • Make sure the pot and soil have good drainage at the bottom
  • Give it some liquid fertiliser 1-2 times a month to boost flower production. I usually add some to the watering can.

 

Begonia

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Begonia

Upright, tuberous begonias like the one above are striking and easy to care for. They come in a variety of colours and are available as multi-packs in most garden centres.

Tips for Upright Begonias:

  • Buy them in multi-packs from a garden centre after the last frost has passed in your area
  • Plant them ideally in attractive terracotta pots with good drainage
  • The flowers can grow large and heavy, so you might need a stake (I use disposable chopsticks) to support the main stem
  • No dead-heading required – flowers fall off when spent, but do snap off the occasional brown leaf and tidy away fallen flowers.
  • Look out for tiny holes in the leaves, which are a sign of very, very hungry caterpillars. Check the underside of leaves where they love to hide. Remove as soon as possible or they will destroy your begonia plant.
  • Give it some liquid fertiliser 1-2 times a month to boost flower production. I usually add some to the watering can.

 

Begonia (Million Kisses Variety)

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Begonia Million Kisses

The Million Kisses variety of begonia was a real surprise for me this year. I bought a little 9 cm potted plant at my local garden centre for £1, repotted it into a larger pot and it thrived until late November, with hundreds of delicate orange flowers.

Tips for Million Kisses Begonia:

  • Easy care, with no dead-heading required
  • Water well on hot and dry days, or if the soil feels dry to the touch.
  • Enjoys both semi-shade and sunny spots.
  • It will die off in very cold weather but larger plants will leave behind a corm in the soil, which you should save for re-planting in Spring. If there’s no corm, throw the dead plant out in winter and buy more next spring
  • Give it some liquid fertiliser 1-2 times a month to boost flower production. I usually add some to the watering can.

 

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum)

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Snapdragons || Antirrhinums

To add some height to your garden, you can’t go wrong with snapdragons, which come in the normal (tall) variety, as seen above, and the shorter “dwarf” variety, as seen below.

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Snapdragons || Antirrhinums

Tips for Snapdragons:

  • Buy small plants from your local garden centre or flower market if you’ve left it a bit late and want a quicker show of blooms
  • Grow from seed, indoors, from February-March, moving the seedlings out after the last frost.
  • Water well on hot and dry days, or if the soil feels dry to the touch.
  • Unlike the other plants I’ve recommended, Snapdragons can fall victim to aphids, which can seriously debilitate. Keep a natural, organic bug spray handy and tackle the problem at the first sight of the little critters.
  • Give it some liquid fertiliser 1-2 times a month to boost flower production. I usually add some to the watering can.

 

Lupin (or Lupine)

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Lupin || Lupine

These stunning and unusual plants grow to impressive heights, though dwarf varieties are also available. They are exceptionally hardy, which is great for neglectful gardeners. I bought a lupin from Columbia Road Flower Market in November 2016 and mostly left it lying around on my balcony, with just rainwater to quench its thirst. It died out with the cold, as expected but since late January, little leaves have begun to appear as it prepares for a new flowering season. It’s a perennial and clearly takes good care of itself.

Tips for Lupins:

  • Grow in a sunny spot.
  • Give it some liquid fertiliser in late winter, early Spring until it starts flowering, and then you need not fertilise any more
  • Water well on hot and dry days, or if the soil feels dry to the touch.
  • Slugs and snails can destroy lupins overnight so keep these away
  • Remove fading flower spikes quickly, which forces more to bloom

 

Other plants I tried, loved and learned from. I’d recommend giving these a try if you’re looking for a little bit more…

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Pansies

  • Pansies and Violas: So affordable to buy in multi-packs from supermarkets and garden centres, gorgeous bright colours but they need frequent watering and are prone to white-powdery mildew.

 

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Petunias

  • Petunias (trailing and non-trailing): Stunning, vigorous growers that freely self-seed, but prone to white-powdery mildew and white aphids. Buy jumbo plug plants or larger plants online or from stores.

 

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Bleeding Heart

  • Bleeding Heart: A hardy perennial plant that grows easily but has a short flowering season. Totally worth it though, because the flowers are such a delight to look at. It dies off in early summer but be sure to leave the roots in the ground as the plant is a perennial and returns in Spring each year.

 

MAMANUSHKA.com || From Plant Killer to Glorious Garden Addict || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Sweetpeas

  • Sweatpeas: Spectacular blooms that smell heavenly. Easy to grow from seed but can be prone to white-powdery mildew. Also available as established plants in stores.

 

Extra Tips

Be sure to research how each plant copes in your weather zone. My experience is mostly relevant in South East England but you’ll easily find information for your zone. Here are three examples:

Help is out there. There are tens of thousands of YouTube videos, blogs, radio and TV shows on just about all aspects of gardening. I found them immensely helpful when no one else had the time to answer my questions (I had a great many…).

Get to know your space. I garden on a second floor balcony, which presents a unique set of conditions. In terms of weather, we get less frost than on the ground floor. In terms of pests, slugs and snails don’t reach this high. Don’t be afraid of some trial and error in an effort to learn what will work where you are. You might lose a few plants in the process – I’m told that’s not unusual!

 

Where To Buy

In the UK, I’ve bought plants and seeds from just about everywhere possible… from major online retailers to my local charity shop. Here’s a starter list:

  • Wilkos sell own-brand seeds starting from 25 pence a packet. Excellent value. Comes with a guarantee. Wilkos also sell very affordable gardening supplies, such as pots and troughs.
  • Thomson & Morgan and JParker sell good value plug plants and bulbs in bulk or in smaller quantities.
  • Find your local, independent or family run garden centres, from tiny ones like Growing Concern or enormous ones like Scotsdales.
  • Big box stores such as Home Depot, Homebase, B&Q and even supermarkets where we buy groceries all offer a decent variety, often at greatly reduced prices depending on the season.
  • Flower markets such as the one on Columbia Road, East London are good fun. It’s helpful to see before you buy but it’s also really easy to get carried away. Do your research in advance because market sellers sometimes stretch the truth about a plant’s seasonality in order to make a sale.
  • If you want to buy in bulk (trays of 12 plants, for e.g.), wholesale markets like New Covent Garden Flower Market open at 4 am and the quality/seasonality is reliable.

MAMANUSHKA.com || Foolproof Guide to Growing an Absolutely Glorious Container Garden || Easy Plants For Beginners || Urban Garden || Planting Seeds

 

Finally

I learned very quickly that a love of gardening – no matter the scale, opens up a whole new world. People you’ll meet at garden centres and even online, are a special breed of warm and friendly. Garden with your kids, nephews and nieces – even your parents! – they will treasure this quality time with you, away from screens and in with the digging!

You’ll find countless YouTube videos and online articles offering precise help, guidance and inspiration should you need them. I’d love to hear what you’ve tried – or what you think I should try next – so please share in the comments below. Happy gardening!

 

Thank you Fareena, for such a helpful guide! Fareena Alam is a multi-media journalist. While she’s not gardening, she works with SeekersHub and co-manages Muslim Mamas on facebook.

 

Also Five Easy House Plants That Will Purify Your Air, Look Good & Make You Feel Awesome

Image Credits: All images courtesy of Fareena Alam

 

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like

2 Comments

  • Reply Ateeka March 1, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    This is a lovely post! Is it too late to grow begonias and geraniums from the seed? What do you think would be hardy indoor plants as well? Thanks!

  • Leave a Reply