Welcome to My Little Garden

chel's garden (click for full size)

Welcome to my garden.

My name is Chel (pronounced “Chel”, short for Michele). I’m 37, I live in Southwest Florida with my husband, my daughter, three cats, three parrots, and an elderly gecko.

I’m a mixed media artist and freelance writer, but I’m also an obsessive container gardener.

I only started gardening about 18 months ago. I’ve always tried to have little container gardens wherever I lived, but without the right space and light and access to water, it never came together.

chel's garden (click for full size)

I’ve been captivated by plants and flowers since I was a kid. The house I grew up in was heavily landscaped in such a way that it always looked good but rarely needed tending. Neither of my parents had any sort of interest in gardening- to them, it was another responsibility that came with home ownership, and not something they enjoyed spending time on. So when they built our house they chose a lot of bushes, trees, and fast-growing-uninteresting-spreading sort of stuff. Nothing fun.

I tried planting packets of seeds within the landscaped beds around our house, but I had no idea what I was doing and rocks, pavers, and carpets of short green bushes do not make for friendly spaces for growing things.

When I finally had my very first apartment, in graduate school, I collected several potted plants and made a container garden on my dining room table. But lack of sun did them in, and I gave up thinking I had a black thumb. My second apartment was much the same- this time I actually had a screened in balcony, but absolutely no light- it was basically a hole cut out of the side of a building with a screen placed over it. Plus, dragging big pots of water from the kitchen to the balcony every other day was just too much.

FINALLY, in 2006, we moved into a house. with a fair-size yard. The lots in Southwest Florida are pretty small, so the houses tend to take up a tremendous amount of space, leaving little room for gardens and no backyards- instead, all the houses have screened-in lanais. However, we had a few small areas we could use for garden space, and I couldn’t wait to try my hand at gardening once again.

However, life had other plans- my daughter Gracie finally arrived and everything got put on hold as we spent our time moving into our new house and figuring out how to be parents.

Finally, about 18 months ago, everything sort of fell into place for me to start gardening. I had absolutely no intentions of having a container garden when I started. I figured container gardens were decorative, seasonal, and temporary. I wanted to grow hearty things, to have big spaces of soil to dig my hands into, rows of interesting plants to walk among. My husband does woodworking as a hobby, so we began to discuss him building beds for a small garden on the side of the house.

I couldn’t wait for the planters to be built, so I began collecting small potted plants that I eventually intended to plant in the “real” garden.

The hose on the back of our house was located in the rear corner of our screened-in lanai, which was piled with half-inflated pool toys and overflow from the garage. We have a lap lane on our pool (I’m a distance swimmer and swim several miles a day) and I hated it back there. I never went back there, I just tried to ignore that part of the lanai when I swam.

But that’s where the hose was, so that’s where the plants would have to be.

As I collected plants, I began to clean out the area. I started going back there a lot- every day before I swam. I started spending an hour, two hours out there every day. It became a ritual- garden and then swim.

Within a few weeks, I had a little container garden going. I had no idea what I was doing those first few months, and I sort of DIDN’T want to know. I just watered all the time and watched with surprise as things begin to grow and expand. In my years of half-hearted container gardening, I had forgotten that the whole point of gardening was to GROW things, not just keep them alive. With my first small successes, I was hooked.  I began buying large planting bowls, pots, and containers, and more and more plants. I began expanding the garden out, having different “sections”.

I ordered seed catalogs and ordered tons of packets of all kinds of seeds. I tried anything that looked interesting and would not grow over four feet (for some reason I decided that was the max for container gardening- now I know that a large enough container can hold pretty much *any* plant).

My husband finally was ready to start building planters, and I didn’t want them anymore. I was in love with my not-so-little container garden.

chel's garden (click for full size)

Now I have about 100 different containers full of plants.Some are HUGE basins purchased from the hardware store with big holes cut out of the bottom, makeshift planters for various tomato plants and egpplants that I have had since the beginning. Some are the little tiny terra cotta pots I’ve had for years. As plants grow, I give them the space they need. If they are not doing well, I downsize them a little bit and give them TLC.

I spend usually about one or two hours a day in that little corner of containers, pruning, planting, touching, poking, and tending to my plants. I love each and every one of them. I’m proud to say I still have most of the plants I bought on that very first outing to Home Depot for a few “starter” plants.

With that said, I don’t claim to be a great gardener. I overwater, overfertilize, overplant. I can’t tell you about PH or nitrogen. I can’t explain to you why some plants thrive and why some don’t. I don’t pay *much* attention to zones or whether or not certain plats are “supposed” to do well in containers (although I have learned my lesson and know what works well in a Florida garden and what absolutely does not!) I don’t always use the right soil- in fact, I reuse soil constantly. If some spills, I’ll sweep it up and throw it back in the soil bin for future re-use. I plant things I find growing in cracks in the pavers to see what happens.

Instead, I have learned about gardening by feeling my way through it every day, by going on hunches and intuition, by paying obsessive attention to my plants and what small changes happen, and by going with my gut. I just plant and grow whatever makes me happy, and I do my best.

I think the highest compliment I received on my garden was when two small geckos (lizards? skinks? dunno- I’ll try and get photos of them) moved in and took residence among the plants. I always try and relocate any little creatures that find their way inside the lanai back to the great outdoors, but these two guys repeatedly returned, every single day, so I finally gave up, and now they are much larger and roam the back corner of the lanai all the time, taking care of small bugs and providing me a lot of entertainment while I swim.

Anyway, I have learned a tremendous amount along the way. But the most important thing I have learned that there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules to gardening. All you need is some soil, some seeds, water, and a handful of fertilizer pellets, some sunshine, patience, and interest. The rest does come, if you are willing to put in a little bit of time and effort.

Welcome to my garden- I’m so happy to be part of Sprout!

Comments 11

  1. Misti wrote:

    I love your containers! And your shrimp plant is gigantic! It makes me miss my plant-plants and Florida a bit.

    You’ll know you are doing really good when you find a snake skin on your porch—we did in Florida! That was a trip!

    Posted 02 Mar 2012 at 8:12 am
  2. linda wrote:

    Wonderful post and what a beautiful garden – not little at all!

    I was really touched when you wrote “I figured container gardens were decorative, seasonal, and temporary” – that’s totally what I sort of think… without the proper space, I’m sort of half-hearted in my efforts. It’s unsettling because I grew up in a household of gardening. My Dad seems to have the green thumb in the family…mine is sort of… brown?

    I also love how you wrote “the whole point of gardening was to GROW things, not just keep them alive.” Definitely made me think… I keep getting cacti because they are the only plants that survive. I need to open up and try more things… maybe this is the year for my container garden to sprout! 🙂

    Thanks for inspiring!

    Posted 02 Mar 2012 at 8:40 am
  3. Meg wrote:

    Omg so beautiful!! I love the part about *growing* and not just keeping it alive, too. So cool, Chel!! I feel inspired. At first I thought I can’t have a garden like that because Homer will get into it. Then I realized he never goes on the deck anyway! And neither do I!! But if I start a little garden I’ll go out there. Eep, maybe I’ll try it!! 😀

    Posted 02 Mar 2012 at 12:10 pm
  4. Moosie wrote:

    Hi Chel! I am Misti and Curtis’s Mom. I love your garden! You made me want to get out in the dirt.

    Posted 02 Mar 2012 at 5:09 pm
  5. chel wrote:

    Hi Moosie! It’s so nice to meet you.

    Meg: you should try starting a little garden on your deck. I thought the cats would be all in the plants but besides a few small digs, it hasn’t been much of an issue! Maybe Homer will enjoy digging in the dirt a little bit 😉 It’s crazy how that corner of the lanai, which was *really* a nasty, dusty, crummy part of the backyard, has turned into one of my favorite places in the world. It’s a sanctuary now.

    Linda: you should give it a whirl. There are so many plants that thrive in pretty much ANY condition. I had no idea how many there were. Everyone thinks orchids and succulents are the only ones that don’t need much care, but there are some amazing plants out there, they just aren’t readily available from local stores. Most of my stuff is from seed or mail-order.

    Misti: I found a live snake curled up in one of my empty pots right out the lanai door, does that count? I don’t know who was more surprised when I picked up the pot and found him there- him or me. And I learned an important lesson that day- snakes can JUMP!

    Posted 02 Mar 2012 at 7:37 pm
  6. Sherilee wrote:

    Gorgeous, Chel! Such a great story of how your garden evolved. I love all your containers–can’t believe you have more than 100, that’s amazing. And the color, and the life! Just a wee bit jealous, as you know, up here where it’s still freezing at night… enjoy! And can’t wait to hear more about your gardening adventures… xo

    Posted 02 Mar 2012 at 10:59 pm
  7. chel wrote:

    Sherilee: Thank you! I’ve always kept all the pots I get- even the starter ones. Tom just found a box in storage of several more, so I’m already pondering which plants to try out next!

    Posted 03 Mar 2012 at 10:36 am
  8. Jocelyne wrote:

    You have a beautiful garden! I love it. I wish I could have one like yours. It is still snowing here.

    Posted 03 Mar 2012 at 12:55 pm
  9. chel wrote:

    One of the good things about living here is definitely the warm weather year-round. Although our summer is very much a “winter” in its own way- rain every day, very little sunshine, and oppressive weather (it’s just super hot instead of super cold!)

    Posted 04 Mar 2012 at 7:47 pm
  10. Tracy wrote:

    Chel, your garden is BEAUTIFUL! So much enjoyed learning how you place began and took shape. Your container gardening images really inspire me. The far north climate I live in makes some things not always great to have in the ground, so I’d like to try more container gardening and over-winter things. Thanks for the inspiration :o)

    Posted 04 Mar 2012 at 6:16 am
  11. chel wrote:

    Thank you, thank you Tracy! I bet your container garden would be AMAZING!

    Posted 04 Mar 2012 at 7:47 pm

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