My 25-year-old daughter turns to me for answers to questions about cooking, gardening and decorating. I turn to her when I have questions about physics, mathematics and coding, which is hardly ever. (I’m not even sure where to begin.) I love nothing more than to give advice, though, so when she recently asked me what plants to buy for her new apartment patio, I went right ahead and told her, no physics or mathematics necessary!

Here is my advice:

1. Consult your neighbors.

Walk around your neighborhood for what you admire. What plants do you like, whether you know their names or not? Look for interesting colors and combinations. What planters and pots do you see and how are they arranged? What are their growing conditions compared to yours?

2. Asses your outdoor space.

Take these ideas home with you and make notes about your own space. Does your patio have morning light, then afternoon shade? Or does it receive hot afternoon sun? Is it shady all the time? These are important questions when deciding what to buy.

3. Buy an arrangement.

If you have a small space with room for only one pot, it is always an option to buy a pre-arranged pot or hanging basket. Most nurseries offer arrangements including flowers and plants that grow well together.


4. Learn what’s in season.

If you want to plant or pot your own flowers, visit your garden center or nursery. See what plants are in full bloom and, more interestingly, what’s budding and about to bloom. Pictured below is a beautiful seasonal display of zinneas at Wolff’s Apple House.


5. Learn about plants and required conditions.

To determine what light conditions each plant requires, read the stake tag. This tag is usually found in the plant pots or flats and will tell you the plant name and type, including required light and watering conditions, among other information. Then match that information with your home patio conditions.

6. Notice the plant nursery layout.

Quickly see whether certain plants need light or shade by looking around the garden center. Light loving plants will be in the sun. Notice the blue sky!


Shade loving plants will be under cover, in low-light areas.


7. Start with annuals.

An annual is a plant that lasts one season. Easy examples are geraniums, zinnias, begonias and impatiens. Annuals flower and flourish over the summer, but die off after the first frost in the fall. Plant annuals in the spring after the threat of overnight frost is past, usually Mother’s Day in Pennsylvania.

8. Later, plant perennials.

Perennials are plants that live for more than one season, returning year after year. When they are finished blooming for the season, their flowers will die, but their roots or bulbs can remain planted. They will grow and bloom again next season. I usually plant my annuals early in the season, and then go back to the nursery later and see what perennials I might have space for.

9. Include something edible and then cook it!

When choosing plants each season, I always include basil, which is easy to keep in a pot on a patio or windowsill indoors. It smells great and it works well in summer recipes.

On a recent trip to Wolffs Apple House, after looking at plants, I wandered into the food market where I found garlic scapes and kale, along with fresh cut parsley and basil. (Garlic scapes are the stalks that grow from the bulbs of garlic plants. Unharvested, the scapes flower when the garlic plant fully matures.) I made kale pesto with garlic scapes. Here’s how:


Vegan Kale Pesto with Garlic Scapes

Serves 4



3 cups tightly packed kale (1 bunch kale)

¼ cup chopped garlic scapes*

½ cups tightly packed herbs**

½ cup raw walnuts

2 tablespoons lemon juice

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1/8 cup olive oil

1/8 cup water

*Substitute 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped, if you do not have garlic scapes.

**I used ¼ cup curly parsley and ¼ cup basil leaves.


Place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until everything is nicely combined into a paste. Pause to scrape down the bowl if necessary and continue blending. Add more water if you need extra liquid.