Answer the sun's call to play by building your very own secret garden. All you need is a patio, deck, balcony or small area in your yard and containers large enough to house your desired plants. Gather the family to plan your "secret garden." Don't forget to include a place to sit or swing; where you can cuddle with each other, admire your plants and flowers, snack on your fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables, meditate, and go on a journey between the covers of a book.
Types of containers
You may be familiar with wood planters, clay, plastic, metal, ceramic or terra cotta pots. Anything of sufficient size and drainage is perfect for container gardening. Some other choices are barrels, milk and bleach jugs cut down to size (your children would love to decorate these with jewels, sequins, and rocks), plastic-lined baskets with drainage holes, old wagons or wheel barrows, pipe, wire hanging baskets and even cement blocks. There is no limit to plantscaping so let your creativity loose and create a work of art. Or, if you're like me, check out Better Homes and Gardens article "Container Gardens" for fantastic ideas.
The choice of pot size is determined by the plant it is intended to house. Choose a container that is large enough for a full grown plant (most plant roots need 6 - 8 inches depth) that doesn't lose soil when watered, has adequate drainage and has never contained anything toxic to people and plants. For large pots, consider placing them on wheels for ease of movement, or on a raised base to allow for air circulation underneath the pot.
Another popular type of small garden is called vertical planting and uses pallets to grow the plants. The article "How to Make a Recycled Pallet Vertical Garden" demonstrates vertical gardening. As with pots, monitor the soil moisture as these tend to dry out quickly. Dry soil loses its ability to be held together by the roots and easily washes away with rain and watering. When using pallets, use only those that have been heat treated, HT, and preferably new as recommended in "Creating a Pallet Garden." If you want to recycle and pick up some used pallets, clean them with bleach, soap and water to clean away any possible chemicals that may have been stored on them.
Do not use yard or garden soil as these will compact and prevent oxygen getting to the roots. They also hold too much water for pots and containers. Use bags of potting mix designed for pots. If you have the right ingredients, you can make your own potting soil as described in the article "How to Make Your Own Potting Soil."
Some potting mixes come with slow release fertilizer. This will last about eight to 10 weeks. You should then use water-soluble fertilizer every two to three weeks.
Most vegetables and flowers need eight to 10 hours of sunlight to give the best yield and color. Many can survive on a minimum of five hours, but will grow slower and yield less fruit. If necessary, leaf and root crops will do OK in partial shade. To increase the amount of light place aluminum foil or white paint on the surfaces around the plants.
If you prefer a totally indoor garden, you'll need access to a bright window or a bright light designed to mimic the sun. Remember to water and fertilize less as indoor plants grow slower and the soil remains wet longer. If your plants are tall and spindly they're not getting enough light.
Container gardening eliminates poor soil, nematodes and soil-borne diseases, but cannot prevent infestations by common pests - aphids, whiteflies and mites. The article "Container Garden Problems-Controlling Pests and Disease" covers garden pests and diseases and discusses ways to protect your container garden.
One of the greatest rewards for growing your own vegetables, herbs and flowers is the freshness of your crop. Children love to snack from their gardens, especially tomatoes (I usually grow cherry types for this purpose) and carrots. Allow vegetables to ripen on the plant and pick when ready. Their flavor and texture may surprise you, especially when compared to those from the store which were picked early to ensure their ability to travel from the farmer to your table. Fresh herbs add stronger flavor to your foods much better than dried. Your flowers will be more vibrant and last longer in your centerpiece. Your family deserves the best, so get planting and relax in your secret garden.