Review: Container Gardens 50 Recipes for Year-Round Gardening

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Last week a representative from Crown Publishing Group – Random House, Inc. offered to send me Container Gardens: 50 Recipes for Year-Round Gardening by P. Allen Smith to review. Since I try to include ideas for container gardening on this blog because many Chicagoans live in apartments or small spaces I agreed to take a look. What I thought was a small book on container gardens turned out to be a collection of container garden ideas printed (both sides) on tabbed cards that you can take with you to the garden center or nursery when picking out plants for your container gardens.

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The cards are divided into the seasons as pictured above.

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On the front of the cards you get a picture of the container fully planted. The plants are labeled so you can ask for them by name if they aren’t mature or flowering and don’t look like the pictures when you see them in the garden center.

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On the back of the card you get step-by-step directions on where to each plant gets placed in the container. You also get helpful tips like; ideas for substituting plants if a particular plant is not available, and some instructions on plant care.

What I like about these cards.

As someone who doesn’t own an iPhone; I’m at once surprised and pleased that this kind of product is being made for people like me. This seems like it is perfectly suited for an iPhone gardening app– the only thing that would be missing would be directions to the nearest garden center where you could buy the plants or containers– and gardeners that use them.

These recipes make it very easy to create containers that look like they were designed and maintained by professionals. The Garden Home Principles at the top also seem very helpful if you are looking to create specific plantings. Say, you want a couple of containers to flank the sides of your door or front porch, you can put together the “entry” container garden. If you want a container garden that will make people want to reach out and run their hands through the foliage and flowers, put together one of the container gardens under the texture, pattern or rhythm Garden Home Principle.

As a photography enthusiast I really admire the beautiful photographs by Jane Colclasure and Kelly Quinn. The plant selection is also really good, you can look through these 50 recipes and each one looks different than the others in the set. I’ve discovered many new plants just by looking through the cards. Apparently, there’s more to container gardens than geraniums, asparagus ferns, ornamental sweet potato vines and cannas in the summer and ornamental kale and red twig dogwood in the fall. Who knew?

The containers used are very diverse in shape, texture and color but they are all very much in the style that P. Allen Smith is famous for. Terracotta, muted blues and greens, rustic containers and antique-looking urns. People looking for guidance in planting very modern containers may not be able to visualize some of these recipes in those kinds of planters. As someone who doesn’t have any fall and winter interest in his garden, I would’ve liked for their to have been more recommendations for autumn and winter container gardens.

The set of cards is actually very useful for an experienced gardener and those who just want to look like experienced gardeners. The cards make it very easy to put together some amazing container gardens for all kind of spaces and purposes. Want a container garden on your porch that blocks the view of your neighbor’s deck? There’s an app card for that.

The package indicates that P. Allen Smith’s Container Gardens: Recipes for Year-Round Gardening retails for $14.99 (Canada $18.99) and is available for purchase this month. I was given mine for free to review, but I’ve paid that much (and more) for books that I drew less inspiration from.
Besides being given the product for free I received no other compensation to review Container Gardens: Recipes for Year-Round Gardening by P. Allen Smith.


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  • Most of the gardeners I know are very low-tech and would love the hands-on cards. Now, I have been known to make fun of our P. Allen (why not just go by Allen? And how does he not get those tidy chinos and pressed denim shirt, dirty??! LOL!), but I've always found his gardening advice useful, and these cards look useful. They also seem very reasonably priced. I'm most interested in his winter containers... will check if my library has this.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:


    The other thing I want to know besides the questions you raised is how does P. Allen Smith always have hydrangeas on hand for shooting scenes for his tv show or magazine photos.

    I think he has a personal farm that grows them just for him and photo shoots.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Looks like a pretty cool idea. As a low-tech, non-iPhone owner, I like the portability of the recipe card idea. Thanks for the review!

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:

    I like the portability of the cards too. The other thing I like is that they remind me of cards I find sometimes when I'm thrifting. I guess you used to be able to join clubs and they'd send you sections at a time to help you complete a book or gardening recipe box. I've got a couple of those kinds of sets that gardeners never quite finished collecting.

  • In reply to MrBrownThumb:

    My mom used to get these cards, which made gardening or recipe books when all collected, either through the mail or at the grocery store... back in the dark ages when gas stations gave out free glasses! P.S. I'm a major thrifter, too! :)

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    LOL. You know the only reason I stop at thrifts is to look for these card sets, books, cloches and terrariums/Edwardian case. I rarely look at other stuff, but I'm always tempted to buy other stuff I wasn't looking for in the first place.

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