Even with a big yard, container planting is a smart gardening strategy. Contained soil thaws sooner in the spring, drains better when watered and offers a safe way to get a garden going if you’re unsure of soil quality.

If you’re just growing ornamentals, almost anything can be a planter. Just don’t go too big or too small—four feet wide allows you to reach any part of the container and plants need at least 6 inches of depth for their roots.

For edible plants, use non-toxic materials—untreated wood, bricks or cinder blocks, plastic composite decking, are all good choices. If you are unsure, you can use thick plastic sheeting to line the container.


Libby Donovan’s bookshelf garden right after installation. Photo by Libby Donovan

Libby Donovan owns a condo in South Portland. Despite the sun, grass had been struggling to grow beside her deck. She was inspired by a neighbor’s raised beds but lacked the gear to build her own frame.

Then she remembered the broken, 2’ x 3’ bookshelf that had been in her basement for three years. She took out the shelves except one, to contain a mint plant, dug out the space for the box, the hardest part she said, laid it in and headed to Broadway Gardens for four cubic feet of dirt, her veggies and herbs and a few new hand tools. She estimates she spent six hours of time and $70. Now Donovan is focusing on foster kittens #8 and #9, another pandemic project she has taken on.


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