Give a friend a mini-garden, the gift that keeps on growing

The options are endless for these beautiful displays of herbs, greens and flowers.
Diana Bickford, who owns a farm in Australia, combines leaves of different textures in her mini-gardens.
Diana Bickford, who owns a farm in Australia, combines leaves of different textures in her mini-gardens.

A summer garden is an instant source of gifts. A busy host will welcome the bowl of cherry tomatoes you bring for the table. A co-worker having a birthday would love a basket of fresh-picked corn. A recuperating neighbor, fed up with hospital food, will welcome your strawberries as much as your visit. All of these take just minutes to pick as you’re heading out the door. To show extra love, throw in the bowl or basket as well.

Or, better yet, give someone a mini-garden. Choose an attractive container at a local garden center – say, 12 to 18 inches wide – fill it with potting mix and plant it up for someone who’d love to grow a bit of fresh salad fixings on their doorstep or sunny patio. (Most greens will grow in part shade, but four hours of sun a day is the bare minimum.) Make sure the pot has a hole in the bottom for drainage.

The first potted mini-gardens I saw were in Australia at Bickleigh Vale Farm in McLaren Vale, designed by the owner, Diana Bickford. I’ve encountered others, often combining herbs and greens with colorful flowers, but Diana’s all-edible ones were just as beautiful, thanks to her skill in combining leaves of different colors and textures. One pot contained beet greens, Swiss chard, arugula, mizuna and red and green lettuces. Another had romaine lettuces, frisée endive and red Russian kale, with its bluish leaves and striking red ribs.

For a pot this size, the only tomato plant I’d use is a patio type, draped over one edge. A little pepper plant with tiny hot peppers on it also might work. But I’d concentrate on greens. There are stunning lettuces you can choose, such as the deep red Lollo Rossa, the red-speckled Flashy Trout Back and the gorgeously multi-hued Skyphos, although in hot summers the summer crisp types such as Nevada or Cherokee will stay sweet and cuttable for a longer time.

Don’t stop at lettuce. Tuck in some purple-leaved Japanese mustard, beet leaves such as Bull’s Blood or Red Ace, the purple version of mizuna (a fernlike Asian green), red Rosie bok choy and Redbor kale. And how about deep blue-green Toscano kale and red-veined sorrel? Or the amazing Magenta Spreen, which resembles its weedy cousin lamb’s quarters but with a neon-magenta center.

The best greens to grow in a pot are those that perform well as cut-and-come-again crops, such as kale and Swiss chard, repeatedly sprouting fresh leaves. Annual herbs such as basil and parsley and even perennials such as sage and garlic chives work well when snipped regularly to keep them compact. For flowers, choose edible ones, such as Lemon Gem marigolds, or bright nasturtiums, whose round leaves are edible, too.

If you don’t have leftover seedlings from your own garden that you can transplant, see what you can find at the garden center while you’re there picking out the container. Get a bag of soil-less potting mix, too. One source of rich, compost-based mix is, which sells six-quart bags of its Fort Vee mix.

In fact, order some for yourself. Even people with a garden out back can enjoy a year-round mini garden next to the kitchen door.

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply