The journey to Fort Worth last week was a visual feast with the countryside blanketed in green and splashed with brilliant yellow sunflowers. The trip, to TGC Inc. Headquarters was the first official business of my administration. The quick trip was filled with meetings and a delightful lunch hosted by Waverly Garden Club. As president, I signed papers and was presented with a key to headquarters – I’m an official key holder. 

We are blessed with a headquarters nestled inside the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens located on Old Garden Road. The gardens surrounding our historic headquarters are lush with Japanese maples, gingko, smoke trees and redbuds and always fill me with a sense of peace when I walk the grounds. The planting beds are filled with blooming oak leaf hydrangeas, Angelonia, fan flower (Scaveola aemula) and Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria). Some of the beds are heavily mulched and planted with caladiums yet to break the surface. While you could still see damage from the record winter storm, the gardens are thriving thanks to the abundance of rain and care of the gardeners.

Much like the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens, the primary focus of my garden is shrubs, trees and flowers. My ‘Carolyn Whorton’ Caladiums are lush with growth adding color to the garden. I like to add a few herbs and the occasional squash, cucumber or cantaloupe to the garden. Not only do you get the benefit of tasty vegetables and herbs, they have interesting leaves that add beauty to your flower beds. 

My father, a farmer at heart, always planted a large vegetable garden filled with long rows of black eyed peas, corn, squash, okra, cucumbers, onions and tomatoes. Mother canned vegetables from the garden for the coming year and made preserves from the bounty of the fruit trees planted in it. My sisters and I spent many an hour shelling peas that my father gave away to friends and family. In his later years, he only planted tomatoes that he gave away to friends and family. He was a bit of a Tom Sawyer, conning me into picking up tomato transplants and planting them for him. He especially thought it was funny if I was wearing heels on planting day. Good daughter that I was, I planted the tomatoes, heels and all! 

Of course, not everyone has the space or desire to put in a large vegetable plot. If you are one of these people but still desire fresh home grown vegetables and herbs, consider container gardening. While herbs are a common choice for container gardeners, a great many vegetables lend themselves to this type of gardening. Look for vegetables that are bush or dwarf varieties. Almost any vegetable can be adapted to growing in a pot. Carrots, radishes, lettuce and crops like tomatoes and peppers which bear fruit over a long period of time are perfect for container gardens. 

To jump start your container garden, opt for transplants rather than starting from seed. Transplants will buy you time because plants are at least six weeks old when you put them in the container, allowing you to harvest much sooner.

Always use fresh potting mix for your container. It’s important to use quality potting mix – don’t skimp. A good quality mix will hold moisture and drains well, allowing plant roots the perfect balance of air, moisture and stability, ensuring success. Read bag labels and look for quality ingredients. A good mix will contain sphagnum peat moss, aged (composted) bark, perlite, lime or dolomite. Sometimes the mix will contain moisture-holding crystals. Quality potting mix stays fluffy all season. 

Be sure to pick the right container. It should be affordable to buy and fill. It should be large enough to accommodate the plants as they mature. Almost anything can serve as a container – buckets, wire baskets, washtubs, flat bottom boats and old bathtubs. Larger vegetables need larger containers. When in doubt, bigger is better – plants need space for good root systems. Make sure each container has a drainage hole in the bottom.

Be sure to feed your plants. Even if your potting mix has fertilizer in it, it will need additional fertilizer. Our hot weather uses fertilizer up fast. It is important to mulch to protect roots from the summer heat. Mulch will keep the roots cooler and the moisture level even. Use a good compost or organic mulch for best results. 

For best results, be sure containers get at least 6 hours of sunshine. The sun drives energy for production for making sugars, acids and other compounds responsible for the best flavor. Flavor is primary reason we grow vegetables. A store bought tomato will never taste as good or have as many vitamins as one harvested off the vine in your own garden. 

Water regularly – vegetables are at least 90% water. To have the best vegetables it’s important to make sure they are well-watered. Hot weather makes it necessary to water containers daily. It’s important to provide steady moisture from planting until harvest. As the plant’s roots grow deeper, be sure to water the entire root zone. To make the job easy, consider setting up a drip system. You can even put in on a timer to make it fool proof.

All you need is a container, potting mix and some veggies and herbs to have a delicious salad. What could be more fun than a summer salad container? Plant a tomato, a cucumber and some herbs such as chives, basil, and parsley. All of these plants have the same sun and water requirements. Be sure to use a large container – 24 to 30 inches. 

One of the pluses of container gardening – hard for bunnies to munch on your crop!

Happy gardening.

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