Container Gardening and Vertical Gardening in Salt Lake City

Marybeth Janerich of Wasatch Community Gardens talks with Richard Cottino and Michael Ensign about their growing containers along their driveway. KUED, All Rights Reserved

Marybeth Janerich of Wasatch Community Gardens talks with Richard Cottino and Michael Ensign about their growing containers along their driveway

By Lizzi Brosseau

We are thrilled to be partnering this year with Wasatch Community Gardens on a virtual version of their Urban Garden and Farm Tour. In this special series of videos, we’ll be showcasing some creative, experimental, and downright beautiful urban gardens and farms in the Salt Lake City community. Come with us, as we take a virtual peek over the fence into our neighbors’ backyards!

Container and Vertical Gardening, Even If You Have Lots of Space

Container gardening and vertical gardening are great ways to grow vegetables if you have little or no growing space, but there are more reasons than that to try these popular methods of gardening. We met with Michael Ensign and Richard Cottino, local home gardeners, to see how they have used containers and trellises to work around some specific issues they have growing some of their most loved vegetables and fruit on their property. 

As we learned from them, we were delighted to discover the whimsy and decorative nature of their garden, which they have incorporated into nearly every nook and cranny. Come along with us, to see what surprise is around the next corner in Michael and Richard’s impressive garden!

VIDEO: Container and Vertical Gardening in Salt Lake City

Designing Hospitality Throughout the Garden

Michael and Richard are both builders, so it’s no surprise that their garden is ingeniously designed. It’s full of impressive garden structures used for their vertical gardening, like their bean trellises in the front and side yards, as well as creating peaceful spaces for visitors, like one of their four outdoor rooms where friends and family can enjoy breakfast or supper.

An extension of this hospitality is that they also grow food for their neighbors. Along their backyard fence they grow tomatoes in a window box so that their neighbor behind them can enjoy their own personal tomato harvest. They also make sure their neighbors know that they can take from the growing containers that beautifully line their driveway. 

Since community and hospitality are so much a part of how Michael and Richard have designed their garden, it seems fitting that they would become supporters and good friends of Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG) through a neighborly connection. Laura Leach, WCG’s Director of Corporate and Individual Giving, is one of those neighbors who has benefited from the peace and bounty of Michael and Richard’s garden. Last year she recommended that they be a part of the Urban Garden and Farm Tour, and by all accounts their garden was a highlight. We are so happy to have them featured in the virtual version of the tour this year, so that the beauty and ingenuity of their garden can be shared with our virtual community!

Michael and Richard in their beautiful backyard.


The 5 Main Features of Michael and Richard’s Garden 

Both Michael and Richard agree that they don’t want what they call, a “static, food producing garden.” They want to have a garden that is beautiful to look at as well! They have definitely accomplished both objectives through their creative use of containers for growing food and flowers, as well as designing beautiful structures for peaceful outdoor living. Let’s take a look at the various features of their beautiful, food producing garden.


Richard, Marybeth and Michael talking in the container garden.

Container Gardening in Pots and Boxes

Growing a citrus tree in a container is as easy as planting a Cutie seed. Richard started this mandarin tree from seed!

Michael and Richard very creatively use containers in their yard. Containers of all different sizes and shapes hold mixtures of plant types in each one. They started container gardening because so much of their yard is shaded—it’s like an urban forest. By growing in containers, they are able to move their food producing plants to sunnier areas of the yard where their veggies can get much needed light.

In general, they grow mixtures of herbs, flowers and vegetable plants in most of their containers. Some examples are; bell peppers and petunias in one pot, rosemary, tarragon, and a patio baby eggplant in another, with clover and alyssum in a third, and strawberries and Roma tomatoes in a fourth. They’ve found that having flowers in their containers helps attract pollinators, while also adding color and interest that adds to the overall attractiveness of their yard.

Another thing that Michael and Richard have come to love about container gardening is that they can grow plants that aren’t typically well suited for our climate. An example of this are the citrus trees they grow—lime, Meyer lemon, and a mandarin orange tree that they planted from a Cutie seed! 


A mining cart from Richard's father's days as a miner in Pioche, Nevada.

Decorative Features Made from Family Antiques

Richard’s family is from a mining town in Pioche, Nevada, and he has used many of the old tools handed down from his father, who was a hoist operator in a mine, in their garden. Tools like a blacksmith’s forge have been turned into a fountain, and miner’s laundry baskets have been turned into hanging baskets for growing flowers. A blacksmith’s handmade tools, bellows, a mining cart used to bring ore out of mines, as well as a liner drill are also used decoratively throughout their garden. “These tools were so much a part of my childhood,” Richard says, “it’s a fun piece of my history. I grew up with it and I love it.” 


A water feature made from old mining tools now tranquilly guides water through two outdoor rooms in Michael and Richard's garden.

Garden Rooms

Michael and Richard’s backyard is filled with charming nooks, making it the perfect place for a garden party or a peaceful cup of coffee in the morning. Ivy, trumpet vines, and Clematis covered arches reference one another between their four outdoor rooms. 

One such room is their container garden. This is a charming area near the back of their yard that used to be their veggie garden. As the trees shading it grew over time, they turned it into a sitting space to make better use of the shade. They did keep the original drip irrigation lines and now have them directed into the containers that hold their shade loving ornamentals. 

Richard loves these outdoor rooms. “You could have a lot of people in the garden,” he says, “without anyone feeling crowded.”


The garden folly, made by Michael Ensign.

The Garden Folly

We're embarrassed to admit that we had never heard of a garden folly before, and Michael kindly explained to us what it “technically” is. “A garden folly,” Michael says, “is an English gardening structure. The rules of a folly are that it has to cost a lot of money and time to build, a lot of money and time to maintain, and it has to serve absolutely no purpose.” 

Although, it isn’t entirely true that this folly serves no purpose. It’s an additional room in the garden, a relaxing space for morning breakfasts or evening suppers. And it has also been the centerpiece of a few weddings that Michael and Richard have hosted in pre-pandemic times.


Michael and Richard built garden boxes with bean trellises to add vertical gardening to sunny areas of their yard this year.

Vertical Gardening

This is Richard and Michael’s first year trying vertical gardening, and a lot of that has been implemented in their front yard, where they are growing vegetables right in front of their home. The front of their house receives lots of sun, so Richard said they didn’t want to not be growing veggies there. Using garden boxes as the base structure, they’ve built bean trellises out of 2x4s and wire to try growing five different types of beans to see which varieties they like the best. Keeping in mind that they want their food production to also be beautiful, they’ve interplanted their vertical gardens with annuals and other ornamental plants, like gladiolas. 

Not all of their vertical gardening this year is intentional, however. An aspirational tomato growing in a container below a tree has surpassed the height of its cage, and is now climbing the tree branches above it!

If you’d like to learn more about growing tomatoes, check out our video and blog post:


Michael and Richard’s “Seedbook” to help them keep track of what they’ve grown.

A Garden Organization Tip from Michael and Richard

This year Michael and Richard decided to create a seed book, to help them keep track of what they have growing throughout their yard. In years past, they’ve had a hard time remembering what varieties worked really well. So, they created a seed book, which is a 3-ring binder filled with plastic pocket pages, similar to what you would use to store 4x6 photos. These can also be used to store seed packets, and at the end of the season notes about how the plant grew and what the harvest was like can be kept with the seed packet for future reference. Genius!


Richard, Marybeth and Michael admiring fennel growing in a side yard garden box.

Endless Inspiration for Your Garden

We hope this tour of Michael and Richard’s garden has inspired you to look at your outdoor space a little differently. Maybe you could create a garden room out of an area that rarely gets used, grow veggies in containers where there isn’t any soil, but plenty of sun, or use a vertical garden to hide a plain side of the house that needs a little more interest. The possibilities are endless! 

Don’t forget to follow Modern Gardener on Instagram and Facebook to see more information about gardening, and chime in with your own tips or stories!

If you live in Utah and have a garden or garden project that you'd like to be featured on Modern Gardener, click here!

Lizzi Brosseau

Lizzi Brosseau, Digital Producer at KUED Channel 7.
Modern Gardener Host and Author

Lizzi works for PBS Utah as a digital producer and host of Modern Gardener. Read more