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Farmer John

Eagle’s Trace resident tries his hand at container gardening

Created date

May 21st, 2014
man standing on patio

John DiFrank’s childhood memories include several snapshots of tilling the soil in his father’s garden in Buffalo, N.Y.

“I didn’t particularly like turning the soil,” says John. “But I’ve always enjoyed gardening.”

Over the years, John has tried various methods of growing vegetables and fruits, including raised beds and a backyard greenhouse.

“I guess you could say I’m always up for trying something new,” says John. “My wife calls me ‘Farmer John.’”

Now John is trying his hand at a new venture—growing fruits and vegetables in containers.

Small-scale gardening

“When we moved to Trace in 2006, a patio was on our must-have list,” says John. “I wanted to be able to garden on a smaller scale.”

John and his wife Betty Lou heard about Eagle’s Trace while the West Houston community was still under construction.

“We visited the sales [center] and bought into the concept,” says John, who retired from the insurance business after 41 years with State Farm. “We liked the idea of having all the amenities under one roof.”

The couple was also drawn by the community’s spacious grounds.

“We knew we wanted a two-bedroom apartment with a patio and a view of the lake,” says John. “We joined the priority list and were willing to wait until the right apartment was ready. Now I tell prospective residents to join the priority list—it puts them in line for the floor plan and the location they want.”

John and Betty Lou moved into their two-bedroom Williamsburg-style apartment home in September 2006. 

“I added plants and hanging baskets to the area around our patio soon after we moved in,” says John. “But this year, I decided to go all out.”

Miniature fruits and vegetables

John enlisted the help of Susan Roth with Sterling Design & Landscape Resources to plan his container garden.

“Susan recommended using tall rectangular containers around the perimeter of the patio to maximize the growing area and to minimize the amount of bending I would have to do,” says John.

“It’s important to select dwarf varieties of fruits and vegetables when you’re planting a container garden,” says Roth. “And if you’re planting tomatoes, it’s best to plant a bush variety instead of a vine variety.”

With the containers in place, John scoured the Logee’s catalog, a company out of Connecticut that specializes in miniature varieties of fruits and vegetables, to map out his garden.

“I plant what I like to eat,” says John, who anticipates a harvest of tomatoes, peppers, avocadoes, lemons, oranges, figs, and bananas. “I want something I can pick and enjoy.”

John planted his garden in mid-March. With his fruits and vegetables nestled in their containers, John is content to sit back and watch them grow.

“I retired so I can relax,” he says, propping himself up in one of the zero-gravity loungers lining his patio. “This garden is perfect for me—low maintenance and no tilling required. Anything else sounds like work.”


Container gardening tips

From Susan Roth of Sterling Design &
Landscape Resources

1. Choose the right container.

Use lightweight, plastic containers instead of ceramic

Select tall containers to minimize bending

2. Allow for drainage.

Use a concave piece of broken pottery to cover the hole in the bottom of the container to allow drainage without letting soil out

Set containers on bricks to create space between the container and the ground

3. Soil matters.

Avoid unwanted chemicals—use organic potting soil for growing vegetables

Use a natural fertilizer like fish emulsion

4. Water regularly.

Water plants in the morning when they are actively growing

Keep containers in an area of good air circulation