If you have any inclination to garden, explore it. Gardening is good for the brain and the body, lowering stress, improving concentration, even increasing serotonin. It is a moderate form of exercise. Any vegetables produced will have a positive effect on your diet. Still on the fence?

Let this sink in: every single plant you grow puts a little more oxygen out into the world. You don’t need acres of land, or a big backyard, or even a plot in a community garden. If you have a windowsill, a balcony, or patio access, you can create a container garden. Urban agriculture thrives in small spaces. Container gardens can be efficient, economical, and easy. All you need is good gardening information, the soil, seeds, water and sunlight and…

Containers! Here is the skinny on container gardening: the containers you choose are as important, if not more important, than the variety of plants you choose to put them in. Did you know that square or rectangular pots and beds need less watering than round or tapered ones? Vegetables grown in straight-sided containers generally have much stronger root systems.

Tapered pots have more soil at the top than the bottom, and the soil at the top of any planter dries out quickly. Square or cylindrical containers have more soil volume in the lower half of the container which retains moisture better.

Roots do generally follow water downward, sure. But did you know that most plants’ main roots start developing 2-3 inches beneath the topsoil? The more tapered the window box or fanned out the flower pot, the more wasted soil volume at the top. If you’ve ever thought you didn’t have a green thumb just because that herb garden in those adorable, little, 3’’ plastic pots died, that may not have been your fault. Let’s try again.

Wooden planter boxes are a good choice for growing vegetables in a container garden because they are durable, cheap, and retain moisture well due to their shape. Wood does not hold as much heat as ceramics do, so they are a good choice on a sunny balcony if you have the room.

You can upcycle wooden containers from delivery pallets or found lumber, but if you are not in the mood for a DIY project, fabric containers or “smart pots” are an excellent solution, especially for apartment dwellers. Fabric containers are lightweight, inexpensive, and portable (they even have handles). Fabric containers give your plants the depth to grow roots down, long and strong, without the weight and cost of deep clay pots. That said, if you have or can find appropriately sized terra cotta pots, use them. They are beautiful, sturdy, and easy to tuck into a corner or on a doorstep.

You can easily grow herbs and a surprising variety of vegetables in a container garden. Really. Leafy greens have a very shallow root zone and lettuces can be grown in trays or pots with only 4’’ of soil. Basil, chard, and kale (all great beginner crops) do very well in containers that are 6-8’’ deep or more. Most herbs are quite easy (and fast) to grow on a windowsill. Strawberries, peppers, carrots and radishes will produce well in containers. Marigolds are excellent flowers to put in any garden, and they flourish in containers. Marigolds attract pollinators and beneficial insects, and deter pests from getting into your vegetables. Snapdragons are also easy hardy flowers that will provide a cheerful burst of color to your container garden.

For more information, attend a Santa Monica Community Gardens workshop, talk to experienced gardeners there or at a local nursery. There is a wealth of information to discover in conversation or online. Below are some links to explore: