What happens when a confirmed black-thumb acquires a newly-cemented backyard? Container gardening a la Three Stooges!
Stephen’s been living in this apartment for something like 17 years. It’s on the ground floor, and there’s a back door off the kitchen. But until about four months ago, we opened it only for ventilation: Lurking on the other side was a jungle, composed of five-foot-tall weeds growing out of dangerously broken cement. Rather than mountains, the terrain was studded with auto parts courtesy of the body shop next door. And rather than rhinos or jaguars or whatever wildlife you’d expect to find in the jungle, there were feral cats. Oh, and rats, let’s not forget the rats.
But then, a genuine Brooklyn Miracle: The landlady’s daughter took over managing the building, and in short order evicted the auto body shop, cleared all the crap out of the backyard, and re-cemented the surface. As of last fall, we now have private access to a brick-walled, C-shaped nook.
I wasted no time, once the workers left. First acquisition: a big ol’ Weber grill. Second acquisition: The planters you see below, bought second-hand from a botanist who was relocating to the west coast. Several of them have compost-rich, organic soil, and a few even have plants. I distinctly remember her telling me what she was growing in those containers, with instructions for how to get them through the winter. There was mint, and strawberries, and raspberries. I pictured myself plucking a juicy red berry, warm from the sun, and popping it into my mouth.
And then I did what I always do: I thought I’d remember stuff, ignoring the fact that since becoming a mother, my brain has taken on distinctly sieve-like attributes. I took notes on what she told me, but I neglected to mark which planter held which plant. So here we are, several weeks into what seems to be an early spring, and stuff is growing. I know, it’s exciting! But I can’t for the life of me tell what’s an actual plant and what’s a weed.
Did I mention I’ve never successfully grown so much as a fern? Stephen had a few plants when I moved in here, and within a matter of months my poisonous touch had killed them all.
At first I thought these were the strawberries, but a quick sniff set me straight: mint.
Which means that this lovely young thing, which I thought was mint but in fact has no discernible smell, is most likely a berry plant. But which one?
This one, I have no idea. None. For a minute I thought it might be purslane, but a) the botanist didn’t tell me she was giving me any; and b) the leaves don’t have that thick, succulent look to them. Suggestions? Is it a weed?
And then we have this which is, I dunno, an herb? A flower? Clover?
And is this more of the same? They’re similar, but I’m not sure if they’re identical.
Truly, I am a dunce when it comes to this stuff. I don’t know what I was thinking, back when I acquired these planters. Oh wait, yes I do: I thought that perhaps if Harry helped me to grow some new foods (think: vegetables), he’d actually want to eat them. That pipe dream lingers on, so this weekend I went shopping at Rose Red & Lavender, the local garden store, and picked up the starter kit and seeds you see at the top of the page. I admit, part of me bought those seeds because I just loved the packaging. But really, they’re all recommended for container gardening, and in particular city gardening.
Except for the garden-variety (ahem) fennel, these are from Rooftop Ready Seeds, a small company based right here in Brooklyn. They’re culled from plants grown in New York City, on rooftops, in containers. Perfect.
And the ones pictured above are from Hudson Valley Seed Library, another local company (though this time from actual, in-the-ground farms). The packages are just stunning. Plus c’mon, what New Yorker can resist a tomato actually named “New Yorker”?
As I understand it, I’m supposed to moisten the little pods in the Jump Start seed starter thingy, and then plunk a couple seeds in each. Put the lid on, and let it sit a while. When the sprouts are a few inches high, transplant into my containers. Done.
Um, yeah. Except for the small matter of the already-sprouting foliage in said containers. I have no idea what to save and what to yank. Or, frankly, how to yank properly. I have dim memories of weeding a small vegetable garden with my dad when I was a kid, but that was, y’know, at least a decade ago.
So, please help me. Can you identify any of those sprouting things above? If they’re weeds, how thorough do I need to be when removing them from the pots? I’m pretty sure if I leave roots behind it’ll just grow back, right? Any other general gardening tips for me?
I’m all ears.