A Custom Fit: Container Gardening

Autostraddle o.b. tampon article series
Inspired by how happy you are that o.b.® tampons expand all around to custom-fit your body, Autostraddle’s “a custom fit” article series will tackle how to make all the other parts of your life expand/adjust all around to custom-fit your life/self. You’ve got your own place, you’ve got clothes that fit you just right and you’ve even figured out how to work exercising into your schedule. Congratulations! Today, because everybody can use a little more life in their life, Laura’s going to talk to you about plants.


In an ideal world, you’d get to climb a tree every once in a while, but it’s be real here: the most nature a lot of us get to experience is that (terrifying) tiny spider that crawls across the ceiling above our bed at night. Even those of us who live in the greyest of cities haven’t totally managed to escape romanticizing nature, though; we look forward to blueberries in the summer and pumpkins in the fall and count down the days until crocuses finally bloom in the spring.

But Christmas trees (real or otherwise) don’t have to be the only plants you invite into your house. You can start a garden in your kitchen, bathroom or bedroom and have something living and breathing and green in your house all year long. Container gardens can be miniscule things you start in your window sill or massive jungles your cultivate on your porch. All you need is a potted plant to get started. And you really should get started; plants are damn useful things to have around. They keep your space cool, clean your air, calm you down, feed you and add something dynamic to rooms that spend most of their time empty while you’re busy whirling around working and generally being a person.


we all want to grow with the seeds we will sow

The first thing you need when you’re building a container garden is not, in fact, containers; it’s plants. I say this because, as a person who has a habit of starting projects and never finishing them, it’s really easy to collect a hundred and twenty-seven fancy containers and never find time to fill them with anything. Instead of letting your pots gather dust, motivate yourself by going out and getting plants first so that you’re forced to do something with them before they die.

I’d recommend starting your garden with a mix of plants and seeds. Like remembering to take my vitamins, watering is something that I have trouble remembering to do daily (there’s a reason I don’t have pets, y’all), especially when there aren’t actual wilting plants around to remind me that they need watered. I also make sure to start with a plant or two that I’ll use when I cook–something like basil or cilantro–so that I remember to water my plants when I go to grab a leaf or two for dinner. Seeds are a good thing to have because there’s so much more variety available whether you’re buying them from Home Depot or ordering them online. They’re also crazy cheap compared to plants and last for years, which means you can keep your garden going all through the winter.

Here are some of my picks for plants and seeds:

Avocados: My avocado plant is my pride and joy. I’ve nurtured it from a tiny(ish) seed that came from an avocado that I used to make a sandwich, to the 14-inch tall plant it is today. In nine years, all my hard work will be worthwhile when my tree finally grows its first avocado and I move to guacamole heaven. All you need to start your own plant is an avocado, three toothpicks, water, and a cup. It takes almost 2 months to even sprout, but don’t get impatient: it’ll happen!

Mimosas: Not the drinks, the plants. Mimosa plants are good to have around when you’re having a lot of feelings. They curl up when you touch them and go to sleep every night which makes them slightly better pets than hermit crabs which, as far as I can tell, do nothing.

Herbs: Everyone needs herbs in their life. I’d go with basil (for pizza and pasta), cilantro (for everything), mint (for tea), parsley (for tabouli) and lavender (because it smells good). Buying cut herbs at the grocery costs an arm and a leg and they always manage to go bad before you can use the whole bundle so why not grow them yourself?

Beans: Beans are hands down the easiest and fastest things to grow. If you’re easily bored or bad at keeping things alive, try starting with beans.

Flowers: Everything you grow doesn’t have to be useful; you can grow flowers just because.


contain yourself!

Okay, now that you’ve got some plants, you can start hunting for containers. You’re going to need big ones and little ones because the name of the game here is variety. Ideally, the containers you plant in will be things you collect over time, but since you’re just beginning you’ll need to jump-start your collection.

I’ve used:

Terra cotta pots: These guys are the most obvious for planting, but are also the most expensive and potentially the most boring. A pot or two never hurt anybody, though, so grab a couple and break out your paint. Acrylics work great on terra cotta and can be sprayed with a matte finish to keep the paint from chipping off.

Egg cartons: Because they’re biodegradable and already divided up into 12 sections, egg cartons are perfect for starting seeds. The cardboard they’re made out of also makes it really easy to tell if you’ve over- or under-watered because it will be just as wet or dry as the soil it’s holding.

Eggs: Don’t just use the cartons, save your eggshells! You can plant seeds or tiny seedlings in eggshells and put them in bigger pots for decoration.

Tea cups, mugs, bowls & glasses: Thrift stores, your parents’ basement and the sale section of places like Anthropologie are fertile hunting grounds for these babies.

Mason jars: You’d be surprised what you can find at thrift stores. Last week, I bought a pack of 5 giant mason jars for 69¢ which pretty much blows the grocery store’s 12 pack for $10 out of the water. Basically what I’m trying to say here is: don’t spend money when you don’t have to.

Cans and jars: Tomato sauce jars and soup cans are easy and weirdly pretty things to plant in. Just make sure you wash them well before you use them because mold is not something you want growing in your garden.

Hanging pots: If you’re feeling ambitious, places like IKEA sell pots that you can hang from your ceiling if you’re handy with a screwdriver.


randomness is very difficult to achieve

Once you’ve assembled all your pots, you need to start putting together your garden. There’s nothing wrong with throwing all your containers onto the table and calling it a day, but you can go the extra step and make things doubly pretty.


Surfaces: If you don’t already have a table or counter top that you’re going to use for your container garden, head right back to the thrift store.

Layering: To keep your garden from looking monotonous, you can build layers by stacking books and cigar boxes so that your pots all sit at different levels.

Watering cans: Keep a full watering can nearby so that watering doesn’t become a chore. If you don’t have a watering can, a wine bottle or olive oil bottle works just as well. If you can get unsoftened water (or hose water: yum), it’ll be better for your plants, but I’ve lived plenty of places where a sink was all I had and my plants were healthier than a horse.

Fake flowers: Just because it’s a garden doesn’t mean all your flowers have to be real. I’ve got all kinds of tissue paper flowers, pictures of flowers cut out of magazines, and silk flowers I got from Hobby Lobby mixed in with the real ones.

Cut flowers: You can also go for real flowers that are no longer technically alive. Beer bottles, especially ones with nice labels, make good vases.

Cutlery: Have you ever seen those hammered spoon plant markers on Etsy? You can make them! All you need are spoons, forks and knives, a heavy hammer, and a set of metal stamping letters (which you can get for ~$8 at a craft store).

Sun: Your garden needs to be somewhere where your plants will get enough light. A south-facing window is a good place, but if you happen to live on the east side of your building, a grow light works too. If you’re sticking with the real deal, don’t forget to rotate your plants every once in awhile or they’ll all grow lopsided towards the sun.

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 308 articles for us.


  1. I once grew an avocado plant, like you, and it became more than my pride and joy. It was actually my new baby. When my then-partner and I broke up, we actually talked about shared custody. And then I don’t know why but the plant died. Womp womp.

    • I swear plants can tell when things aren’t going well. My girlfriend in college got me a bonsai tree as a graduation gift and I loved it so so so much! When we split up I move to a new apartment and it went through a phase where it didn’t look so good…but I was still on decent terms w the ex, and the tree recovered. When what was left of our friendship completely fell apart the tree got super sick and died for no reason. It still weirds me out a little!

  2. I have a lot of feelings about plants right now because my roommate totally promised to water all my green friends over the summer and forgot. I was so sad.
    so this comes at just the right time!also the egg thing is very cute

  3. Don’t forget to use potting soil/soilless mix for container gardening. Soil for in-ground planting will compact and make it hard for the plant to thrive.

    Also, you don’t need to add stuff for drainage in the bottom of the pot for most plants. Just a small piece of a papertowel to keep the soil from falling out of the drainage hole(s). Now you have more room for your plant to spread roots! Gardner’s secret. ;)

    Why is anything in an egg so much cuter?

    • And as cute as mason jars are, drainage holes are our friennnnddddsssss.

      (of course, you can always take a dremel to that jar. But dremels are expensive, which sort of defeats the purpose.)

      Can I shamelessly promote my gardening blog? Is that a thing? Probably. http://fuzzytrees.tumblr.com/

      • checked out the site. very nice! succulents are the only plants that survived my depression and a life changing house move. In fact, when I moved they sat in a bag for a month neglected, with no exposure to light. We won’t talk about how long they went without water before I moved. Damn if they didn’t grow another three inches.

        • Thanks! Yeah, that’s one of the things I like is that they survive my periods of depression. And thus also don’t become a source of guilt.

      • You can get a diamond bit for drilling holes in ceramic, glass, and shell for $4-8 at most hardware stores. It fits in the chuck of a regular electric drill. I use one for putting clean holes in glass and shell pendants for my beadwork.

  4. As much as I would love to grow an avocado tree, I am 100% sure that I could not keep it alive for nine years. However, I can usually keep little pots of herbs alive for several months at a time.

  5. <3 this!! Guess who gets to pick smaller, more house-appropriate containers for her outside herbs now? :)

  6. I find it hard to find places to put plants because I have no shelves and a ferret and digging is their favourite thing ever. I was thinking of putting some plants on the outside windowsill though, particularly interested in grasses, anyone have experience growing them?

  7. there is a segment of the population that has plants that are their children and I am in that segment. i have this random succulent my mother got me when i moved to college and it’s about 3 feet wide now and blooms in the spring and i had to leave it behind when i moved and i made my mom PROMISE to take care of it for me. #nosarcasm

  8. Don’t forget, mint is tasty as hell in mojitos and juleps! And also salads! I’m a big fan of mint.

    And regarding containers, I’m a fan of curb-cycled gardening pots or recycled yogurt tubs with holes poked in the bottom…jars and mugs may lack proper drainage for many plants. Also, be aware that terra cotta pots can wick up moisture, so you may need to water a plant in a terra cotta pot more often than one in a plastic container.

    Also also, I think I may need grow-lights; my basil in an east-facing window is looking poorly now that it’s fall. :(

  9. I have a Christmas Cactus and an African Violet…they aren’t doing very well, but on Craft Sunday I will attempt to add more to the family and maybe they’ll thrive together?

  10. You can also container garden outside for veggies, if you have a porch or balcony or backyard you aren’t allowed to/don’t want to dig in. My wife and I had a great veg garden going in 5-gal buckets from Home Depot.

  11. I once had a chilli plant but then I got a puppy and she started eating the chillies and the plant didn’t recover however the dog is now 11 months and I love her more than the chilli thingamajig (she still cries whenever anyone leaves the room)

  12. That sounds very nice, but I wonder if it would attract bugs, which would be bad for me because my apartment complex charges when they have to cone and spray for that, also this is just my opinion, but I don’t really like spring because the pollen is awful and I have allergies, but again, that’s just me, and I’m not trying to say that others should feel like I do.

    • I feel like you are trying to be Debbie Downer from SNL, like as a joke or something? I can’t decide if you are a real person or not. If you are, I am sorry that you have such a miserable life and that you hate everything, there’s meds and therapists that may help you.

      If you are a troll, go away.

  13. It’s been seven years. Is your avocado still going ? Is it now almost a tree?

    • Bless your heart, Carmen. The thing is, I moved to Galicia for a while and my parents killed it.


      • Sadness ensues…
        Say hello to the land of my great grandmother, who I happen to be named after, for me.

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