Patricia Foster considers the garden “a lifelong learning laboratory.” As a master gardener at the University of Maryland Extension’s Baltimore City office for almost 15 years and the program’s former president, she recently sat down to offer what all spring planters crave: professional advice. “My answers reflect a lifetime spent in the garden; trial and error is a great instructor,” she says.
What is a common mistake gardeners make, and how can they correct it?
Many plants fail because they are planted in a place where they will not thrive, [like] planting hosta in bright sun when it is a shade-loving plant. Doing some research as to nutrient, light, moisture [and] location requirements about a specific plant will generally lead to the correct selection. Plant material that is native to our area, and planted in conditions that suit them, tends to thrive.
What are the easiest foods gardeners can grow?
Herbs are probably the easiest edible crop someone can grow. One still needs light, nutrients and moisture, but herbs overall require little attention, are relatively pest-free, [have] a million uses as food, have medicinal value [and] are visually pleasing.
What are your thoughts on growing veggies in containers?
Regarding vegetables, the choice is limited by the size (depth) of the container. Lettuce, cherry tomatoes, some eggplant species [and] peppers of all sorts work well in a container. I think there are many more crops being bred specifically for containers. They’re called patio varieties.
What are some good plants and vegetables to grow on an urban rooftop?
I think you can probably grow just about anything on a rooftop if your container is large enough and the roof will sustain the weight. The cautionary tale is, of course, the watering element. We can’t always rely on Mother Nature to provide. There are an increasing number of beekeepers in Baltimore, and many hives are on roofs, so the pollinators are up there already.
How do you feel about using chemicals on flowers, shrubs and crops?
I follow a pretty strict organic practice, so chemical treatments are generally out of consideration for flowers and most definitely for food crops. There are many organic products available [that] are safe and effective if used according to the manufacturer’s directions. [They] need to be applied often to be maximally effective … but if you consider chemical fertilizers and pest treatments and their effect on pollinators and the overall environment, the choice is easy.