Article and Photos by Marina Escobar
Location Is Everything
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression location, location, location, but what exactly does it mean? I was in the restaurant business for many years and that saying was more than just a catchphrase. Our location provided access to great foot traffic and high visibility, attributing to the success of our restaurant. Of course, serving delicious food was a contributing factor as well. Similar to the restaurant business, a garden’s success hinges on its location.
I grew up gardening with my mom and as I got older and moved from apartment to apartment, I utilized whatever sunny spot I could find – from windowsills to balconies to decks and patios – for harvesting herbs and lettuces. When I moved into my first home, I expanded my gardening containers and my food possibilities. A few years ago, we built a raised bed garden adding an aesthetically pleasing structure to our landscape. We built our kitchen garden thinking about its convenience and accessibility for continuous harvests and the beauty it would add every time we looked out our back window. Although my garden is spacious, you don’t need a big area. Find an abundance of sunshine on which you can place a sturdy container with drainage holes, and make sure you have a water source close by. Sound easy? It is.
You’ll want as much sunlight on your garden as possible. Good observation skills and pencil and paper are all you need to find and prioritize where you get the most exposure to sunlight. Look at the path of the sun across your yard or deck throughout the day. The best times are early morning, noon and late afternoon. Observe and draw the area that gets the most sun. The sunny area that intersects during all these times is probably your ideal spot. In my yard, my garden is south facing, receiving the most sun exposure possible.
Here are a few things to think about:
- Observe light patterns from tall trees and/or buildings casting shadows
- Keep in mind tall trees filled with leaves as the season progresses
- Keep taller plants on the north side of your beds so they don’t shade shorter plants
- Consider trellising vine plants resulting in better support and airflow
- Full sun is 6+ hours; partial sun is 4-6 hours; partial shade is 1.5-4 hours, and full shade is less than 1.5 hours
- Fruiting plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, melons, peppers, cucumbers, and squash will prefer an area that receives full sun
- Vegetables such as peas, beans, kale, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, radishes will do okay in partial sun, but you may have to wait a little longer to harvest
- If your spot receives less than 4 hours of sunshine per day, other edibles such as lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, arugula, herbs, and other greens will do just fine
Many crops can adapt to less than ideal conditions and light is only part of the equation, so it may be worth trying a few different locations to see which works best.
Perfect for beginner gardeners, small spaces, patio gardens and is only limited by your imagination. Once you’ve found the perfect spot, you’ll need to decide what type of container you want to use. Your container could be a wooden box, a metal or galvanized steel container, a basket lined with coconut husk, an old wheelbarrow, a 5-gallon plastic bucket or even an array of beautiful large pots. For my easy-to-access patio herb garden, I used a galvanized steel bucket, drilled drainage holes and lined it with a porous landscape fabric. A weed barrier cloth works too and can be found at a garden store. Whatever you choose, make sure you drill a few drainage holes before filling your bed or container with a rich soil blend. There are multiple sources online for soil blends. I’m a big fan of Nicole Burke’s Kitchen Garden methods and have found that her soil blend recommendation, which has no synthetic fertilizers and is all organic, works extremely well in my garden. I use one-third of each of the following in my beds: topsoil, coarse sand for better drainage and organic compost rich in nutrients. Organic compost is a must for gardens especially as a top layer.
Mix and match if you’re choosing pots for your deck. Think about textures and colors and mix edibles with flowers. In this case, bigger is better when planting vegetables. Bigger plants will need bigger containers, and a bigger container means more soil, which means more moisture retained.
Watering consistently is key to a successful garden, so it’s important to have a spigot nearby. For my garden, we dug a trench and ran a PVC pipe from the house to the garden connecting it to a water spigot we installed in the garden. I water my garden manually all season and although this takes a lot of time due to its size, it has become the part of my day where I find tranquility and peace. I can be out there for hours. If that’s not your thing and you have enough calm in your life, consider other methods like installing a drip irrigation or soaker hose for ease and consistency.
Each method has its advantages and challenges, so choose what works best for you and make sure you have a routine for watering consistently. Through years of experience, I recommend watering deeply, less often and at the base of your plants. Your plants will thank you and be less prone to leaf disease if their leaves stay dry.
There’s nothing quite like eating food you’ve grown yourself. Start small. Choose a container for easy-to reach herbs on your patio where the sun helps them thrive and don’t forget to water them. If you love gardening as much as I do, the possibilities are endless.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to start a container garden. It really is perfect for beginners and before you know it, you will want a spacious kitchen garden which leads me to this…. For over 25 years, I’ve been told I have a green thumb. My goal is to help you find yours. As a Certified Garden Consultant, I have finally started my gardening business,
Seed Your Soul. I coach, design, and install raised gardens for new and seasoned gardeners. My website is under construction so until then, please contact me on Instagram @seed.yoursoul to help you create the space of your dreams and harvest from garden to table.