Learning to Grow Anything, Anywhere: an Interview with an Expert Organic Gardener


by guest blogger Maya Rodale, author of smart and sassy romance novels

You might expect that, as a Rodale, I grew up gardening. This is sort of true—I mainly grew up reading in the yard while my mom gardened and I occasionally helped with the weeding. And I enjoyed the fruits of her labors. It wasn’t until I worked at the Rodale Institute one summer that I really learned about gardening.

April Johnson, landscape and greenhouse visionary, was my teacher. We weeded the gardens on the 333-acre farm (Me: “Is this a weed?” April: “That’s [insert name here].” Repeat. All summer long.) On rainy days, we went to the greenhouse to mix potting soil or transplant herbs and flowers for the institute’s plant sales. Among her many talents, April is a gifted teacher, especially when it comes to the care and maintenance of plants.

This spring, she will be teaching an upcoming workshop on container gardening at Rodale’s General Store in Emmaus, PA (scroll down for details). But before we get to more on that, I chatted with April about how she first started gardening, the mistakes people often make with container gardening, and the tool she never leaves home without. Enjoy!

When did you first start gardening?

When I was tiny, my mom would take me into the garden. She would lay me on a blanket and do her gardening—the earliest I can remember is 3 or 4. I started at the Rodale Institute at 16. At the time, my options were secretary or nurse, but I was able to take time off from school to work in the gardens. First two years I mowed grass, and realized how much I hated grass. I took the position just to have a job and to be outside. I really became passionate when I heard Bob Rodale talk. Then I started doing the gardens around the houses and working in the research departments.

What’s your gardening philosophy?

I think everyone should garden, even if it’s just one container or potted plant. Enjoy life. Be outside and enjoy the world.

What are some mistakes people make with container gardening?

Overplanting or putting too many plants in the container is a problem. I have to say, feeding the plants can also be a problem. With a container, you’re watering it all the time, and the food leaches through the soil and out. Also, just maintenance—people tend to forget about containers, and they have a hard time. That’s why I suggest an upside-down soda bottle water system.

For food, add compost or kelp or fish emulsion. Those are the most that I’ve ever used. Lately, there are quite a few water-soluble fertilizers that slow-release, but I’ve never played with them. I also suggest people get compost to mix in with their potting soil.

What’s your #1 tip for container gardening?

[You can] grow almost anything with the right container for the right plant.

Favorite tool?

Pruners! I don’t leave home without them.

What do you love about teaching?

I love sharing my knowledge with others so they can enjoy it as much as I do. That sums it up!


As I write this, I’m stealing glances at my “plant babies,” as April would call them. They were struggling until she suggested I move them to a different windowsill, and now my cocktail tree is flowering and my lavender is flourishing. She’s my go-to resource for container-grown plants, and now she can be yours, too!

April’s workshop on container gardening will be held on Saturday, March 29, at Rodale’s General Store in Emmaus. Come and learn how to select the right container and soil, pick the perfect plant pairings, and properly care for and maintain your container garden. The workshop will include a hands-on demonstration—plant your own herb garden!—and a Q&A with April.

Visit Rodale’s General Store’s Facebook page, and then reserve your spot in the workshop by calling (610) 928-1050.

MayaRodalephotoMaya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels, as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. She has a master’s degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own. Her latest book is The Wicked Wallflower. Visit her online at mayarodale.com, or say hello to @mayarodale on Twitter.





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3 Responses to Learning to Grow Anything, Anywhere: an Interview with an Expert Organic Gardener

  1. stacy myers March 15, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    April & Maya– just great to see you both (great picture)! Wish I could be at the class but a bit too far from Maryland. 🙂 Keep me posted about any other activities at the Rodale General Store– especially if April is involved– one of the greatest plant people ever. Miss you guys. 🙂

  2. dk March 20, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    “Learning to Grow Anything, Anywhere”
    From the title, I guess I was expecting more, but thank you anyway.

  3. Elfriede Kuen March 31, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    I live in high altitude and we have a short growing season and I have Gophers, the eat my seedlings, what should I plant live in 8.000. feet. Like salads, Beets, Carrots. thanks .

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