Container Gardening by Vertical Gardening Expert, Mark Ridsdill Smith, Deals With How & What To Grow in Small Spaces & Containers.

Vertical Veg is Available From Many Bookshops including the link at the end of this page

Despite living in the digital age hard copy books still fascinate me. So, in my quest to make gardening easier for you, it makes sense for me to start reviewing gardening books. My first book review is on The Vertical Veg Guide to Container Gardening; by Vertical Gardening expert, Mark Ridsdill Smith. In it the author deals with how too grow an abundance of herbs, vegetables and fruit in small spaces. 

Having been a commercial grower and gardener for decades I didn’t expect to learn anything from a book written by an amateur. How wrong I was. 

Vertical Veg: Container Growing, is available from many bookshops including the link at the end of this page.

A Gardening Revelation

Mark Ridsdill Smith’s book on container gardening was a revelation to me and will probably reveal gardening truths to you as well. It reminded me of so many things I’d known but no longer told my readers simply because it seemed so obvious.

But of course what is obvious to me neglects the fact that it wasn’t obvious when I first started growing crops and had to be learnt. New gardeners by definition are not going to know or understand these details and this book is ideal for them. It’s also for people like me that can benefit from being reminded!

Being a container gardening advocate myself I could see why this form of gardening has been the one the author has adopted. After all, a container is small enough to move around the garden, can be taken with us if we move house and allows a flexibility in the growing of plants that isn’t always possible when planting in outdoor beds.

But what amazed me most was how someone without years of full time commercial experience had gained the gardening and growing insights the author has. Mark Ridsdill Smith has an innate understanding of plants that many commercial growers take years to acquire. He clearly understands plants and their needs. He has become a natural grower, able to explain to new and experienced gardeners the hows and whys of gardening. 

First Steps in Container Gardening

First steps is the first part of this book and it deals with how and why you can grow in cities (as well as the countryside) and it details how to design your first container garden.

An example of the detail provided is how to choose the sunniest spots in your container garden for those plants, such as Mediterranean herbs and other sun and warmth lovers, that need plenty of sunshine.  Hint: take a photograph of each area of the garden every few hours to see where the sun shines most. Do this every month to extend your knowledge throughout the year.

How To Grow Container Crops

Module grown plants are a technique used to save weeks of growing time in containers

The How to grow section of the book deals with the eight steps to success, useful growing skills and how to make your own composts, wormeries and fertiliser teas.

Next up comes How to grow more in a small space. I love this chapter, it’s something I do in my small garden and small greenhouse now I no longer have an acre of greenhouses and polytunnels. It is the sort of gardening many new gardeners also start with and enables us to be very productive in our gardens.

Vertical Gardening ….

Vertical and 3D gardening is also covered; that’s growing crops upwards on trellises and other supports as well as putting pots and containers on “terraces” or growing ladders. It’s a sort of stepped shelving for pots, plus hanging baskets, growing pockets and other containers from walls or placing them on balconies.

Vertical growing sees walls as just another surface on which to grow plants and means our homes can become a vertical city oasis of plants. And if the plant container can’t be screwed to a wall the author shows how to use string as supports for climbing plants.

Growing plants up a string is exactly how I grew commercial tomato crops. Each year I’d support 10,000 tomato plants and 1,000 cucumber plants on strings hanging from the roof of my greenhouses and tunnels. It’s so much easier than canes, tomato frames and other strange devices for supporting annual crops and I agree with Mark that this is a superb time efficient way to grow plants.

Gary Williams Grows Strawberries Vertically.
Gary Williams Grows Strawberries Vertically.

Or you could do what Gary Williams does and attach your pots to a post. These strawberry plants are reaching for the sky.

The author then goes into the secrets of catch cropping containers, interplanting, and how to focus on hight yielding, high value and fast growing crops to get the best out of a container garden.

What also impressed me in this book is that the author understands that growing isn’t a seasonal activity. He devotes pages to winter cropping.

In my own garden my unheated greenhouse is at its most productive in winter. I grow over 25 different types of edible plants in my winter greenhouse and admired the way in which the author dealt with winter cropping.

As an environmentalist who gardens in harmony with nature, rather than trying to compete with nature, I loved chapter 8 which deals with Growing in harmony with life. The author talks about how to promote plant health, and reduce plant stress, how to attract pollinators and repel pests. And he has pages on troubleshooting gardening problems.

What to Grow in the Container Garden

I’ve already mentioned high value, high yielding, fast growing crops, but in this section there’s more. Starting with microgreens there are also pages on herbs, potatoes in bags and the best herbs, fruit and veg to grow in containers. There even advice on unusual crops and readers of this website know how much I love unusual crops.

A Vision for Urban Living

These module grown spring onions are ready to be planted into containers in my own garden,

The author lives in an urban community and focus on that. And it’s perhaps the only area where our thoughts digress. It’s not that his advice is wrong. Far from it. It’s that all he has written about applies equally to rural areas. Many rural properties have small gardens and suffer from a lack of growing space. So the advice given in the book applies to rural growers as well.

The author writes about how gardening at pavement and balcony level encourages people to talk, to form communities and share plants and harvest. That’s so true. And he goes on to talk about growing for food security, for greener lives & greener cities and for our future. He reminds us how growing at home reduces food miles and waste, how it reduces plastic use and reconnects us with the soil and life itself.

Good Reasons To Read This Book

All the above are good reasons to read this book and adopt a container gardening mentality. And I believe that since the book was written these needs have become more acute. As I write this review we have war in Eastern Europe, price inflation is rampant and food security is something we need to consider.

My interest in growing started as a child and escalated in the Good Life era. But there’s not been a time in my lifetime when being able to grow food has been as important as today. I commend this book. The author is a humanitarian that really understands the needs of communities and how growing can help us all to cope in difficult times.

My thanks to the author and publishers for allowing me to review this book.

More Praise for Container Gardening

Here are just a few quotes taken from the book. Having read it I can but agree with them

No Dig Gardening Guru, Charles Dowding commented, Mark’s enthusiasm is infectious and together with his attention to often-overlooked details, will give you confidence and knowledge to grow an
impressive amount of food in seriously small spaces, where you probably
thought you could not!

Garden Organic’s head of horticulture, Chris Collins, said, “The impression that the fine art of gardening can be achieved only by those with large amounts of space is slowly and surely becoming disproved.”

He continued, “Mark’s container gardening book deals another major blow to that myth with a
comprehensive guide, both practical and scientific, to growing edibles without
the need for open ground.”

Tom Heap, of BBC Countryfile, commented “If you want bumper harvests from brick walls and block paving, this book shows you how. A cornucopia of sage advice and cunning tips, it’s verbal
fertiliser for your growing plans.”

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