Container Gardens

Lettuce growing in containers. Photo: Southern Liivng/Getty

A container garden is a garden grown in containers; in pots, tubs, baskets, or specially designed containers. They are an effective, versatile and cost-effective way to grow plants and vegetables. They are useful in urban environments because they are mobile, easily managed and fit into small spaces.

A container garden in a highly urbanised environment can help to alter temperature and humidity, purify air, and act as a noise barrier, without the need to plant directly into the ground. This can be particularly useful in high-rise apartment buildings, or where the ground soil is not accessible or of sufficient quality for growing (Nagase & Lundholm, 2021), or perhaps where the soil has become contaminated with salt water.

Container gardens allow a gardener to control the soil quality, reduce weeds and control the watering process. Specially designed container gardens can include watering systems that reduce water usage. For example, a wicking garden bed has a reservoir of water at the bottom under the container that holds the soil and plants. Water is drawn up by capillary action and is distributed evenly through the soil. Wicking beds can be easily built with some simple instructions and with simple materials. There is a wide range of companies that produce container gardens with built-in wicking beds (Semananda et al., 2016). 
Creating a container garden is a simple way to ensure a reliable food source, by growing vegetables, fruit and herbs. It can also be a way to add vegetation to urban environments, with all the benefits that brings (see Soderlund & Newman, 2015). Having plants inside in containers is beneficial too; they take in carbon dioxide and reduce oxygen, and have been proven to reduce stress, and increase pain tolerance while removing some kinds of air pollutants (Bringslimark et al., 2009).

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Name of NbS

Container Gardens

Type of NbS

Hybrid living/engineered interventions

Location

 Container gardens are adaptable and flexible.

They can be planted anywhere, in urban, rural and periurban settings, both inside and outside. 

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Case Study

The Funafala Garden: Tuvalu Food Cubes

A wicking bed explained. Image: Gardening With Pope

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Container gardening does not have a specific link to Indigenous knowledge, but it is an extremely valuable and useful strategy for people to manage their own food resources, and surround themselves with nature.

As the world’s indigenous populations become increasingly urbanised and removed from the traditional, reciprocal relationship with the land, creating and maintaining a container garden is a way to surround oneself with plants, which can be an essential way of reconnecting with the natural world. 

Container gardens are a way to grow plants that aren’t local. For people who move to a new city, or a new country, the ability to grow vegetables and herbs that aren’t typical of the new environment is a way to connect back to their roots and feel at home. This is seen in ubiquitous plastic barrels growing taro among Pasifika populations in Porirua in Aotearoa New Zealand for example, where it is less typical to see taro grow.

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Herbs like basil can be grown in small containers indoors or outdoors.  Photo: Southern Liivng/Getty
Plants in an apartment. Photo: Ecotech
Climate change benefits
  • Changes in rainfall
  • Desertification
  • Increased pests / weeds
  • Increased temperatures
  • Loss of food production
  • Reduced soil quality
  • Sea level rise
  • Soil erosion and landslides
  • Urban heat island effect
  • Wind / storm damage

Climate change is having severe and damaging effects on our food sources. Changes in rainfall and increased temperatures lead to flooding and droughts, which impact soil quality. Sea level rise, urbanisation, pollution, and erosion further damage soil quality, all of which have damaging effects on traditional growing methods. The pandemic further exacerbated food insecurity, proving that reliance on long distance supply chains (common in Te Moananui Oceania) is not always sustainable.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Food security
  • Empowerment / equality

On larger scales, container gardens can create reliable food sources for whole communities. Community gardens can be made up of container gardens, designed to minimise water usage, and maximise produce output. Community gardens become spaces of connection, learning and social interaction, which creates resilient communities. Creating and managing food sources not only increases food security, which is essential for our growing populations, but also creates a sense of empowerment and equality. 

A gardener can manage the soil, and how it is watered and fed, removing the need for pesticides. The gardens can be moved if necessary and be indoors or outdoors. Container gardens contribute to reducing the urban heat island effect and bring the natural world into urban environments.

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Aesthetic value
  • Climate regulation
  • Disturbance prevention
  • Food production
  • Education and knowledge
  • Habitat provision

Container gardens are beneficial on multiple levels. They are aesthetically pleasing and a way to reconnect to nature. They produce food and allow people to grow and cultivate specific species. They regulate the climate by creating noise barriers, altering humidity and temperature levels, and reducing carbon dioxide levels. They create habitats for non-human species, and they create opportunities for education and knowledge.

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Technical requirements

Container gardens can be as simple or as complicated as the gardener would like. A simple garden could be one plant in a small pot. More complicated methods like wicking beds are still relatively straight-forward to create, and can be built using recycled materials, or items from a local hardware store.

Issues and Barriers

The only real barrier to container gardens is the knowledge and commitment to creating and maintaining them.

Opportunities

There are opportunities for people across Te Moananui Oceania to utilise container gardens as a way to deal with the effects of climate change on traditional agriculture. Where communities are affected by storm surges, sea level rise and flooding, raised container gardens can be a simple solution that guarantees good quality soil, and can be relocated as necessary. In areas where drought and desertification are damaging soil, container gardens can grow produce using less water.

Financial case

There is a very simple financial case for food-producing container gardens, when one compares the price of buying the same produce from a shop to growing it. Although there is a small initial cost to setting up a container garden, that cost is almost immediately offset by the money saved by producing food. This very much depends on how people sourse seedlings or seeds as well as soil.

Plants adding mobile vibrancy and colour to urban environments. Photo: Ecotech
References
  • Bringslimark, T., Hartig, T., & Patil, G. G. (2009). The psychological benefits of indoor plants: A critical review of the experimental literature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29(4), 422-433.
  • Nagase, A., & Lundholm, J. (2021). Container gardens: Possibilities and challenges for environmental and social benefits in cities. J. Living Archit, 8(2), 1-19.
  • Semananda, N. P., Ward, J. D., & Myers, B. R. (2016). Evaluating the efficiency of wicking bed irrigation systems for small-scale urban agriculture. Horticulturae, 2(4), 13.
  • Soderlund, J., & Newman, P. (2015). Biophilic architecture: a review of the rationale and outcomes. AIMS environmental science, 2(4), 950-969.

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