A green space for urban gardeners

Make no small plans: use time inside to enhance time outside


Lantana is one of the ready and waiting small plants I've bought to go in my balcony boxes.

My sprouts and plants are lined up like soldiers next to the balcony sliders, my cat has taken to staring wistfully through the glass while making his little bird sounds, and the empty terra cotta pots outside are stacked and waiting to fulfill their destiny. But Zone Five summers won’t be rushed, despite the impatient champing at the bit to shift into full garden mode.

Birds shouldn't get to have all the outdoor fun

When the bird sounds start, summer is on the way.

With the sunshine battling the chilly air and bouts of icy rain for dominance, we won’t get the green thumbs up until total victory over the fluctuating elements is claimed in this seasonal smackdown.

Of course, when you don’t have California weather, a good portion of your garden work is spent California dreaming — better known here as planning. It’s something I try to get a little better at doing each year. Today, when I was searching for a grease pencil so I could write the names of my heirloom tomato varieties on the little copper stakes I stick in the pots, I ran across remnants of prior years’ planning.

Among such odds and ends as unopened seed packets (for future use), empty seed packets (for scribbled notes on their performance), invoices from past plant orders (for pricing comparisons), and saved instructions (for care reference) I unearthed a valuable tool. It was an old diagram I drew that dictated the placement of furniture and pots on my balcony, as well as the placement of plants within those pots. It is a planning device I suggest you adopt, too.

Drawing up a rough layout of your garden is a good way to 1) get a handle on how much space you have to work with, 2) make sure that you have enough plants to create the desired balance of colors and heights in your boxes, and 3) to troubleshoot potential problems and make changes before you make purchases. (Who wants to buy an all-weather rug at a non-refundable closeout sale, only to get home and find that it’s too small.) I’m going to sketch out an updated one this year, integrating the current plant choices and rearranging things for a couple of new features I want to add.

So, if your garden activities are restricted right now, too, make good use of the hours indoors by mapping out — on paper — a plan for what goes where. It’ll save you stress down the road and insure that the precious time you have outdoors won’t be wasted.


  Stephanie wrote @

Good reminder! I think planning is important for me too even though I can garden whole year round. The more planning the better the garden will be. Btw, the Lantana you bought has beautiful bloom 🙂

  Giddy wrote @

Hi Avis,

Thanks for visiting my blog. We live in Zone 5, as well, so I know what challenges you face.

Ah, Chicago! One of our favorite places to visit We used to make annual visits in December to stroll down Michigan Avenue and look at the beautifully decorated store windows. Thanks for the memories!

  Dawn wrote @

Thank you. I was feeling a bit miffed because it was spotting with rain and a tad cloudy, but having read your post, England suddenly sounds near-tropical…

  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

We had frost last night, but tomorrow is suppose to go up to 78 degrees (F), with a low of 50, so maybe we’ll turn the corner this week.

The holiday decorations on Michigan Avenue are still a treat!

  Tiffany @ NOH wrote @

Thanks for stopping by my blog, Avis. What a delightful little container garden you have. We are planning to expand on our garden this year with containers in the courtyard of our farm. We’ll put the “prettier”: fruits & veggies out there and plenty of salad since the slugs in our backyard are still terrible.

So great that you can a little space for your self and can’t wait to see your tomatoes! Always a favorite around here too…we’ve got TONS of them planted this year 🙂

  thegifttree wrote @

Hiya! I’m just visiting from blotanical and wanted to say hi and thanks for the welcome there!

I love your blog and will be visiting again!

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