Alice Redmond’s Frankfort garden differs from most. Alice uses containers to grow everything from vegetables to flowers.

Container gardening differs from in-ground gardening in that plants inside containers rely solely upon the gardener for water and nutrition, while in-ground gardens allow root systems to reach out and extract what they need directly from the soil.

Container gardening has several benefits, though, that in-ground gardens lack. Alice pointed out that her gardens require little or no bending. Anyone with back problems or even joint stiffness can relate to that. Also, being off the ground, soil in containers warms up swiftly, even in early spring, while soil in the ground remains cold and damp.

As someone afflicted with back pain, my thoughts trend more and more toward container gardening and my visit to Alice’s garden clinched it. Early crops have a definite appeal as well. This was highlighted in a direct way when Alice showed me some of her container-grown cucumbers.

Alice starts her plants from seed in March, and by Memorial Day is munching on fresh cucumbers.

Alice’s house, garage, along with a gazebo out back, are festooned with hanging baskets. But also significant, is a wall of containers along the edge of her driveway. Here, Alice has containers filled with a multitude of vegetables, all sitting on a blue-painted, raised bench in the form of a wide, V.

Veteran Gardener

Climbing varieties reach their full potential by virtue of a number of ingenious pairings. Here, cucumbers climb on an old, refrigerator rack affixed to the back of the bench. Others climb directly on the backrest of the bench.

Non-climbing plants benefit from the warmth of being off the ground, as well as the southern exposure. Green peppers, vegetables well-suited for container growing, thrive in this beneficial environment.

Behind the house, on the eves of a gazebo (Alice says this is a work in progress, but it looked pretty good to me already), hang numerous containers, all brimming with flowers. One variety that Alice is especially proud of, tall snapdragons, immediately catch the eye.

Alice tells me that snapdragons are not supposed to do well in containers, so “they” say. Well, conventional wisdom sometimes is flat wrong, as the snapdragons in Alice’s containers will testify.

Alice Redmond was a Wiswell before marriage and was always interested in gardening. In fact, Alice still works at Wiswell Farm and Greenhouse in Orrington, each year from March through early June. With years of experience behind her, Alice knows the importance of watering and feeding container-grown plants on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many beginning gardeners fail to perceive the importance of proper care and their plants end up dying.

Here’s something to note regarding container gardening in general. Plants set in shallow containers are doomed to failure. The soil dries quickly between waterings and just one missed watering can kill a plant. Also, shallow containers don’t hold enough soil for plants to reach their full potential. Their roots cannot spread out, another reason not to use shallow containers.

As per what kind of vessel to use for a container, the sky is the limit, as long as it has enough depth and width. Alice’s garden demonstrates this. Containers on her plant bench are as dissimilar from each other as night from day, but being of the proper size, they all serve their purpose well.

The hanging baskets sold at garden centers lend themselves to reuse. Alice has cucumbers aplenty, draping down from her hanging baskets.

Companion Garden

While most everything Alice grows is done in containers, she has made one concession to in-ground gardening. A prime place in the middle of their lawn, a circle of rich soil, caught her eye last year and Alice set tomato plants in the middle and cucumber plants all around it. This reminded me of the Indian-style, companion method of planting squash around corn.

The reason for this more conventional garden is that Alice is famed for her bread-and-butter pickles and didn’t think here containers would provide enough cukes for her requirements.

What interested me most was that while cucumbers in her containers have produced for nearly two months now, the in-ground cukes have just begun to flower.

So if you like early crops and don’t care for bending, try Alice Redmond’s container gardening approach. You won’t be disappointed.

Tom Seymour of Waldo is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.