Autumn Whites, Part II

In a previous post, I revealed an unexpected whiteout occuring in my urban garden.  Well, the white blossoms just keep coming and here are some of the latest shining additions to my ghostly autmn garden -just in time for Halloween!

Crocus sativus var. carwrightianus 'Albus'

Crocus tommasinianus 'Albus'

Crocus sativus again, basking in the sun.

Crocus tommasinianus again, basking in the sun.

Chelone glabra 'Black Ace'

Chelone glabra 'Black Ace'

Colchicum autumnal 'Album'

Colchicum autumnal 'Album'

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 12:42 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Garden As Gallery


As stated recently in a NY Times article, Baltimore is full of artists.  In recent years, works are making their way onto the streets and into yards and gardens.  Below are some examples of gardens as galleries, just around the corner from my home.


Tinge Commons is a newly opened community garden and public art space.  I would love to see these trees mingled in a natural landscape, but after speaking to the artist, I discovered that the trees were not originally intended to be outside.  -How cool it would be though, if they were made to endure and interspersed between other trees and flowers.


Here is a Hampden neighborhood resident’s version of the famed Spiral Jetty.  Just as Smithson used the site’s own materials to create his public work, so too, it seems, has this resident in their garden sculpture.


With this Hampden topiary, the art is the garden and the garden is the art.  The two are inseparable (some may say).


Remington has this literal take on a beer garden and I like beer.


Back in Hampden, a great tire planter sits in front of one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Holy Frijoles.  This planter transcends the tire and is a great example of upcycled art.  To make a tire planter, CLICK HERE for a link.


One of the best places to buy potential garden art is Baltimore Clayworks, a ceramic art center.  This commanding fountain resides in front of the building that houses classrooms and artist studios.


Across the street, in front of the gallery, my favorite local garden art piece resides.  Often art in the garden is an afterthought and could be more carefully considered.  Either the garden is around the art or the art is around the garden and neither is carefully integrated.  -But here the ‘dog’ convincingly emerges from the bushes.

Plant a Window Box Victory Garden

Windowbox with tomato plant, herbs, edible & ornamental flowers.

Window box with tomato plant, herbs, edible & ornamental flowers.

What is a Victory Garden?

During World War II the US government encouraged citizens to plant family vegetable gardens, dubbed “Victory Gardens“, to increase self-reliance, reduce pressure on the American food supply and help support the war effort.  Millions of Victory Gardens were planted in all shapes and sizes and filled even the most unusual spaces. From backyards to office buildings, small and large-scale gardens sprouted up all over the place.

Victory_PosterIn the advent of global warming, two ongoing wars, and the quest for energy independence, it is the perfect time to resurrect the Victory Garden.  Michelle Obama is recreating the White House lawn with a variety of useful plants and Baltimore’s Mayor Dixon is filling the formal gardens at city hall with vegetables.  Anyone can have a Victory Garden; all you need is dirt, sun and plants or seeds.  If you do not have a yard, a container garden is a great way to start.  Just about any container can be used to grow plants, and while I’m not advocating “questionable” taste that may bother your neighbors, resourcefulness and creativity can add great interest to your garden.  Take a look around Hampden and other yarded old neighborhoods for great ideas!

Herb_Garden_StXWhat kind of container should I use?
I have four window boxes, all made of scrap wood as well as a variety of other containers, some purchased, some found, in varying materials and sizes.  The only requirement of containers for plants is that they must have drainage holes.  If you are using found objects for your containers, just make sure to cut or drill a hole in the bottom to allow water to drain out easily.  If your plants end up sitting in water for extended periods of time, they will die.  A Baltimore container garden is likely to require a lot of water, but it also still needs to drain properly.

Dirt is dirt, right?
SoilAfter you have selected or made your container, adding dirt is the obvious next step.  Plants are generally resilient, but if you are planning to grow vegetables, you may want to consider purchasing some quality dirt.  If you are planning to use found dirt, consider having the soil tested.  Many cities are known to have soil with high levels of lead.  A soil test will cost you less than twenty dollars and could save your health. For a link to places to buy plants and dirt in downtown Baltimore and for more information on soil testing, CLICK HERE to link to my other blog entry: Urban Gardening First Things First.

When adding dirt to your container, leave about an inch of room at the top, so that a pool can form briefly while watering.  This ensures thorough and even saturation.  If you are using a watertight container, such as plastic or metal, it is wise to put a layer of rocks at the bottom to aide in draining.  Any rocks, broken brick, concrete, etc will do.  Just be aware that some stones can alter your PH level.

How many, and what kind of plants can I put in a container Victory Garden?
Plants were here before us and are likely be here long after, so feel free to try just about anything in your container garden.  However, if adventure is not what you are looking for, plants from the nightshade family are know to grow well in our area in summertime.  This includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potato, flowering tobacco, and petunias. Nightshade plants are also unattractive to rodents.  If rats are a concern, these are a good bet. When adding plants, insert them just deep enough for soil to cover a small portion of the stem, just above the roots.  For seeds, follow the directions on the seed package.

Although you will get varying opinions on how compact your container should be, I am a fan of making them both full of plants and variety.  Herbs are great compliments to vegetables visually and help to deter insects.  For more information on controlling insects with herbs, CLICK HERE.

If your congested container garden begins to get overcrowded or unruly, you can always cut, trim and stake the plants as they grow.

Water, water and more water.  East coast summers can be sweltering and, unlike you, plants cannot escape the heat.  On most days, I water my plants at least once each day and on very hot days, twice a day.  It is very unlikely that you will over water a Baltimore summer container garden.  So, unless you start to see limp yellow leaves (an indication of too much water), water away!  It should be known, that while I stress the importance of watering, I am not encouraging waste. Most of my water is reused and collected water runoff.  You too can be resourceful with the water you use for your garden.  Shower with a watering can, use your dishwater and install a rain barrel, for example.

When fertilizing, sometimes less is best.  Know what is in a fertilizer before using it.  The best thing about growing your own vegetables and herbs is that you are in control of what they come in contact with.  If your plants are underperforming, consider the basics first, water and sun.  The primary diagnosis of weak plants is lack of water or sun.  If you are convinced that sun and water are not the problem, then look for natural fertilizers.  A mini kitchen composter may also be a great way to use your food scraps to boost your container garden.  They are usually inexpensive and can easily be found online.

Your Container Victory Garden
I would love to see pictures of your Baltimore Victory Gardens.  Please send images to and I will add them to my blog.  Also, feel free to contact me with questions about your garden.  I am happy to help.  Should you find yourself immersed in your vegetable garden and find yourself thirsting for more, check out Baltimore’s Urban Agriculture Blog.  Here you will find additional info for urban agriculture gardening enthusiasts.

Starting an Urban Garden: First Things First

Urban_Garden_Street_Box1) Consider the quality of your soil.
2) Determine what side of your house your green space is on (Ex: North, South, etc.).
3) Determine how many hours of sun the area you want to plant will get.

Soil Testing
I recently read a story about an urban gardener in Brooklyn, NY who tested the soil of his established vegetable garden and discovered that it contained 90 times the recommended level of lead in it.  The lesson here… if you are planning to have vegetables in your garden, you should test your soil OR grow them in containers with new soil.  I currently have herbs and vegetables in my window boxes.  Having your soil tested is easy -just take a section of dirt and mail it to a testing facility for evaluation.

Recommended Mid-Atlantic soil testing facility:
A&L Eastern Agricultural Laboratories, Inc.
7621 Whitepine Rd.
Richmond, Virginia 23237

Here is a link to the A&L Eastern Agriculture Laboratory site where they explain how to take a soil sample:

What direction does your house face?
Many people have never considered what direction their house faces, but it is important to know when gardening.  So, when you step out the front door, what direction are you facing?  If you do not know, pay attention to where the sun comes up in the morning –that is east.

The best side of the home to plant a garden (if you have the option) is the south or west side.  That is not to say that you cannot have a garden on the east side, but a vegetable garden will be difficult.  Therefore, if you live in a row home that is attached on both sides and the sun never directly shines in your window, a shade garden may be your best option.

How much and when will your planted area get full sun? Urban_Garden_Walkway
You will save a lot of time and energy if you just spend one day examining exactly how much sun your prospective garden will get.  Whether it is a window box or a yard, it makes a big difference.  Set an arbitrary object in the area and see exactly how long and when the sun shines upon it.  Then you will be fully armed and ready to pick your plants.  Look at the tags on the plants for sale or ask the seller what works best where.  Don’t be intimidated by plants that require “full sun” as this does not mean that it must have sun all day, but 5hrs of sun with 3hrs of afternoon sun will work just fine.

Where to buy plants in downtown Baltimore:

•    Local Farmers Markets – For a link to Baltimore City Farmers Markets, CLICK HERE.

•    Baltimore Contained: Gardens For The City – Flowers and vegetables as well as gardening tools & materials in Canton.

•    The Dutch Connection – Plants and decorative containers at Belvedere Square and Harbor East.

•    Green Fields Nursery & Landscaping Company – Full service garden center at Falls Road & Northern Parkway.

•    Mill Valley General Store – Herbs, vegetables, gardening tools and more at the 29th street exit off 83 in Remington.

•    Whole Foods – Carries seasonable herbs, vegetable plants, and insecticides.