Miniature Garden Update: One Month Later

So a little over a month ago, I planted my first miniature balcony garden, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Read: Miniature Balcony Gardening…in a 2-Foot by 10-Foot Space

Well as you might expect, there have been some ups and downs – but mostly ups. And for that I awkwardly give myself a hearty pat on the back. I think everything out there on that stupid-sized balcony would have been alive and well except for one thing…

I was bitten by the (figurative) travel bug and just had to spend a week and a half in Western Florida.

It didn’t rain much in Atlanta while I was gone so these poor lil’ buggas had to fend for themselves in the pseudo-wilderness. So with a clearer mind and slightly tanner skin, this is what I came back to:

  • Cilantro: A little brown and wilted, but salvageable
  • Basil: About the same as the cilantro
  • Mint: Growing like crazy, like it didn’t even miss me
  • Impatiens: Totally dead, like they never even existed
  • Begonias: One chuck of dead-ness and the rest hanging on for dear life. It’s a hanging pot. See what I did there?

So I cleared out the nasty crap to make way for new pretty stuff…ta da!

IMG_3929Second garden shopping trip to Lowe’s: Check.

Lessons Learned:

  1. My mini-balcony gets more sun that I thought it did
  2. Herbs are pretty low-maintenance
  3. Flower that like shade don’t like me…at least here
  4. Water bugs are terrifying

Ah yes…the water bugs.

So before I hit the road for Florida, I set my indoor plants out on the corners of the mini-balcony to give them the best fighting chance at life while I was gone. These were a half-dying chrysanthemum and a three-quarters-dying African violet.

(Side bar: Have you ever stopped to think how close “violet” and “violent” are. Typos can be really thought-provoking at this time of day.)

Anyhoo, my mini-balcony must have been greeted by a big gust of wind because I returned to find the chrysanthemum totally MIA and the African violet upside down on the deck. When I went to pick it up, cockroach-looking things scattered in all directions.


I slammed the balcony door shut and had to squash one with my bare hand to keep it from getting lost in the house. After a couple random chats with dog owners in the days that followed, I learned that these lil’ bastards are called water bugs, native to Georgia, and basically invincible. 
IMG_3934But trying to put the water bug incident behind me, I got myself prepped and ready for gardening round #2.

I was already missing all of the palm trees in Florida, so I picked up a mini-palm meant for indoor display to put on my coffee table. I’m thinking of installing a sandbox in the corner over the weekend. No really.
IMG_3944Without a doubt, those impatiens were dead as a doorbell and needed to be tossed into the trash. There was really no hope of reviving them.

Taking a page from “lessons learned,” I planted marigolds and celosias in their place. My mom always had marigolds in the yard when I was growing up and I remember them being pretty easy to take care. Plus, they’re orange and orange is awesome.

I’d never really seen celosias before, but their cuteness, colorfulness, and cheapness enticed me in the garden center that day. A little Googling informed me that they’re ornamental plants that are also edible…but I have yet to start snacking on them. They’re also named after the Greek word for “burned,” which refers to their flame-like shape.

That’s HOTTT.
IMG_3945I also finally got something to put into that orphaned blue flower pot in the corner. I thought a blue flower pot deserved blue flowers, but such are actually pretty hard to find. My favorite blue flower is the hydrangea, which reminds me of being back in Rhode Island…where they are EVERYWHERE!

I think these bushes are a little too big for my mini-balcony, but someday I’ll have these blue bastards in my yard.

So for the blue pot, I settled on a blueish-purpleish plant called “blue moon phlox.” Like my other new flowers, these things like sun so I thought they’d enjoy my mini-balcony. Since one of our balcony doors is busted and doesn’t open, I pulled the pot over in front of it so I can see and enjoy it from the inside!

IMG_3931One final gardening endeavor of the moment is sprouting in a sponge. While in Florida, we visited the historic and touristy town of Tarpon Springs, which was a sponge diving port for Greek immigrants in the early 1900s.

Sponges! Like what you scrub yourself with in the shower and wash your dishes with the sink…sponges!

It was a really fun town to explore, and apparently, it has the largest population of Greek Americans than any other town in the U.S. Real sponges from the gulf and handmade soaps line practically every store shelf down there, and I picked up one particular kind that’s called a “flower pot sponge.”

IMG_3932The Sponge Factory, where I bought it, recommended that I plant lima bean seeds or lentil seeds in my sponge, but I couldn’t find either of these for the life of my at Lowe’s. So I did a bit of research and found that radishes should sprout soil-less in a sponge as well.
IMG_3943I soaked the radish seeds overnight and then stuck them into the pores of the sponge. Randomly, earlier that day one of my work writing assignments was about the purpose of sprouting and how to grown your own sprouts. I love when work and life align.

Within just a few days, the radish sprouts began to grow! Who knew?!

While researching for my work article, I kept reading that although sprouts are super healthy, they also pose a risk of bacterial contamination. A sponge seems like the perfect place for bacteria to grow. So I’ve been a bit nervous about eating my sprout and have yet to try them.

But they do look pretty righteous, eh?

IMG_3977So that’s my gardening update…one month later. I’ll plant to write a two-month update right before my trip to Europe to say farewell to these little guys and wish them the best while I abandon them for three weeks. Or maybe I won’t get around to it and you’ll see an update about the epic plant death that welcomes me back to the states.

And oh! As of yesterday, I have one more addition to add to my mini-balcony! My parents went me this ridiculously fun gnome flag that would look perfect out there. Of all the gnome crap I have, this is my first flag. Now I just need to find a way to attach it to the side post…hmm.

Unlike my mom, who has to wait until after Mother’s Day to start planting due to fear of frost, some of my plants have been going strong – even after the one-month mark. The herbs, in particular, and growing like crazy now…faster than I can eat them!

Do you live in a climate where plants can thrive in March and April? How’s your garden holding up so far?

I have a feeling mine would rock so hard if only I didn’t travel…but right now, that’s not an option. So godspeed dear plants…I’ll do my best and you do the rest!

Miniature Balcony Gardening…in a 2-Foot by 10-Foot Space

I’ve been sporadically growing indoor houseplants for years now, but have never had the pleasure of my own yard or garden to expand to. Now that I’ve moved to Atlanta…well…I still don’t.

But I do have a miniature balcony – one that measures 2 feet wide by 10 feet long.

Indoor plants

My best indoor plants right now: blooming tulips & almost-blooming hyacinth

My balcony isn’t even large enough to put a chair on, but alas, it’s better than no outdoor space at all. It’s even better because the previous tenant actually left behind her old flower boxes, bird feeders, and a pot with a stand.

So on Wednesday afternoon when I wasn’t much in the mood for working (a rare but liberating freelancer moment!) I drove to Lowe’s to scout out their garden section. I’ve been watching the Atlanta weather and am feeling fairly confident that the temperatures won’t dip below freezing again anytime soon.


Also known as “impatience”…which I have plenty of.

I desperately wanted to try growing vegetables, but feared the lack of all-day sun and small space would kill them straight away. So I settled on some cilantro, basil, and mint for herbs and impatiens and begonias for flowers.

After getting home with my new plants, the first step was to clean out the dried-up planter boxes that had been left behind. I had picked up a big bag of potting mix in the garden center…one that promised to “grow plants TWICE AS BIG!”


Starting with the basil…trying not to make a humongous mess.

Since the only way to access the balcony is through the carpeted living room and is barely big enough to stand on, I set up my gardening project outside the garage in the “front yard.” And then proceeded to carefully carry everything upstairs and through the house…no spills!

Soil goes in, herbs go in, more soil goes in, water, and repeat.

I’m hoping to toss some basil and cilantro to some dishes while cooking and sipping mint mojitos. Seems reasonable, right?

According to the little tags, all three of my herbs like part sun (3-6 hours per day) and part shade. My balcony faces southeast, so I figured this would be a safe bet.

Impatiens 2

Trying to give these lil’ guys the best fighting chance at life.

Next for the impatiens! I remember my mom growing lots of impatiens around the yard as a kid. They’re inexpensive, easy to grow, and don’t need much sun. In fact, they prefer shade. We’ll see how they do with part sun and part shade in the balcony box.


Hopefully this big girl doesn’t drip too much on the neighbor’s balcony down below…whoops.

I’ve always been a fan of hanging basket plants because they’re already living in a decent pot and are visible from far away. This is a pink begonia that likes morning sunlight only…or so I’m told.

Gnomekeeper #1

Gnomekeeper #1

But let’s be honest here. One of the biggest reasons I’m interested in gardening is because of the garden gnome opportunities that go along with it. Fortunately, I had a few gnomes-on-sticks lying around to stick into the herb and flower planter boxes.

Gnomekeeper #2

Gnomekeeper #2

So for now, this is what my balcony looks like! A welcome improvement to the drab, plantless-void that was here just a few days ago.

The finished product...for now.

The finished product…for now.

I’m happy to share that I’m one of the first gardeners in my apartment complex to put out plants for the season. Maybe they’re lazier than I am…or maybe they know something about typical weather conditions that I don’t know. We shall see!

A view from below

A view from below

But for now I’m pretty happy with my miniature balcony on the third floor. As long as the maintenance staff isn’t going crazy with the leaf blowers (that seems to be a big problem on Mondays), it’s peaceful here. Birds are chirping, traffic is low, trees are in the distance, and cherry blossom trees are starting to bloom nearby.

Be jealous, jealous.

Be jealous, neighbors…be jealous.

Stay tuned for gardening session #2, where I’ll take this abandoned pot of dead rosemary and transform it into something awesome to sit in the corner.

The next gardening project...dun dun dun...

The next gardening project…dun dun dun…

Armed with plant food, extra soil, and a watering can, I’m determined to make this the best damn mini balcony in the south.

The Semi-Epic Life of a Rooftop Tomato Plant

It was Father’s Day 2014, and in an odd twist of fate, I found myself spending the day with my father. To keep the whole family entertained, I organized a quick trip to the Chicago Botanical Garden to look at plants and such.

But this isn’t a story about my father; it’s about a tomato plant that spent a wild and turbulent summer with me on a rooftop in the city.










Much to my surprise, I didn’t just stare at plants from a reasonable distance at the botanical gardens. I actually got to bring one home with me! And for those of you who know me too well, NO, I did not secretly stash anything in my purse.

A couple of volunteers were handing out white cherry tomato plants in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden…FOR FREE!


Apparently, white cherry tomatoes are native to the western coast of South America and the Galapagos Islands. Whatever the heck they’re doing in the suburbs of Chicago is a mystery to me. Too bad I couldn’t have justified a quick trip to the Galapagos to reunite this poor, lost plant with its family.

3Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - June 17, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – June 17, 2014

It sucks to acquire a free tomato plant and have nowhere to put it. I once had access to the roof adjacent to my second floor apartment. But ever since my weird landlord showed up one day to change the locks and board up a door, my personal space is entirely, and sadly, confined to the indoors.

So I meandered up to the 6th floor rooftop of my boyfriend’s condo and found a quiet little corner to transform into a makeshift tomato garden. It became an official garden when I stuck a gnome-on-a-stick and a laminated talk bubble into the pot. I figured this tomato plant would have an awfully lot to say to random passersby.

I named her Piddilywinks and she began to grow tall, strong, and beautiful. Based on the little handout sheet I received with her, she promised to produce tomatoes by my birthday. Good timing, Piddilywinks!

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - July 25, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – July 25, 2014

I tried to take good care of her, being my first real garden plant at all. I even trekked to Home Depot to invest in some stakes and twisty ties to hold up her branches. Piddilywinks began to enjoy a wonderful existence up on that rooftop…until I was reminded of one of the main reasons I don’t have a real garden.

I like to travel. And plants don’t like owners who travel.

On July 27th, I set out on a three-week adventure along the West Coast. Sadly, Piddilywinks wouldn’t exactly fit in my carry-on bag.

Related: Spelunking at California’s Lava Beds National Monument

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Related: Gnome Man’s Land: A California Fantasy Land 40 Years in the Making

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - July 27, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – July 27, 2014

When I returned from spelunking, hiking, and gnoming, I expected to find a dreadfully dead Piddilywinks waiting for me. But when I climbed the stairs to the 6th floor roof I found something entirely different…


Totally gone. Without a trace. Pot, gnome, talk bubble, and all.

To me, this was worse than being dead. Where was my closure?!

Being the investigative sleuth he is, my boyfriend sent an email to his condo mailing list to get to the bottom of this. As it turns out, Piddilywinks was kidnapped.

I must admit, however, that she was kidnapped with good intentions. One dude in the building was concerned for her health and welfare and gave her to another dude in the building to take care. Why neither of these dudes bothered to respond to Piddilywinks talk bubble, I’ll never know.

After a semi-dramatic email exchange, Piddilywinks was eventually returned to her original position on the rooftop – and in great shape!

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - August 15, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – August 15, 2014

Dude #2 had clearly nursed her back to health, so I can’t really hold the kidnapping against him.

Piddilywinks had sprouted green tomatoes by mid-August. I was so anxious for them to turn white and taste like cherries. I was promised a white cherry tomato plant after all.

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - August 21, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – August 21, 2014

Much to my surprise, there was nothing white or cherry about Piddilywinks at all! Her tomatoes came in yellow!

As to provide further evidence of my neglectful plant parenting, I abandoned Piddilywinks once again in mid-August to join a spontaneous concert road trip to New York City.

Related: How I Wrapped Up My 30th Year in New York City

But this time, I left her in the care of my boyfriend, who snapped this photo of the first yellow tomatoes.

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - September 25, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – September 25, 2014

Who needs a watering can when you have a large supply of brewery growlers on hand?

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - October 22, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – October 22, 2014

Piddilywinks continued to survive and thrive throughout September and even October. In the end, she supplied me with around 50 “white” (yellow) “cherry” tomatoes. Yes, I ate almost all of them myself. And they were delicious!

There is one crucial thing that I didn’t know until I sat down to write this blog. You’re not supposed to ‘fridge ’em! Apparently, cherry tomatoes lose their flavor and texture deteriorates under 54 degrees. So THAT’S why they always tasted better right after I plucked (i.e. harvested) and washed them!

But as some wise gardener probably said at one point, the lives of all good plants must eventually come to an end.

Piddilywinks final days were spent on the rooftop in early November, when the temperatures began dipping into the 30s. She showed strength and resilience until her final day, when I carried her down to the dumpster in semi-ceremonial fashion. Even when her leaves rotted and withered away, she still hung on to her last remaining unripe tomatoes – hoping the would feed me one day.

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant - November 15, 2014

Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant – November 15, 2014

Someday I won’t travel as much. Someday I’ll have a full-fledged garden. Someday I’ll read about the plants I intend to grow. And someday I’ll head to my backyard stead of the market for my produce.

But this year, I had a rooftop tomato plant. Her name was Piddilywinks and I miss her already.

R.I.P. Piddilywinks the Tomato Plant: June 17, 2014 – November 15, 2014.