Q & A With Jessica Walliser, Author Of ‘Container Gardening Complete’

By Shelley Pierce | February 11, 2018
Image by The Quarto Group
by Shelley Pierce
February 11, 2018

Jessica Walliser co-hosts The Organic Gardeners, an award-winning program on KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a regular contributor to Fine Gardening, Urban Farm, and Hobby Farms magazines. Walliser also serves on the editorial advisory board of The American Horticultural Society.  Her two weekly gardening columns for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review have been enjoyed by readers for over nine years. Jessica’s fourth book, Attracting Beneficial Bugs to the Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control, was awarded the American Horticultural Society’s 2014 Book Award and named one of the Top 12 Gardening Books by Martha Stewart Living magazine in March of 2015.  She is also the author of the Amazon best-seller Good Bug, Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically.  Her latest book, Container Gardening Complete, has everything you need to know to successfully garden in a small space, including step-by-step directions, photographs, and information on more than 125 plants.  Read on to learn more and enter below to win one of two copies of this Quarto Group book!

1. What makes this the best, most complete book in the market for container gardening?

When I developed this book, I wanted to find ways to separate it from the pack. There were already several other container gardening books in the marketplace, so I felt it was pretty important to include information that readers won’t find in any of those other books. In addition to including some pretty cool step-by-step projects, Container Gardening Complete offers information on how to overwinter container-grown plants, whether they’re tropicals, bulbs, perennials, trees, or shrubs. Also included are charts of named varieties of vegetables and fruits that were bred specifically for containers so readers would know exactly what to look for at the garden center; they’ll find varieties of tomatoes that reach just 10 inches high, watermelons whose vines extend only 18 inches but grow good-sized fruits, fruit trees that grow to just four or five feet in height, red raspberries that top out at just 2 feet tall, and hundreds of other edible plants that are perfect for containers. A few other unique features of the book are the section on how to use succession planting in a container garden, what to do with your container garden at the end of the growing season, and design “recipes” for building gorgeous ornamental containers.

2. Tell us about your container garden. How many container plants are you currently tending (don’t worry – we won’t judge!) and what plants are you growing? What is your favorite plant to grow in a container and why?

I have about four dozen containers between my back patio and front porch area. I have a fig tree in a huge pot that gets hauled into the garage every winter, along with two pots that contain red banana trees and one with a variegated brugmansia. I also have a beautiful wine-colored rubber tree plant that’s underplanted with some rex begonias, and three large potted agaves that spend the summer on my patio and the winter in the garage. The contents of the rest of my pots change every season. I’ve grown everything from artichokes and eggplants to caladiums, dahlias, elephant ears, and sea holly in my container garden. One of the most creative projects I did in my garden about four years ago was converting five old metal filing cabinets to container gardens by removing their drawers, flipping them on their backs, and painting them bright green. I plant them with a mixture of pretty edibles, annuals, and perennials every spring. We were going to include a step-by-step for those filing cabinet planters in Container Gardening Complete, but we ran out of room! But, thankfully, there are plenty of other projects in the book that are equally as creative. If I had to pick a favorite plant to grow in a container, it would probably be succulents. I know they’re super “hot” right now, but I’ve been growing them for a very long time. I have eight pots of succulents, ranging in size from a huge hypertufa bowl filled with a mixture of succulents to a bright orange Bundt cake pan of succulents that wraps around the base of the umbrella on my patio table. Of course there’s a section on succulents in the book, too, along with a super-fun project that converts an old cement mixing bin into a succulent planter.

3. Your book features several cool projects. What is one project in the book that will have our readers in awe and why? 

I love all the projects, of course, but the one that I think is the most fun is the Carnivorous Casserole. Most people don’t know how easy it is to grow carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plants, Venus flytraps, sundews, and butterworts, especially when you grow them in a container. For the project, I made a garden of carnivorous plants in an old casserole dish because carnivorous plants need boggy, water-logged soil so no drainage hole is required. It was really fun to make and has lived in my garden for two years now. Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t feed carnivorous plants raw hamburger, but when you grow them in a container like this, you can watch them digest the flies they naturally capture throughout the growing season. It’s quite the conversation piece!  Learn how to make a Carnivorous Casserole here.

4. Is it possible to grow anything in a container or are there some exceptions? 

Yes, you can grow anything in a container. However, you have to have the correct size container and you have to fill it with the right kind of potting soil. I dive into this quite deeply in Container Gardening Complete, giving some very useful guidelines on what size pot to choose for lots of different types of plants. That being said, just because you can grow anything in a pot doesn’t necessarily mean you should. It pays to be smart about what you choose to grow in containers because if you decide to grow a standard-size red oak tree in a pot, you’ll either need to spend all your time pruning and training it into a bonsai or you’ll need to plant it in a 4,000 gallon container! If you choose your plants wisely by selecting cultivars and varieties that perform well in containers, your maintenance time is greatly reduced and the result is happier, healthier, more productive plants.

5. What are some of the most unique objects you have ever seen used as containers?

The possibilities are endless when it comes to repurposing items for use as garden containers. Like my filing cabinet planters, there are a million other options, though in the book I do warn about a few objects that should never be used as garden containers due to potential health hazards. I have photos in the book of plantings in toasters, ice cream makers, umbrellas, boots, tool boxes, and rain gutters. I’ve also seen bathroom sinks, hollowed-out mannequin heads, and blue jeans used as fun containers. Like I said, the possibilities are endless!

Win one of two copies of “Container Gardening Complete“!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, February 18, 2018 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What are some of your favorite plants to grow in containers?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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