Garden Update: Perennials in Containers and Mid-May Blooms and Growth

Tomorrow marks the supposed last frost for Kalamazoo, MI. I’ll need to find a new motivation to do squats now that I (hopefully) won’t need to haul these lilies and ranunculus into the garage a couple nights per week! The almost blooming chives in front love the cool spring nights, but I bought the more tender flowers on the first warm day we had. Six frost warnings later, I admit, I got a bit ahead of the weather. 🙂


Our backyard redbud knows the right time to blossom. I love this tree, and the photos never do it justice:


Hostas, rhubarb, vinca, and strawberries know it’s time to go green:




Last fall, our friends Dan and Bonnie, who run Symbiotic Ag Products, dropped off some of the amazing stuff they used to spray on our 1/3 acre gardens in Goshen. They stopped by after a day in Grand Rapids and told us how to mix it with blackstrap molasses and how much to spray on just the garden beds. David doesn’t want the lawn to grow that fast, LOL! I knew their spray worked wonders on the poor soil in Goshen, but I was doing so many other amendments and wood mulch there, I couldn’t really tell what did what.

After this one time autumn spray, I can attest I am 1000% impressed! Everything looks lush, but so far the vinca shows it the most. The vinca’s gone crazy this year! Between masses of blooms and exceptional growth, I’ve needed to weed it out to ensure later plants make it through the jungle. The forlorn phlox from two owners ago tripled in size and blooms since last year …


… and the mailbox bed looks fuller and happier than ever before. You can see it here with loads of vinca, an unknown yellow flowered plant, soon to bloom irises, and some summer lilies and daisies trying to sneak through the green.


In Smart Pots I’ve got catmint (lower right in the above photo) to repel deer from the yellow rose bush in front of it (above left in this photo), plus some frilly white double blooming daffodils, snapdragons and poppies. Out of sight in these bags and bed are purple salvia, yellow coreopsis, and red bergamot.

Some people have asked why I use the Big Bag Beds and Smart Pots instead of planting in the ground like I did in Goshen. The reason was that the yard in Kalamazoo was already fully landscaped, and I didn’t want to ruin the main aesthetic or dig into established roots. Also, I did not know the quality of the soil, since the people we purchased from did not speak English, and the woman who lived here for 30 years we suspect used some chemicals in the yard.

I wanted a reasonable, manageable garden here, not a full time enterprise like it became in Goshen. The idea was to focus more on other creative projects, not just gardening. In Goshen, the yard and location were so ugly that I HAD to plant, had to restore the land, which had been left wild but not healthy for 20+ years. In Kalamazoo, we already loved everything as is. I just wanted more flowers and some fresh food. Plus, the bags are better for dealing with critters and also, if I get too busy, bored or we leave sooner than we think, it can all be very easily dismantled, whereas finding successors in Goshen was a major stress of mine. Lots and lots of reasons. 🙂

I do have more edibles here than people think. The gardens just blend into other areas, and I don’t photograph everything all the time. In the backyard, we’ve got blueberry, elderberry and aronia bushes growing in 20-gallon fabric pots. You can see the aronia very happy here, with nearby rhubarb:


Just for reference, the two rhubarbs in fabric pots are six times the size of the one I planted in the ground up front. Planting perennials in Smart Pots or other felt type pots requires extra care the first year, but after the roots establish, I find perennial veggies and fruiting shrubs grow very well — often better — with aerated roots. You can find more information about that process and edible landscaping here.

This morning, I added a Big Bag Bed Mini up front so that I can contain echinacea and day lilies. Those spread and after trying to dig them out of the ground once in Goshen, I decided only to grow them in pots here. I planted the tiny echinacea start with a button flower plant in front of it. You can see it below, between a Big Bag Bed Junior size and a 10-gallon Smart Pot. You won’t see the beds much as they fill in with greens and flowers.


I loved my button flower plant in Goshen and decided I needed one here:


New for here and in honor of Kalamazoo, I just planted a “Double Play Blue Kazoo” spirea in one of the pots near our in ground forsythia. That rose bush in the middle barely survived the Polar Vortex, but I’m hoping to move that lovely out back. Chives, phlox and lavender are still establishing in the right side pot. We’re not sure what’s happening with various township projects in our neighborhood, which means easily moveable containers for this side of the driveway. We shall see. That’s the fun of container gardening.


If you plant perennials in containers, you just need to account for two zones colder than a plant can survive. If you live in zone 6, and it says zone 6, then try to find something that can survive in zone 4 or colder. This rose was a zone 5, but it did not like the Polar Vortex! Not even a little bit. I’ve promised it a warmer, bigger spot out back. The fabric pots seem a little more forgiving than plastic; however, I would still go at least one zone colder than your in ground planting zone. Plastic pots are a great idea for something you don’t want to spread, like these nettles, just poking up their stinging yumminess!


I also found quasi invasive but delicious Egyptian walking onions and miner’s lettuce — hitchhikers from Goshen, who’ve gradually established themselves here:


I do love perennial vegetables, because it’s free food with one planting. The only caution I’ll share: harvest most of your Egyptian walking onions and miner’s lettuce. I let mine go in Goshen, and ended up donating bags and bags of onions to the soup kitchen each year. I also fed six couples and families just trying to keep up with the miner’s lettuce I accidentally let go to seed the previous year. Live and learn. It’s delicious, but it can get way out of control if you let much of it go to seed. Ditto those onions. They’re great critter repellent, but I spent hours yanking them out each spring and summer.

Overall, I feel happy with the new balance of gardening. I still have by far the largest garden in our neighborhood, but compared to Goshen, it’s way more manageable. I loved what I created and learned there, and I do sometimes miss certain flowers, sights or scents. If I miss it for more than one season, I usually opt to replicate it here. That means button flowers, probably some red tulips (which seem more critter resistant than other colors), and finally, I ordered myself a Robinhood rose bush to live in the ground near our back patio. I did love that hedge in Goshen, and I could smell it from many yards away. Heavenly!

It’s coming — but just one, unlike the six rose bush hedge clustered with serviceberries, bachelor’s buttons, lilies, and more in front of our old house in Goshen. The porch of my blue house “office” is in the background, too.


Per David’s and my agreement, our yard has much more yard in Kalamazoo. I now spend 5-45 minutes per day doing garden chores in season, compared to several hours per day in Goshen. I loved the experience, but I’ve got other projects that want to come through me. For anyone looking to create a food forest or cottage garden, I usually say to start small. Go bit by bit each year and see how much time you want to put into maintaining a garden. If you’re not sure, containers and Big Bag Beds offer an easy way to get started without a huge commitment.

Pay attention to what you love in all the different areas of life, and aim to please your senses as much as possible. You really can garden just about anywhere these days, between containers, Big Bag Beds and The Garden Tower Project — not to mention indoor options. It’s much easier to plant a tiny start than to dig out a shrub, tree or overly enthusiastic echinacea. Pace yourself. Observe yourself and your space. Feel into the process and see what feels right for you right now.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Andrea Frazer on June 9, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    Wow that makes me want to garden. I have an entire backyard full of dirt because we can’t afford grass right now. But we don’t have a lot of sun. Wonder if we can do something with that! I’m not one that spends a lot of time on things like this either but it might be a good project for me this summer. Thank you for sharing your obvious love of gardening!!!

    Liked by 1 person


    • Sounds fun, Andrea! Thanks for stopping by and good luck with the gardening. You might be able to get plant starts/cuttings from other gardeners to begin on a low budget.



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