02 August, 2015

Syllabus: Container Gardening: Patios, Balconies, and Beyond


Instructor: David King
Email: ** redacted **
Phone: ** redacted **

COURSE TITLE AND NUMBER: Container Gardening: Patios, Balconies, and Beyond BIOLGY X 498.3 Reg # 257610

There are no prerequisites for this course. We will meet from July 28th through August 25st for 6 meetings. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE FINAL MEETING IS ON August 25th: credit students will have an assignment due. All class meetings, except for the one field trip I have been able to schedule at the last minute, (noted below) take place at The Learning Garden, located on the campus of Venice High School at the intersection of Venice Blvd and Walgrove Ave. You enter the garden on Walgrove, the first gate on south of Venice Blvd. Parking is on the street. Please keep the gate closed so our livestock doesn't escape and terrorize the neighborhood.

Please remember this close to the ocean, we often have very cool evenings even on very hot days. Please keep a sweater or a jacket handy. We, perhaps foolishly, do not expect rain.

Course Purpose

At the conclusion of this course, students will be confident in planting a multiplicity of containers with a wide variety of plants that will thrive in our unique climate. Students will be introduced to design principles applicable to container gardeners and will learn their care and maintenance.

Course Objectives

Students will be able to meet the following objectives by knowing:
Types of pots used in container gardens
Qualities of those containers to choose the correct containers for individual gardens and situations
The qualities of the components of potting soil and how to choose a good one
Color combinations and other basic design principles
Care of plants in containers over their life span
Appreciation of light and water in container gardens
Students should also be able to report that they’ve been inspired to find their own individuality in container garden design and to experiment with colors, plants or containers that had been off their personal radar before this class. Students are expected to share their experiences and knowledge with the class which guarantees an enhanced learning experience for all of us.


This course is designed to be applicable for home gardeners whether they are in a house, a condo or a town home; as well as professionals that wish to incorporate container gardening as a part of their business’ offerings. Students should also find time to do some networking with fellow students.

Text for this course:

Sunset Western Garden Guide 8th Edition, Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Editor, ©2007, Sunset Publishing There will be no specific assigned reading from this book, but it is the “bible” for gardeners in Southern California.

In addition, the following texts are suggested for your reference shelf:
The City Gardener’s Handbook, Yang, Linda, ©2002, Storey Books, Published first as The City Gardener’s Handbook and then as The City and Town Gardener and now back again under the original title and now I see it back as The City and Town Gardener – whichever title you get, it is the same book.

Potted Gardens, Cole, Rebecca, ©1997, Clarkson Potter/Publishers

The one field trip is on Saturday, as indicated below.
Lecture: Introduction – roll, Extension policy, meeting time and place, attendance and tardiness, office hours, expectations, objectives. Tools; types of containers; light; why containers, nuts and bolts of containers...
Lecture: types of soil; considerations of soil type and pot type relative to plant type, color and design; three demonstration containers
Lecture: planting containers – practical work/bring your own container and plants to plant!
Lecture: California Natives in Pots; demonstration
1:30 to 4:30 PM Field Trip Pottery Manufacturing and Distributing, 18881 S. Hoover Street, Gardena, CA 90248 Phone: 310.323.7772
Container maintenance, renovation, pests and problems, year round interest; Credit project is due
Credit Students: Your grade will be predicated on class participation and a design project assigned at the first class meeting.

Office Hours

I have no set office hours, however, I am available by phone (the number above is my cell phone) and by email. I am willing to meet with students almost any day of the week at my office at The Learning Garden or a mutually convenient coffee bar. It is my most sincere desire that you learn and you will find me very approachable. After class is usually not a very good time because that’s when all students vie for answers and we are all tired after a long day. You can net a more thoughtful answer by contacting me another time.

Updates and Handouts

For this course I will utilize my personal blog page at http://lagardennotes.blogspot.com/ to post handouts and extra material for the class. There is an RSS feed through which each posting is automatically forwarded to your email so you can have access to handouts whenever they are posted. This approach is most handy when dealing with field trips because links to maps can be posted and any last minute updates are easily available. If this technology is new to you, another classmate or I will guide you through it. It is not difficult. If you miss a class or need an update, can't find your syllabus or whatever, you can find it here. You will need to, of course, bookmark it before you loose your syllabus...

Project Guidelines For Credit Students
Design a container garden with a minimum of five containers, any size (although five two inch pots won’t necessarily net a decent grade). Themed design.

The purpose of the garden
Placement according to light
Other buildings or features that obfuscate or enhance light
Type of building; building color; building style
Interior style
Any particular facets of the owners’ personality that impact your design
How the owner will use the space
Plants used in each pot, by scientific name at least, indicate their water needs
What the pots are constructed of and their size (i.e. terra cotta) and design
How will they be watered?

I am looking for an understanding of what plants do well together (color, foliage, water requirements) and plantings that will enhance the building, style and owners’ lifestyle. I am also looking for appropriate design (i.e. no Phormium tenax in a narrow hallway). I have left this pretty open in hopes of accommodating a wide variety of interests and desires. If this is too open for you, I’ll be happy to fill in details that will narrow your focus.

I will endeavor to have tea or coffee available in the evening as there is no 'snack stand' near the garden. If you want to partake, bring your own cup and if you use sugar or cream, bring that as well. Occasionally there will be baked goods, but no guarantees.

Syllabus may be changed to reflect changes in reality. Although we do try not to.

Bibliography for Container Gardening

    Container Gardening, Elving, Phyllis, Editor, ©1998, Sunset Publishing, A small book with some good ideas and at least it’s a look at the West Coast.

Potted Gardens, Cole, Rebecca, ©1997 Random House – I love her attitude about gardening and how she approaches the whole thing with a strong sense of whimsy and joy. Her gardening philosophy fits very well with my own. She writes a lot like I do.

Roof Gardens, Balconies and Terraces, Stevens, David ©1997, Rizzoli International Publications, Another ‘east coast’ book, but again the ideas and creativity are worth consideration as a starting point.

    The City Gardener’s Handbook, Yang, Linda, ©1995 Storey Publishing, Although written for the east coast, this book’s ideas and principals are so clear and valuable, it stands out as one of my favorite references.

The Complete Container, Joyce, David, ©1996 Reader’s Digest Again, another focus on the east coast, but the ideas and plant lists in this book are better than most. It has pretty definitive instructions and is full of good clean photos. A good book to have – especially if you only buy one.

The Terracotta Gardener, Keeling, Jim, ©1990, Trafalgar Square Publishing, Not really a design book, but a historical perspective of terracotta used in English gardens and some background information on terracotta.
    The New Sunset Western Garden Book, Editors of Sunset Magazine, ©2012, Sunset Publishing All of the recent editions have their merit, but each successive edition has more plants and updates the scientific undergirding of gardening, so I encourage you to invest in the most recent edition you can afford (used copies are usually easy to find, either locally or at Amazon.com). This is the number one go-to book for horticulture in Southern California; no other book is as authoritative as this one for our area. We cannot take advice from most gardening books and apply it to what we do in Los Angeles because our climate and soils are nothing like the rest of the world – especially those on the east coast and England where most books about gardening originate.

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