8 Things I Love About My Container Garden

1. A Stoop With a View. As I was sitting on my front steps last Saturday morning, a dad with two kids and a dog walked by. “I love what you’ve done with these flowers,” he said. “This space used to be so dead. Now it’s full of life.” That’s exactly how I feel. Few things have given me more joy this summer than walking out of my townhouse in the morning and seeing thriving plants everywhere—on the stoop, in the window boxes, planted around the tree, hooked over the railings. Before my upstairs neighbor, Danielle, realized where the plants were coming from, she thanked our landlord for them. “Green plants just make a place seem so much more welcoming,” she says.

2. Shifting Shades of Pink. To my amazement, the flowers on my purslane turn lighter or darker depending on how much water they receive. When I first bought the plant, I was afraid of overwatering it, since the shopkeeper had told me that every other day would be sufficient. Over the next several weeks, I barely noticed as the blossoms faded to a sandy desert pink—until I looked at my first photos and was shocked to see how intense the initial hues had been. (Think Pepto Bismol with a touch more red.) I began watering the plant more frequently, and before long, it was back in the pink. But nothing prepared me for the deep rose color I would find when I came home one evening after a summer’s downpour.

3. Perfect Pinwheels. The only “flower bed” I have is the tiny plot of dirt around the pathetic sapling out front. But much to my amazement, the flowers I’ve planted there have thrived, especially the vincas. Its flowers lie flat when fully open, but as they start to uncurl their tightly wound buds, they form a perfect swirl of a pinwheel. I’ve been watching them through the summer, and when I see one of these, I photograph it immediately. Eight hours later, the flower will be open.

4. Thirst for Life. Every time I harvest an herb or vegetable and think I’ve seen the end of it, it comes back. It happened with my basil. I thought I had chopped down every last stalk to make pesto. But a week later, when I came back from a short trip to California, there were tiny basil plants pushing up through the dirt. It happened again with my Swiss chard, which I thought I had polished off. And two weeks ago, just when I thought my cherry tomatoes were done, I started noticing a crop of tiny yellow flowers and even some miniature green orbs.

5. Twining vines. Before I rigged up a makeshift trellis for my mandevilla, its tendrils were constantly coiling around the stalks of the neighboring basil plants. Guess what? They still are. While a quintuple twist of tendrils is climbing the ropes I set up for them, providing a thick cluster of leaves and blossoms along the side of the doorframe, others are striking out on their own. I had to laugh a few weeks ago, when I noticed that two tendrils were once against twisting around the basil. Now we’ve got one curling around a stalk of parsley—and another starting to coil its way up one of the wrought iron railings. (You can see them all if you look closely at this photo.)

6. Surprise Sunflowers. When Hoboken’s guerrilla gardener planted a perfect little sunflower plant next to our stoop one night, I couldn’t wait to see it blossom. At the time, it was just a foot high and had no flowers on it. It is still only a foot tall—I suspect it is root bound, since the soil is so shallow there. But it now boasts five fine blossoms.

7. Burgeoning Begonias. I know, it’s just a begonia, and not even a remarkable specimen at that. But when I bought the vincas and snapdragons to plant around the pathetic sapling in front of our townhouse, the shopkeeper threw in two begonias for free. They were such scraggly little things, he said he couldn’t possibly sell them. Now just look at this one. (Its twin is on the other side of the tree and not visible in the photo.)

8. Butterfly Bonanza. While I was taking pictures of the begonia, this monarch butterfly flitted right in front of my face before circling in a graceful arc over to the butterfly bushes, as if beckoning me to follow. These two bushes have been the most remarkable hubs of activity, drawing red admiral butterflies, cabbage white butterflies, moths, bumblebees, and so many honey bees that it’s a wonder I haven’t been stung yet while deadheading the blossoms. But this was the first monarch I’ve seen on my bushes. If only he had remained motionless long enough for a better photo.

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