Instead of my usual attempt at a witty opening sentence, for once I’m cutting right to the chase: I absolutely love Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform Your Balcony, Porch, or Patio with Fruits, Flowers, Foliage, and Herbs!
Written by Fern Richardson, author of the hugely popular blog Life on the Balcony, Small-Space Container Gardens covers just about everything you want to know about container gardening. Filled with useful information, but written in a relaxed, chatty style, it’s a great cover-to-cover read, while also working well as a reference guide if you’re looking for specific tips, such as container plants that attract butterflies or how to choose the correct potting soil.
The book is divided into 8 chapters. The first chapters cover the basics of container gardening, going beyond the containers themselves to share design tips on furniture, lighting and flooring, as well as suggestions on coping with environmental conditions such as windy balconies. Fern’s personal experience with balcony gardening strongly informs this section of the book, and although anyone interested in container gardening will find plenty of useful information, cash-strapped apartment dwellers with a crafty streak will undoubtedly feel they’ve hit the mother lode. Two things I particularly liked in these chapters: an easy-to-understand section on combining colors and a clever and affordable idea for adding modular flooring to balcony gardens.
Awesome interpretation of the color wheel for gardeners
Later chapters cover different styles of container gardening, including potager gardens (fancy French term for a kitchen garden with a structured design, pronounced puh ta zhay), planting for privacy, succulents and attracting wildlife, a chapter I particularly enjoyed.
The muse for this balcony garden is the path of succulents and the shabby chic urn at the Huntington Botanical Gardens.
Sprinkled throughout are DIY ideas geared towards saving money and adding a personal touch to a garden. One of my favorites is the homemade birdbath pictured below, which is shallow enough for bees and other insects to use. I’m thinking of trying this one in my own garden, although my obsession with purple suggests I’ll be painting it a different color.
What I liked:
- The book has a good mix of professionally researched information and personal preferences. I like the fact that Fern recommends not only a category of plants (like calendula for edible flowers) but then tells us her favorite cultivar – in this case ‘Zeolights’, because it starts out bronze-orange then fades to light pink.
- Designs! Several of the chapters feature layouts for small balconies or courtyards. Since this is my profession, I realize I"m a little biased, but I know I’m not the only one who finds it much easier to grasp the design intent when there is a picture to go along with the description.
- Situational plant recommendations that go beyond most publications. For example, instead of a general category of plants that attract wildlife, there are specific lists for birds, butterflies and bees.
Unusually for me, I don’t really have quibbles for this review, but I do have a few caveats.
This book focuses more on designing and gardening WITH containers, rather than IN containers. That’s one of the main reasons I like it, but if you are looking for an illustrated roadmap on specific plant combinations, a good companion to Small-Space Container Gardens is Container Gardening: 250 Design Ideas & Step-By-Step Techniques
Athough it includes plants for all USDA zones and addresses issues that gardeners in colder parts of the country face (such as dealing with freezing temperatures and mosquitos), with its emphasis on succulents, flowers and edibles, the book favors warm-weather gardeners and those with the ability to overwinter indoors or who don’t mind relying more on annuals.
Filled with practical advice, design ideas and DIY projects, Small-Space Container Gardens is a must-have resource for space-challenged gardeners.
Meet the Author: Northern California friends, if you'd like to learn more and meet the author in person, Fern will be speaking at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show, Saturday, March 24th at 11 a.m.