I never dreamed I would live in a townhouse, or a condo. I think the key to making a happy transition to this kind of lifestyle is in surrounding yourself with the things that you love (lots of green plants) and reveling in no longer being around the things you hate (dandelions, slugs). Gardening in pots takes a big investment up front, but if well taken care of, large pots can last for decades.
If gardening is important to you and you are contemplating moving to a condominium or townhome, be sure to take into consideration your usable outdoor space. Some townhome decks are merely a nod to the fact that you might want to stand outside in 3 square feet of space and grill on a tiny Weber. I call it “the smokers deck” because that’s all you can really do – just stand there and that’s it. The deck to the “double-wide” townhome we bought is almost 200 square feet – the largest deck outside of a penthouse I have seen for a condo that’s not custom built, added on to, or on the ground floor. By having an elevated deck, my cats can go outside safely and enjoy the sun and chase bugs around. It limits gardening space, but with careful planning and proper prioritizing of the plants, you will know what you have to take with you (ferns, hostas, huckleberry, herbs) and what you can leave behind (roses, hydrangeas).
Your prized plants are worth the cost of a quality pot to put them in. You can expect large pots to run in the $150-200 range, medium pots $90, smaller pots $50. You can save money by shopping at Half Price Pots, but I found most of the pot colors at Half Price Pots too garish for my taste. Herban Patio/Pottery had a nice “mocha” terra cotta that is the base theme color of my pot garden, with a few colored pots put in for interest. Unfortunately Herban Pottery closed a couple of months ago – their web site is even gone (I expected to find a farewell message). I loved that store. Luckily my deck is full of pots and I don’t need anymore! (I would love to have more, but frankly, I am out of space.)
Be sure that you understand PSI and load when placing your pot garden on a deck. Decks are rated for a “pounds per square inch” weight that depends on the quality of construction. The pots were heavy empty, and they weigh a ton more with dirt in them. In fact, I might not ever be able to move because the pots are so heavy. Maybe I would need to hire a crane to lift them over the deck rail or something. Since I am going to stay here for a few years (10 is the plan), I guess I can relax about that thought for now.
Much as I would love to put all my pots in a nice arrangement on one end and have room for a table or something on the other, the deck just can’t take the load. So the pots are evenly spaced around the perimeter of the deck. Also, be cautious of properly maintaining and caring for your deck surface. Elevate your pots on feet or on plastic X stands to allow for air flow under the pot and reduce water accumulation and damage to the deck surface. If the condo is like mine, you don’t really own your deck, it is a “Limited Common Element” (LCE) so you have a responsibility to properly maintain it. And be careful what you put out there since the HOA has some say in what happens with LCEs. This is not a time to be lazy – you will be sorry if you don’t take steps to take care of your deck surface.
Below are photos of a few of the plants and pots on my deck. You can read about how I expanded my pot garden space by utilizing the front porch. I share an entry porch with a neighbor, so I was careful to not obstruct the stairs, much as I wanted to march a line of pots down them and along the walkway to the sidewalk!
Remember, clicking on the photo will enlarge it for detail.
This is the 2nd story deck as seen from the 3rd floor. The 3 pots of Black jewel bamboo at the bottom of the photo are outside of the living room window and provide a nice privacy screen indoors, in addition to adding ambiance.
My largest hosta plant is in one of my favorite most dramatic “mocha” terra cotta pot. To the right is a large native sword fern in a pot that looks like a tea cup on a saucer.
On the far right is a nice mix of native plants – red huckleberry from a 2003 salvage site that survived transplanting to my house and then to my deck, along with Oregon grape and salal. The big low round pot to the left is edibles and has space for more lettuces. It has two kinds of sorrels now and a Japanese shiso plant.
The hostas are starting to get their flower buds.
This variegated hosta is planted with Maidenhair fern, a herbaceous native fern that dies back and disappears during the winter. I did a happy dance when it came back this spring, surviving its first winter in a pot.
This low rectangular pot with two host plants in it came back with more vigor and plant than it had when growing in the ground at my old house.
I finally found a lounger that folds up – so it can be stored in the garage during the off-season. The back is adjustable for reading – or napping, an important summer-time activity.
The window bird house does not yet have any occupants. It may take a couple of years for it to be discovered. We did have a visit from a gold finch over the weekend – the first we have seen here.
a>The view of the bird house and some of the pots on the deck from the living room.