It's time to get your mind in the gutter. We're talking gutter gardens — one of those new gardening fads that actually is a pretty interesting idea.
The concept is simple, not unlike planting in window boxes, except you use gutters, and the gutters can be mounted on shed walls, fences or any other vertical surface that gets some sun.
To get started, take one gutter, the kind usually mounted under the eaves of a house. It can be an old, recycled one or a new one made of metal or plastic. A gutter that needs to be replaced because of cracks or holes is perfect.
Use the full length or cut it to fit the space where you intend to mount it. Drill 1/8-inch drain holes about every 6 or 8 inches along the bottom. Cap the ends with either prefabricated gutter ends or make wooden caps to glue on.
Measure the exact center so it will hang evenly, then drill hanging holes equal distances from the center at the two ends. Use weather-resistant rope, chain or small cable to hang it. For 8- to 10-foot gutters, you might add another hanger in the middle.
Where to hang it? From the eaves of a roof or a fence or trellis. You can hang one or several above each other, leaving about 12 to 18 inches between them. Or use metal brackets drilled into a wall to hold the gutters. Some people erect metal grids for artistic gardens or hang them from rods or homemade frames. Any place that gets at least four hours of direct sun per day will work. Then fill it with potting soil and plant any shallow-rooted vegetable, flower or plant.
It is a perfect solution for people with limited yard space. Turn the side of the house or garage into an extension of the garden. A porch or balcony railing also makes a good support. Maybe plant salad greens or herbs outside the kitchen door. Or make a wooden frame and create a living privacy screen.
To make them work, you have to keep them watered.
Connie Skillman of Pot Luck Container Gardens in Ashland used to use gutter gardens when she had a store. Now that she is working out of her home, she doesn't use them, but she still thinks they are wonderful. She says the shallow containers tend to dry out quickly, but she used a drip-irrigation system for hers.
"It was a wonderful way to start plants," Skillman says, "especially hanging plants like asparagus ferns. It's really great for any shallow-rooted plant, like strawberries. Hanging, miniature petunias look great in them — and ivies and creeping Jenny."
Gutter gardens planted with succulents are impressive. They also are a good bet for growing salad greens, with the added advantage that slugs and snails can't reach them. You can stagger plantings of mixed-lettuce seeds every few weeks and harvest baby greens for months. Gutters also make good herb gardens for cilantro, chives, scallions and parsley.
For vegetables, try arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, small, round beets or radishes. There also are some small, round carrot varieties that would work.
Marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies and violas also are shallow-rooted and will do well in gutters.
"You do have to pay attention to watering," Skillman says, "and any time you containerize a plant, fertilizing is essential. Miracle Grow works beautifully, but there are also many good organic fertilizers."
While this technique can be especially helpful to those living in cities with limited space, the look is impressive and can be incorporated into any yard anywhere.
For even more ideas and video instructions, search YouTube for gutter gardens.
A. Paradiso is a freelance writer living in the Applegate. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.