Gardening Tips for Chaotic Containering


JC Schildbach, LMHC

Who doesn’t love a good gardening metaphor? Okay, I don’t either. That is, I mean I don’t love them, not that I don’t doesn’t love them. They tend to the obvious. Now I guess I’ve got gardening puns in there, too. Tend. Gardens. Get it? Bit of a stretch? Fine.

Actually, I should say this is more about a container-gardening metaphor, since that’s what’s really involved here. Except for the pumpkins, they’re in a small, cleared patch in the front yard, the only place we could put them where they get enough sun and space. Or where they get enough sun until near the end of the growing season, when the towering, menacing evergreens on my neighbor’s property cast shade even to that one, small, usually sunshiny patch. There’s perhaps another metaphor in there about not letting your neighbor’s shade keep you from growing your biggest pumpkins, except that my neighbor’s shade actually does tend to cause problems with the pumpkins getting enough light just when they need it most. So, maybe just stick with the idea that your neighbor’s shade can keep your pumpkins from growing. No solution offered. Of course, maybe I’m just exaggerating the problems my neighbor’s trees are causing me, and I’m just not that good at raising pumpkins.

But I digress.

At the beginning of the (container) gardening season, my (container) garden looked like this.

Deck Garden

Everything all neatly ordered, in nice straight lines.

Except the process of getting to that point was haphazard, more so than usual. Typically, I’ll do a count of the pots, from the previous year, minus any that aren’t going to make it through another season, and make a run to buy soil and enough starts to fill the pots that I’m not going to plant with seeds, along with any replacement pots. I have a general idea of how many of each type of plant I want to grow (mostly tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers).

There are always a few things that throw off the equation—pepper starts that are only sold in four-packs or six-packs, finding a new (to me) breed of tomato that fits into the Northwest growing season. So I make adjustments.

This year, though, I didn’t take the usual steps. I bought plants from five different stores, across several different trips made primarily for groceries, not matching the collection of starts amassing on the dining room table and in the garden window to the number of pots waiting out on the deck.

By the time I finally stopped myself, I was a good ten pots short of what I needed to handle the starts I bought, plus the snow peas, sugar snap peas, and sunflowers I was planning to plant from seeds.

So, I went out and bought more pots, along with some soil, and then some more soil. I didn’t realize until later that the last batch of soil I bought was marked “not recommended for containers.” Since I’d already made it home, and hauled it up onto the deck, I took the warning in the same way I take those frozen food “not recommended for microwave use” warnings that are followed by instructions for microwaving, when I probably should have taken it more like the warnings on dishes that say “not safe for microwave use.” One can hope the end result will be nothing worse than the kind of disappointment one feels on biting into chewy, soggy, unevenly-heated taquitos, rather than the violent arcing and flames of a metal-rimmed dish. At any rate, if I die later this summer from gastrointestinal distress and renal failure brought on by fertilizer-based toxins ingested in a jalapeno pepper, you’ll know what happened.

A few months down the road, the garden now looks like this.

Garden Deck Expanded

The straight lines gone, as the containers had to be staggered, shifted, and spaced further apart to accommodate the garden that once fit onto one end of the dining room table. They’ve encroached further into the territory where the table and chairs are. If I’m going to barbecue, it’s going to get tight.

So, now, to get that metaphor going…we’ve got elements of planning and preparation vs. just getting stuff, orderliness vs. disorganization, efforts to contain and control vs. the expansive power of life requiring us to change and adapt.

Or, we could just abandon the need for a metaphor, and I could just leave you with this profound thought:

That’s the funny thing about growth…things get bigger; they need more space; your deck’s gonna get messed up.

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