Posted by mholbrow on Apr 6, 2009.

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CONTAINER GARDENING IN CAMBRIDGE

Clarinda Spinelli (right) created a garden in a tub during a free Container Garden workshop presented Saturday, April 4 by the City of Cambridge. Iftekhar Bhatti (left) won the garden in the raffle. She donated it to the Senior Center, where it will grow on the balcony.

by Mary Holbrow   

WORKSHOP DRAWS A CROWD

There was a full house at the Container Gardening Workshop Saturday at the Cambridge Senior Center on Massachusetts Avenue. About 140 people filled the seats and stood in back as Clarinda Spinelli created a colorful small-scale garden by planting herbs, edible greens and flowers in a galvanized washtub.

Information tables at the event featured a CitySprouts school program booth plus displays on lead safety, water use, composting and mulch, and community gardens. Attendees sported stickers distributed by Public Works Commissioner Lisa Peterson for Cambridge in Bloom, which promotes creation of plantings by volunteers and local businesses.

Clarinda Spinelli is a member of Cambridge's Department of Public Works, Parks and Urban Forestry. Questions came thick and fast during her demonstration.

Q. “Could you grow onions in that?”
A. “Oh, sure—you might want to plant them a little deeper, and maybe squeeze them together a little tighter than it says on the seed packet. It’s like cooking—at first you make a lot of measurements, but after that you start to wing it.”

Spinelli set a bay plant deep in the middle of the tub, which she had filled with soil on a drainage base of plastic peanuts.

Q. “Could you grow onions in that?”
A. “Oh, sure—you might want to plant them a little deeper, and maybe squeeze them together a little tighter than it says on the seed packet. It’s like cooking—at first you make a lot of measurements, but after that you start to wing it.”

She set a bay plant deep in the middle and surrounded it with rosemary, camomile, chard, romaine lettuce, pansies. Nasturtiums and thyme cascaded down over the sides—or rather, they will cascade after they’ve spent some time out in the sun.

Q. “Can this go outside right now?”
A. “It should be okay. If there’s a real freeze coming, put a couple of chairs on each side and cover it with a sheet.”

Spinelli pointed out the drainage holes in the bottom of the tub. It was one of many containers on display, ranging from ceramic pots to big olive oil cans.

Q. “Can I use a ceramic pot that doesn’t have a hole in the bottom?”
A.: “Well, you have to have good drainage. Anybody here know how to make a hole in a ceramic pot?”

Voice from the back of the room: “Try a masonry drill bit.”

Spinelli used commercial potting mix with time-release fertilizer granules. For organic growing she suggested a 60-40 mix of loam and compost, fertilized with seaweed, fish emulsion, bone meal or dried blood. Audience members added recommendations for locally available organic products from PlantOne and Coast of Maine.

At the end of the afternoon Iftekhar Bhatti held the lucky raffle number that won the demonstration planter. She got a special round of applause when she donated it to the Senior Center. It will have a sunny spot on the balcony.

By mid-afternoon Quinn Writer had drawn all the winning raffle numbers, and his dad Kelly of the Parks and Forestry Department wheeled in a dolly to help with the heavy items. Along with plantings, prizes included rolling plant stands and two major pieces of gardening hardware—a compost bin and a rain barrel. The bins and barrels can be bought from the city at a discount.

The event was sponsored by the Department of Public Works, the Community Development Department, City Council Health and Environment Committee, Conservation Commission, and the Council on Aging.