The Porch Garden

I am no horticulturalist, nor is my thumb particularly green. But for the first time, I’ve been home for a full growing season and have attempted to make use of what small outdoor space is allotted to me in my very urban living conditions: a south-facing back porch.

I am mildly embarrassed to share this meager effort–a quick Google search will show you dozens (a sampling of the thousands) of super-producing, well-organized, beautifully-cultivated porch gardens. Mine…well, I’m trying. You have to give me that much. As my personal sustainable food philosophy is akin to the Chinese proverb that cautions a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, I’m just taking my own advice.

Two people are responsible for kicking me into gear this year: my good friend and my father, to whom belong the greenest thumbs I know. My friend gave me two Brandywine tomato seedlings (an heirloom varietal valued especially for canning), as well as a tiny Japanese cucumber (I mean, really tiny, like pea eggplant tiny). My father has provided materials and advice, and will probably still let me have some of his amazing tomatoes when–excuse me, if–my own don’t happen to make it.

The tomatoes might prefer to be elevated and receive more sun for more of the day, but they seem to be doing all right in their floor-level pots at the moment, flowering away; there’s only one tiny little fruit on there so far, but in the 100 degree heat-wave we’re having here in Boston right now, more may explode over the next few days.

The cucumber is doing alarmingly well. I thought there was merely one plant in the pot my friend gave me–turns out there were actually three seedlings, and they’ve all survived. However, I was leery of repotting out of a ceramic pot when (a) the plants were already established and (b) the pot was already the maximum size I felt comfortable resting on the balustrade of the porch. So I water them frequently and feed them at least weekly, and so far this seems to have been enough. I’ve loved watching the cuke grow: when I water it in the morning before work, I’ll encourage a tendril around a piece of twine. By the time I come home, the slender, eager curl will have wrapped tightly around in perfect tiny coils. If I could sit still long enough, I could watch this beauty grow. I’ve already sampled one of the fruits, as well. Olive-sized, with a strong cucumber flavor that is slightly more sour than sweet, it makes me want to fresh-pickle them and serve them with a Nicoise salad…or throw them in a dry martini.

Where excess herbs go when they dry

Plus, my three boxes of herbs are doing well. Some are thriving, some are just scraping by, but heck, they’re alive–and contribute on a regular basis to my kitchen habits. Three kinds of mint in one box (chocolate, Kentucky peppermint, spearmint); lemon thyme, English thyme, and oregano in another; and lavender, sage, and Greek oregano in the third.

And of course, summer’s darling: a pot stuffed full of basil, sweet and globe. Basil’s packed full of nutrients, and it’s such a treat to be able to throw handfuls of fresh leaves into a salad or to toss them simply with pasta and shaved pecorino.

If this experiment goes well, it may embolden me to be more adventurous next year, perhaps putting up a screen between rafters and balustrade and training beans and more cucumbers along it. I wonder how many plants would fruit on the wrong side of the screen, however, making it difficult to harvest and a potential danger to unwary passerby below.

But one thing at a time, I remind myself. First to see through this year’s labor, and if I’m lucky, enjoy its flavorful, easily-plucked fruits.

About Margaret Collins

Margaret is a professional writer and editor with a checkered past including solar energy, the wine industry, and bread making. After receiving her BA at Cornell University in Narrative Writing, she traveled extensively before returning to her native Boston. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
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4 Responses to The Porch Garden

  1. Laura says:

    Yay, they’re doing so well! Nice job! Esp. the cuke (which btw is called a mexican sour gherkin), doing amazing, even in the small pot. It is fascinating to watch grow, isn’t it? Mine keeps reaching for the nearby rose canes—i think it really wants to go up the roof!

  2. This is so exciting! What a great experiment. I think you could do the beans by hanging a sort of curtain, tied taut to the railing, made of trellis cloth. It’s made of nylon twine, with big squares, about 6 inches square. I love what you’re doing. You’re really proving that it’s possible to raise some good food in a tiny urban space. I hope your neighbors are taking notice!
    Eleanor

  3. Nina says:

    I love your porch garden! It’s come along very nicely in even just the few weeks since I last saw it – kudos!

  4. Thanks for the support, ladies! (And for the awesome plants, Laura…)

    Eleanor, I hope so too–though I live in a neighborhood largely populated by old Italian families, so there are tomato plants and grapevines just about everywhere you look, in old drywall buckets set out on pavement or crawling up chainlink fences or swarming a garage roof. I love it. And thanks for the trellis cloth idea, what a good product.

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