Good weather for working on the truck garden

Published 10:47 am Wednesday, September 20, 2023

By Felder Rushing

Gardening Columnist

This weather has had me reworking my truck garden, the one that inspires most folks who see it to give container gardening a try themselves.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Decades ago, in response to someone moaning about being unable to garden, I set about developing the simplest garden I could. I factored in it needing to be inexpensive, low maintenance, at least partly edible, and alluring all year.

To make it do-able for anyone with even a tiny space like a small patio or apartment balcony, I settled on a container garden; to up the interest and challenge, I created it in an extremely unlikely place: In the back of my hard-working, now-antique ’88 pickup truck. The one I drive thousands of miles every year across the state and well beyond.

I started out simply without even a pot, a bag of potting soil “pillow” garden nestled against the cab where no matter how fast I go the gale-force wind is just a gentle eddy. I slit X-shaped openings, worked in some slow-release fertilizer beads, and deeply buried the roots of a tomato plant, a pepper, and heat-loving periwinkle flowers. About once a week I used a watering can to keep the soil moist.

While the plants didn’t exactly thrive, they survived and produced enough to keep me on track; the next year I went with a larger bag to accommodate more plants with less frequent watering. The attention, comments, and selfies it garnered everywhere I parked indicated my experiment was on the, er, road to success.

For the past 35 years or so I have planted in a galvanized metal planter box slid up against the truck cab; to prevent my truck bed from rusting I set it on a rubber bed liner and drilled drainage holes through the side of the box facing the rear of my truck so water would drain away rather than underneath.

Over the decades and nearly three hundred thousand miles later, many plants have come and gone, depending on their ability to take full sun, extreme summer heat, deep winter freezes, and hit-or-miss watering. Those that can’t take all that were replaced with different others, until how I have a more or less dependable collection of durable small shrubs, hardy succulents, low-growing perennials, herbs including rosemary, thyme, and oregano (I can eat road kill if I need to), and compact seasonal annuals such as basil, compact peppers, dwarf zinnias, and angelonia in the summer, swapped out in the fall for colorful cold-hardy kales, violas, pansies, and parsley. And of course, I accessorize with rocks, driftwood, gnomes, colorful glass bottle sconces, and a little yellow birdhouse.

So, it’s just a big pot that happens to be in a truck yet proves that there are plants that don’t need much other than twice-annual feeding and occasional watering. And which are easily replaced if needed.

This past winter and summer kicked a lot of normally dependable plants to the curb (‘scuze the pun), including most of the annuals, the rosemary, and even a dwarf nandina. Just like in my regular in-ground garden.

But, being a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other gardener, I simply dug out and composted the dead stuff, reworked the potting soil, and replanted. That’s what we do, whether in pots or flower beds, when things go awry. Don’t give up, just keep trying stuff.

Point is, if I can garden all year in the back of a pickup truck, and easily replace that which couldn’t take the weather, you can, too, even on a patio or porch.

Whatever it takes for gardeners to keep spirits up in this weird world, eh?

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to