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A Book Review:  McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container

by Sandra Bowens


There are many reasons one might become a container gardener.  Limited mobility and a lack of time or space for the traditional "in-the-ground" garden are tops on the list.  An artful arrangement of a few carefully tended pots will beautify the tiniest apartment balcony.  With a bit of thought and planning, the entire garden can be elevated to provide access for a wheelchair bound plant enthusiast.


Keep it simple, neat and inexpensive is the theme of The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey (Workman Publishers, 2002).  This practical handbook, concentrating only on edible plants, should be on the shelf of every container gardener.


The Bountiful Container is divided into three basic sections.  The first shows you how to get started.  From evaluating your space to planning your ultimate harvest, the authors offer wisdom that must be kept in mind for small-scale planting.  Recognizing that a container gardener does face limitations, they offer this advice: "We've found that one very good way to decide what to grow is to focus on those edibles that are best when eaten absolutely fresh or absolutely ripe, and on those that you cannot readily find in the market."  You find frequent sidebars of helpful hints and information, folklore, clever ideas and recipes throughout the book.


A big bonus is the number of ideas for theme gardens.  These detailed plans for plantings in a single pot or a grouping of containers show you how to combine plants that are suited to each other in a decorative way. Whimsical like the Lavender Lady or industrious like the Ethnic Market at Your Doorstep, the black and white illustrations give an idea of how each might transform your garden.


Once the basics are covered, The Bountiful Container becomes a handy, easy to use reference.  The bulk of the book is devoted to plant information. Four sections are divided into vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers and arranged alphabetically.


Each individual plant listing starts with a description of the mature plant.  How tall it will be, whether to start with seeds or a transplant, when to harvest, sun requirements and guidelines for container size.  Each listing is then divided into 'the basics,' 'planting,' 'success with,' 'harvesting,' and 'varieties.'  The flower section also includes 'cooking with' in the entries.


McGee and Stuckey's passion for plants is evident throughout the book.  They offer anecdotes about what has worked in the past and what hasn't. They anticipate concerns a new gardener might have like explaining that some flowers on vegetables will simply fall off because they are male or not to pull too hard when harvesting beans and peas or you will uproot the plant. The authors also make recommendations for which cultivars work the best in containers.  For herb enthusiasts, they tell us how to bring plants indoors for the winter.


Also unusual about The Bountiful Container are the individual plants covered. I have never seen a garden book that tells me how to grow the saffron crocus.  Or one that tells me so many ways to use sweet woodruff.  The extensive information about growing fruit is helpful for long-term planning as well as important basics.


I have been using this book for more than a year now.  I wanted it mainly for the herb information but I have gotten far more from of it. I reach for it most often when transplanting to determine which container I should use and where to place a new plant to meet its sun requirements.


Container gardening is a delightful hobby for me. The Bountiful Container has made it even more so.  Many of the clever ideas from the book have enhanced my enjoyment. Last spring I used their idea of a living bean curtain to grow white runner beans outside my kitchen window.  The lovely vines twisted up their strings right before my eyes. Right now I have a planter of productive pea vines climbing up a trellis made from a single sturdy twig.


I must confess I haven't tried any of the recipes. Just as soon as my berries are ripe I will be making the Strawberries with Scented Geraniums and Crème Fraiche.



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