1. Don’t feed them garbage
This is a pretty simple concept, so heed it. If you feed your container plants shit—polluted rainwater, cheap fertilizer, ash from your hash pipe—they will not flourish, your buds will not bloom. Like I said to my bass player Paul Chambers last night, “You got to cool it with the booze and drugs.” The same is true of your garden.
Because they don’t talk much we forget that plants are living things, organic beings that need nourishment to survive and thrive. I recommend a quality fertilizer, delivered sparingly, with restraint. Just a few drops for every quarter-gallon of water and before you know it your azaleas will be laughing with color. Literally, laughing. You got to be careful you don’t overdo it, in fact, because azaleas will take their partying to the limit, and after a few days you’ll find yourself leaning out your window at three o’clock in the afternoon yelling at them to shut up because their flower orgy is keeping you awake.
2. Play music to your plants
Music heals all wounds except those inflicted by a hunting knife, so I like to play music to my plants. What do I play? People stop me on the street to ask me that all the time. What’s my answer? Usually it’s, “Leave me alone and go buy my albums,” or a variation thereof.
In my experience, annuals tend to appreciate the complexity of classical piano concertos, like those by Ravel or Rachmaninoff. I play records by those two over and over again, my speakers aimed out to the backyard, blaring through a hole in the screen door torn by a high John Coltrane one morning when he thought he was a rabid polar bear, which he was not.
My vegetables—tomatoes and pole beans and eggplants—like to be sung to. I think it helps the fruit ripen—sweetly sung melodies that rise and fall like crooked branches, scales that float on the warm humidity of the July sky. Like my sister Dorothy says, “Soak their roots in song and they will grow, my brother. They will grow.”
3. Don’t throw your plants down the stairs
Not throwing things down stairs does not come naturally to me—it is something I’ve had to work at. That’s what life is all about: challenging yourself to rise above your essence, while staying true to your character. Of course, the hard part is knowing what about yourself needs changing, and what you should accept and embrace and blow on with the full force of your diaphragm.
Maybe you got upset by Columbia Records not giving you the $5000 advance you deserved and reacted by tossing a Blue Velvet orchid in an authentic 15th century Ming vase down a flight of stairs where it shattered on a marble landing, tossing potting soil into the shark tank. Perhaps you felt you were within your rights as an artist to do so, but in the process you have removed from this world two items of great beauty. Three, if you damaged the marble.
Like most living things, container plants prefer to be upright the majority of the time. They also need good containers with good drainage. My favorite material is terra cotta, which is fragile but has an earthy vibe that complements most urban container gardens. While throwing plants down stairs doesn’t always kill them, it rarely makes them stronger. Most often it just makes one hell of a mess for the housekeeper.
4. Give your plants space
This is it, this is the most important tip, so wrap it in tissue paper and take it out of here when you go. The space around everything is more precious than the items occupying the space.
Space is what defines matter, gives it a shape, a silhouette. It’s true of music, true of art, true of container plants. Without room to move among the vines, how can you discover fruit? How can you get close enough to smell the singularity of a flower if it is among hundreds? Silence ripens our attention to sound. Negative space makes positive.
Some people pack their gardens tight: cluttered clematis and hydrangeas in noisy bands of color, herbs upon herbs upon herbs … a symphony of shit. Don’t get me wrong, color is fine; color is life. But if you can’t walk through your garden without puking, what good is it for?
The space around your plants is what defines them. Save that space, relish it, drink it in. Give your plants room to walk, to be seen and heard, to develop deep and hungry roots with their own space to explore and invent, the freedom to create new shades and shapes, arms that reach through the empty air to carve fresh pockets in which to build an entirely new kind of fruit or flower. A type never tasted, something unheard of.