Seed Savers Exchange Showcase: Container Gardening!

Are you an apartment dweller with a green thumb? Or a novice who's daunted by the thought of a full-blown garden? Well, don’t fear because we’re here with a list of lovely varieties that thrive in containers. And we’re here to tell you that you don’t need a yard to be a seed saver.

Anna Fischman’s rooftop garden in Philadelphia, PA
Anna Fischman’s rooftop garden in Philadelphia, PA

Why Container Gardening?

Container gardening is a great solution for gardeners who lack space. It's also an efficient alternative for those who want to minimize the amount of time they spend digging on their hands and knees. Containers sit higher off the ground, making them easier to tend  and they require less weeding. Also, containers can be placed closer to the house for faster and easier watering. It's the perfect way to beautify a space and provide fresh food, herbs, or flowers!

Chyann Oliver's stoop in Washington, D.C.   
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Chyann Oliver's stoop in Washington, D.C.


What Are Some Great Varieties?

Tom Thumb Pea- This dwarf pea variety has been in America since the mid-nineteenth century. Over the years it was cultivated for a smaller size and earlier maturity. It grows to be only eight inches tall, making it a true container champion. Plant them in early spring as they thrive in cool weather and can withstand hard frost.

Paris Market Carrot- This French heirloom yields sweet carrots only one to two inches in diameter. They thrive not only in shallow or rocky soil, but also in containers. You'll want to sow seeds three weeks before the last frost and keep the soil moist until they emerge. Be patient with them because they germinate slowly. But this market favorite is well worth the wait!

Round Mauve Eggplant- This variety originally hails from China. You can expect thin skin with flesh that isn't bitter. This variety loves heat- start seeds indoors if you can and move outside when weather is consistently warm. If you live in a colder climate it is beneficial to use landscaping fabric. You’ll know they’re ready to harvest when they reach the size of a tennis ball.

Red Cap Mushroom Pepper- These squat, bell-shaped fruits are ideal for pickling or drying. They ripen from lime green to vibrant red and give off a strong aroma. It is best to start these seeds indoors and keep them cozy until weather is consistently warm outside. This variety grows very well in containers but may need to be staked.

Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber- These adorable fruits are truly a wildcard! They’re only one to two inches wide and fall off the vine when ripe. They taste sweet at first, but have an already-pickled sourness to their flavor. Grow these tiny ones in a container with a trellis.

Minnesota Midget Melon- When growing these, expect vines around 3 feet long with 4 inch wide fruits. They promise a deliciously sweet flesh. These grow best in the north, having been bred in 1948 by the University of Minnesota at St. Paul. Plant this variety outside once the threat of frost has passed.

Blue Jade Corn- This sweet corn is one of the only of its kind that can be grown in a container. Expect stalks up to three feet tall that give three to six ears of corn. Its kernels are steel-blue when raw and jade-colored when boiled. Plant these seeds one inch deep in blocks of three to six rows. Corns loves a lot of water, so make sure your container has very good draining capability. 

Cream Sausage Tomato- Just like any 'determinate' tomato (a variety that grows to a pre-determined size), you won’t need to stake these productive, banana-yellow fruits, making them a perfect container choice! We know you’ll love their meaty and mild flesh in salads and salsas. Plant these tomatoes 1/4 inch deep in full sunlight.

Aurora Pepper- This pepper is great as an ornamental plant or for medium-hot eating. They grow in one foot high plants with 1/2 inch-long fruits. They ripen vibrantly from lavender to purple to orange to red. This pepper benefits from starting indoors where it can be kept warm. Only transplant these outside once the frost is completely gone.

La Ratte Potato- Any potato can be grown in a container, but La Ratte is a Seed Savers Exchange favorite. They have a yellowy flesh with nutty flavor and they hold together well when cooked. We cannot recommend them highly enough for salads and boiling.


Container Gardening Pointers

One key to success is plenty of water. This means your containers need to have proper drainage capabilities. Plan on monitoring your plants every day in order to ensure that each is getting as much, or as little, water as it needs.

Matthew Basile's patio in Long Island City, NY
Matthew Basile's patio in Long Island City, NY

Design Ideas

Last year’s Non-Rural Abundance photo contest provides useful ideas for making the most out of containers and confined spaces.  Gardeners made use of pots, boxes, steps, patios, and porches. View the contest photos or visit our Pinterest page for more ideas on how to organize and design your gardening space. 

Courtesy of Maia Hausler of Racine, WI
Courtesy of Maia Hausler of Racine, WI

Browse our online store of hundreds of heirloom and open-pollinated vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Or join our network of members sharing thousands of seeds online.


Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.