Garden Clippings
Container Gardens

When members of this year’s Leadership Orange class recently installed a sustainable container garden at the House of Hope, children and teens in the transitional living center gladly participated. And unlike a new toy that loses its luster, the patio garden continues to draw the kids outdoors.

“The children love the garden, and it gives their moms a chance to connect and interact with them in a meaningful way,” says House of Hope manager Michelle Young. “Container gardening is also a transferable skill they can bring with them when they eventually move into their own home.”

The portable and enduring nature of the patio container garden made it the perfect choice for this year’s Leadership Orange project, notes class member Jeri Cunningham, an Orange realtor and interior designer, who is also an avid gardener. “The moms at the house take turns cooking, so we thought that a garden that provides produce made sense.”

So far they’ve planted tomatoes, strawberries, peppers and a variety of herbs and plan to plant more as they receive additional donations of seeds and plants. They also have a wish list that contains garden furniture and a barbecue so that they can have gatherings in the garden.

Leadership Orange is a yearly, nine–month class offered by the City of Orange that teaches participants about different facets of the city and concludes with a class project that benefits the community. The House of Hope is a part of the Orange County Rescue Mission. The Orange home opened in 1994 and is a 2nd step living facility for previously homeless mothers and their children that provides the moms with time to become self–sustaining by working, saving money and learning time and money management skills.

In many ways, the sustainable gardening project dovetails with the House of Hope’s mission to teach self–sufficiency, notes Leadership Orange class member Nedra Kunisch, who is on the board of Orange Children & Parents Together (OCPT) and Orange Home Grown Inc., the latter of which founded the new Old Towne Orange Farmers and Artisans Market.

“There is a big focus nowadays on eating better and growing your own food, and children learn a variety of important skills through gardening,” says Kunisch. “Working outdoors teaches math and science skills, as well as patience, planning and persistence. Gardening also eases stress and improves children’s eating habits.”

Old Towne resident Shannon Tucker is Chair of the Executive Committee that oversees the Leadership Orange program and comments on the sustainable gardening project’s success. “This year’s class did a remarkable job of combining their interests in urban gardens with a desire to give a hand up to individuals in need. The project is creative, lovely to look at and triggers many smiles.”

Start your own container vegetable garden this summer by keeping the following in mind.

  • Use a large container. Whiskey–barrels and 16 to 24 inch plastic pots work well for most vegetable crops. Small containers don’t allow the development of large enough roots, resulting in no or few vegetables.
  • Use an organic, well–draining potting soil containing perlite or pumice.
  • Keep up on watering. Your container garden may require daily watering when the temperatures are high. Drench the container until water runs out of the drainage holes, and don’t water again until the top 2 inches of soil dries.
  • Fertilize frequently. Feed container plants with a well–balanced, organic fertilizer every three to four weeks.
  • Provide appropriate light. Most vegetable plants require full–sun, which means at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.

To donate garden supplies or plants, call the Orange County Rescue Mission at (714) 247-4300 and indicate that your donation is for the House of Hope.

Leadership Orange is currently accepting applications for the 2012 class. For more information, contact the Chamber of Commerce at (714) 538-3581 or OrangeChamber.com

Published in the Jul/Aug 2011 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Julie Bawden-Davis, Photograph by Jeanine Hill

Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener based in Old Towne Orange. She is the author of various garden books, including Fairy Gardening and Reader’s Digest Flower Gardening. Reach her at

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