Fit for Life

PHOTOS: Spring up with gardens for flowers, veggies and even fairies

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By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

Spring is thought of as the planting season and even though summer is less than a month away, it’s not too late to start growing your own garden. Not only is there still time to get a green thumb but there are many choices. From fairy gardens to tropical plants, people can choose the best garden suited for them to grow. Below are a list of several different types of gardens and a few tips to keep in mind for each.

FLOWER GARDEN

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There are numerous options when it comes to what flowers to plant in a garden so Beth Finlay, Master Gardener coordinator for the Berks County Penn State Extension office, said it’s best to make a plan first. She said before people can decide what kind of flowers to grow in their garden, they first need to know more about the location that will be used for growing. Finlay said things to consider are if the area is shady or sunny, will it get high winds and what’s the PH of the soil which can be determined by testing it.

“Soil testing would be high on our list of first things to do, long before you get to pick plants,” Finlay said.

She said gardeners will also want to consider if they want to use perennial flowers, annual flowers or both. Perennials will need care the first year but will pretty much take care of themselves after that while annuals are for one season only then must be replaced every year.

Finlay said before going flower shopping, people should ask themselves what they want to accomplish with their garden.

FAIRY GARDEN

“A fairy garden is a magical place where fairies dwell. It can be inside or outside and should be made enticing so that the fairies will be drawn to the dwelling,” said Diane Salks, president and CEO of Riverview Tree & Landscaping, Inc. in Temple.

Even though fairies are make believe, the miniature fairy garden is very real and made with living plants. Salks said fairy gardens can be planted in the ground but many of them are planted in some type of pottery or container.

“We have even seen folks use tea cups, logs and assorted found items,” she said.

Once you get a container, it’s all about filling the space up with miniature items such as fairy houses, small animals and holiday decorations. Small miniature plants and small sedums also make great additions, Salks said.

“Of course, you will want to add one or two fairies as well. We carry, on most days, approximately 30 shelves of varying fairy garden accessories,” she said.

When it comes to watering miniature gardens, Salks said that depends on the type of container and plants being used. She said succulents will need less water than tropical miniature plants.

BUTTERFLY/POLLINATOR GARDEN

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Salks said pollinator gardens have specific plants and plants that provide nectars meant to attract butterflies and other pollinators. This includes both annual and perennial flowers.

“Try to choose plants that have different blooming seasons so that the bees and butterflies have a place to find nectar throughout the year,” she said.

Examples of such plants include bee balm, daisies, butterfly weed and the pincushion flower. Salks said she believes using a combination of annual and perennials works best for pollinator gardens. Annual flowers must be replanted every year while perennials come back naturally.

“Annuals bloom through the summer and therefore will provide the best opportunity for providing nectar and pollen,” Salks said.

Salks said insect and butterfly houses also make a wonderful addition to pollinator gardens and that these gardens are best when they have lots of “color, color, color!”

EDIBLE GARDEN

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Laura Washington is the development coordinator of ArtFusion 19464 community programs in Pottstown which includes a “Dirt to Tablecloth” farm. She said the mild spring so far this year makes it possible for people to start planting a bunch of vegetables even at this stage in the season.

“It’s still not too late to plant almost anything except for the more delicate items such as spinach and spring mixes,” she said.

Washington then added that since the weather has been cool and wet, spring mixes might still be possible to plant now if the area is shady. For those that don’t want to take the risk with such delicate plants, there’s still a variety of edibles that can be planted now. Washington said herbs can be put in the ground now as well as tomato plants, corn, fall squashes, pumpkins, potatoes and onions.

She said beginner gardeners don’t have to be over anxious about growing food for the first time. Washington said it’s pretty simple as long as people read the instructions on the back of the packages. She recommends using non-GMO seeds and using organic practices whenever possible.

“Gardening is not as complicated as a beginner may think,” Washington said. “It’s not that difficult to map out a pretty simple garden.”

CONTAINER GARDEN

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Washington said container gardens are easy to maintain which makes it a great option for someone just starting that doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by a large area. She said this type of garden is also great for individuals with limited mobility because the container can be placed on a higher platform so people don’t have to bend down.

Washington said a variety of items can be repurposed and used as garden containers such as tires. She doesn’t recommend growing edible plants in tires but said it’s a great option for flowers. Totes, whiskey barrels, and baskets also make great containers for gardens, she said.

Washington said container gardening can be combined with vertical gardening. She said vertical gardens are a cheap way to grow up instead of wide when space is limited. She said zucchini is great for this type of garden because they can grow in nice-sized containers such as the whiskey barrels then people can trellis the plant up an old wooden ladder.

TOWER GARDEN

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“A Tower Garden is called aeroponic. It is a free-standing, vertical garden with no soil and it pumps water to the top of the tower so it rains over the roots on the way down,” said Corky Sheeler.

Sheeler is a local sales representative for Juice Plus, the Tennessee-based company that sells the Tower Gardens internationally.

The indoor Tower Gardens can grow herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers. Pretty much anything can be planted in the towers except for root vegetables. Sheeler said one of the great advantages of the Tower Garden is that produce can be harvested from it all year long.

“I have one in my office behind me so I can turn around and eat off of it anytime I want,” he said.

Sheeler said the indoor garden can either be placed by a sunny window or use light bulbs that mimic daylight. He said they can even be put on a dolly to make them mobile. To learn more about the Tower Gardens, visit jointowergarden.com.

Sheeler is currently working on an initiative called “Seniors and Sprouts” so senior citizens can use the Tower Gardens to grow food with children. He said the gardens are great for senior citizens because they can be mobile and don’t require people to bend down low. To learn more about Seniors and Sprouts, visit seniorsandsprouts.com.

TROPICAL GARDEN

Benjamin Snyder, greenhouse horticulturist at the Temple University Ambler campus, said the school puts their tropical plants in pots.

“The main reason they’re put in containers is because they don’t survive the winter here,” he said.

Snyder said even though the usually visually-pleasing tropical plants aren’t native to this area, they can be put in pots during the summer. Then when the weather gets cooler, they can either be put in a greenhouse or adapted for the indoors.

Snyder said when it comes to deciding what kind of tropical plants to grow, a gardener must determine if the area for planting will be sunny or shaded. Once that’s done, he suggests considering what he calls “the rule of three” for designing what goes in the container. He said the three components are “a thriller, a filler and a spiller.” Thriller tropical plants would be ones with a lot of height that can be used in the center of a container such as spikey plants. Filler tropical plants are usually medium height and can be bushy such as diamond frost plants.

“And then the spiller will trail over the side of the pot,” Snyder said adding that this includes things like ivy plants.

Snyder said when it comes to the maintenance of tropical plants, the biggest thing to consider is how much to water which depends on both the container and the plants being used. He said clay pots will dry out more quickly so will require more water while glazed, ceramic and plastic containers retain moisture better. Desert tropical plants like a cactus will require less water while tropical plants like elephant ears and bananas can require quite a bit of water such as several times a day.

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