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Improving the View

Container Gardens Block Unsightly Urban Vistas

Robin Leidner
Robin Leidner uses containers creatively to enclose her rooftop garden.

When Robin Leidner bought her fourth-floor apartment in downtown Philadelphia, she was looking forward to enjoying the deck off the bedroom. However, the view off the deck included a neighbor's ugly, peeling door. Because her neighbor was reticent to fix the door, Robin decided to plant something to block the view. "I'm really not much of a gardener," says Robin. "I grew up in the suburbs and my mom had a few flowers around," she says. "But staring at that door every day, I decided I had to do something," she says.

That "something" was to start gardening in containers on her deck. With little gardening knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm, Robin started buying pots, window boxes, plants, and seeds to fill out her deck. Some of the plants she started growing in containers included tomatoes, geraniums, heliotrope, verbenas, morning glories, lavender, globe amaranth, and herbs. She also tried growing arugula and hyacinth beans. What started as a way to hide a door, has turned into a passion. "I used to sleep in, but now I'm so excited about my plants that I jump out of bed early in the morning to count my morning glory flowers," exclaims Robin.

Robin Leidner's rooftop garden
The view from Robin Leidner's Philadelphia rooftop.

Robin is seriously hooked on gardening. "At first I had a hodge-podge of different containers all sprawled across the deck," she says. They took up too much room, so she purchased a three-tier Plant Terrace. "The terrace adds height and depth to the deck and takes up less space than the containers did on the ground," she says. Having the pots up off the deck makes them easier to reach for watering and care. It also protects the wood decking. To hide the door, Robin planted a rose of Sharon and climbing hydrangea in pots. "They haven't grown big enough to hide the door yet, but I'm told I need to be patient. They may take a few years," she says.

Being a new gardener hasn't been without its amusing twists. Robin planted lavender and gomphrena (globe amaranth) seeds in the same window box. When a friend was visiting, she pointed out that most of the plants Robin thought were gomphrena were actually weeds. "I was so outraged at being fooled by these impostors, that I went out at 1 a.m., brought the window boxes into the bathroom and yanked out all the weeds. It made a mess, but I was satisfied," says Robin. The few gomphrenas that were left did quite well. When fall came, Robin took some of the window boxes over to her mom's house so she could keep them growing indoors. The plants survived and Robin brought the boxes back home in the spring. To her amazement, there were little lavender plants growing in the window boxes. "It seems the lavender seeds were just slow in germinating. "I transplanted the seedlings and now I have great lavender plants growing on my deck," she says.

Privacy Trellis
A Self-Watering Planter Trellis provides a home for climbing plants and adds a bit of privacy.

Another challenge for Robin is watering. "The first year I dragged buckets of water through my bedroom to water the containers," she says. Then she purchased a Coil Hose that could be hooked up to her kitchen sink faucet. "The 50-foot-long hose allows me to water on the deck without lugging watering cans or buckets," Robin says. "I also use Aqua Cones and Terra-Sorb watering-absorbing crystals in the containers to keep the soil moist," she says. That way she can leave for a day or two and not worry about the plants dying in the heat.

Another product Robin likes is the Container Booster Mix. "Having 50 containers on the fourth floor without an elevator, I'm not fond of replacing all that soil each spring," she says. "The Container Booster Mix allows me to reuse some of the old soil that's still in good shape, reduce the amount of work, and save some money," says Robin.

Robin is learning as she goes along. She does gardening research on the internet and now takes any unknown seedlings to the local garden center to identify whether they're weeds or not. Though her neighbor's door still isn't quite out of sight, she's now too busy with her plants to really notice!

Last updated: 10/24/15