Garden Design

My Garden Story

Mike Richardson garden

The garden has always been therapy for me, a place to go when I wanted to get away from everything else. I enjoy making my way through rows of 13-foot tall Cherokee Purple tomato vines, basil, thyme, dill, and oregano, which add a sweet aroma to my favorite outside room.

My father had a backyard garden. I was always around it and a part of it. I started planting my own vegetables around the same time my children were toddlers many years ago. Over the years, I worked as a supervisor in manufacturing and management and later in a home improvement store and as a handyman.

Mike Richardson in his garden

Mike Richardson in his garden / Jeana Myers

Years of bad lifting and herniated discs led to several back surgeries. So my garden has gone through a transformation. My almost 6-foot tall frame, 270-pound body, which earned me the nickname Big Mike, no longer bends easily. It became more difficult to do all the work in the raised beds. Weeding, watering, feeding, and harvesting, not to mention the fact that the soil was getting older and older and needed to be amended. It was tough.

As I was pondering what to do, a neighbor offered me some 15-gallon and 20-gallon pots. Slowly, I began buying the soil and planting in the pots, as well as in the raised beds. I realized the performance of the plants in my pots was better than those in the beds. I began elevating the pots by stacking cinder blocks and then placing 2 x12 boards on these to hold the pots so I wouldn’t have to bend over to do the work. So I’ve gone from raised beds just off the ground to gardening in over 150 elevated plastic black pots.

Container garden

Pots on cinder blocks / Mike Richardson

I have refined my process to cut down on maintenance and increase output by using a ‘no-till’ practice. Instead, I simply add 4 to 6 inches of organic leaf mulch and compost to it each year plus some basic organic fertilizer. It keeps the soil in balance and minimizes the weeds. It’s a win-win situation for me.

If you are interested in establishing a container garden like mine, here’s a supply list to get you started.

  • cinder blocks
  • 2×12 boards
  • 15-gallon or 20-gallon pots
  • 50/50 soil mix
  • plants

Some of the vegetables I would suggest growing are beefsteak tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, and yellow crookneck squash. From there, you can easily expand through research on what grows in your particular zone and at what times of the year.

Container garden

Rows of elevated containers / Mike Richardson

I often order seeds online and plant those in smaller pots and then transfer my vegetables into larger pots. I also buy some plants from garden stores.

I like to grow things I like to eat year-round. I do a lot of canning and I give away about 90 percent of what I grow. I make different kinds of pickles, my own pasta sauce, homemade salsa, chow chow, and pickled okra. I love making things like squash casseroles, tomato pies, collard greens, and vegetable soup. My hot pepper jelly and watermelon rind pickles have won several blue ribbons in the annual State Fair competition.

Two things are crucial in the vegetable garden: sunlight and water. You have to have a minimum of 4 to 5 hours of sunlight a day.

In addition to the right amount of light, you need to determine what kind of water supply you are going to have. I watered by hand in the early days but eventually engineered an irrigation system that is on a timer.

If you choose to automate it, the key is to research online different irrigation systems for pots and determine which one best fits your needs. But your plants have to drink. They need 15 minutes of watering every other day unless it rains. Irrigation supplies can be found at the big box retailers or online.

I have also learned a lot from agriculture agents at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension and various community garden leaders. Also, gardeners sharing tips on YouTube have been very helpful.

I enjoy teaching others how to do the same things so they can reap the rewards of having a garden as well. I get so much pleasure when others take the knowledge and pass it along to their kids and friends. I especially love watching kids experience seeing where their food comes from for the first time.

My garden keeps me active, productive and provides more ways to be generous. Without it, I’d have a lot of trouble finding a lot of purpose shy of going back to work. And I ain’t doing that.

If you have questions, feel free to contact me at

Story and featured image courtesy of Mike Richardson.

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