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Amy Rhodes

How To Plan A Garden #1: Create the Design

How To Plan A Garden #1: Create the Design

Lengthening daylight hours and hints of springtime signal the time to plan your garden. This Tower Power blog post is the first in a series of three to guide you in planning a successful year of gardening.  We've crafted an infographic of the basics to get started!


(Click on infographic to enlarge)  (Click here to download a pdf of this infographic)

Planning a Garden Infographic Guide and Diagram


1) Plant Hardiness Zone Lookup:

2) Companion Planting Infographic and Database:


A Garden Journal or Sketchbook - This doesn't have to be fancy. It can be as simple as putting blank pages into a binder or use card stock or repurposed cardboard as the cover. This is a great activity to do with kids! 


In your Garden Journal, you will record temperature and weather patterns, your garden designs, when and what you plant, as well as, your discoveries, successes and failures.  This post has specifics on what to include in your journal.  If you prefer going paperless, online options are available for a fee, like this one launching this Spring 2017 from  


No matter how you decide to collect garden information, the most important thing about a Garden Journal is that you keep one. Once you have your journal ready, you are ready to begin planning your garden!


Location, Climate, and Weather


Begin by observing and taking note of the largest patterns present in your location such as the climate, seasons, and movement of the sun during different times of year. On this grand scale, Plant Hardiness Zone maps can help you determine the length of your growing season and which types of plants will thrive in your geographic area.


These zones are based on weather patterns and the average lowest temperature.  If you live in the United States, enter your zip code here to find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.  If you live outside the U.S., provides helpful resources. The Old Farmers’ Almanac will help you find the range and number of frost-free days with the Frost Date Calculator.


Record in your Garden Journal:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone
  • Average lowest temperature in winter
  • Dates when frost-free season begins and ends 
  • Number of frost-free dates


Space and Tools


On a smaller, site-specific scale, the amount of available space and microclimates on your property will help determine the best place for your garden or gardens.  Microclimates are small areas or habitats determined by variables such as surface type, walls, wind, water, trees, or other physical features.  Answering the following questions will provide a clearer idea of where and how to create your garden.


Record in your Garden Journal:

  • Do you have full sun, partial sun, shade, or a combination of these?
  • Where are your available spaces? Patio, balcony, on concrete, in the yard?
  • How many hours of daylight do these areas receive?
  • Which areas are easiest to access?
  • What kind of tools do you need? Containers, shovels, tiller, hose, watering can?  


Plant Selection


Gardens serve many purposes. Food, medicine, beauty, therapy, habitat and wildlife restoration are a few general themes. What is the primary focus of your garden?


For inspiration, check out this list: 


(Click on graphic to enlarge) 


The North Carolina Cooperative Extension also has great Garden Themes for Kids. 


Explore different types of garden plants, herbs and flowers.  Select varieties that will work with your available space and chosen theme.  If you will have a small space or vertical garden, look for bush or container varieties.  These are smaller in height and grow better in containers.  


These sites provide great images and information for plant selection:



Plant companions are helpful friends that benefit others. For instance, marigolds are friends with many plants in the garden due to their ability to repel pests. Surrounding tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage) plants with marigolds to defend them from nematodes and leafhoppers. These charts will help you discover which vegetables, herbs, and flowers grow well together and which ones should be separated.




Cliché as it sounds, timing is everything in gardening!  The successful growth of your plants depends on the season, length of time for seed germination, and days to maturity.  Pay close attention to these factors as you decide when to start your garden. 


The amount of time you have available to spend gardening is also something to consider.  Are you working full-time, a full-time parent, or both?  Are you retired? Do you travel a lot?  Think about how much time you will be able to commit daily to tending your garden. 


Garden Tower Designs


If you are planning to grow in a Garden Tower 2, check out these tools:




Aiyo A. Jones

Beginning Urban Gardener

Beginning Urban Gardener

I’m from New York City, having little gardening experience. All I used to know about gardening was that if you planted a seed in the ground and watered it, then something was supposed to happen. 

Now, I’ve grown so much food, I've had enough to give away! 


Bowl of Banana PeppersBack in 2015, my wife and I purchased the Garden Tower II (GT2). My wife wanted to purchase this vertical container garden mainly because you can grow root vegetables in it. The GT2 has 50 pods to plant in and a vermicomposting system. It didn’t take much for her to convince me that we needed to invest in this product, so after getting our tax return money, we bought the GT2. 

To start growing, we purchased seedlings. Growing from seed hasn’t been my strong point, and we wanted some quick results. I had already done lots of research on growing plants, but I wanted to test some of the conventional gardening wisdom to see what was true and what wasn’t. Being willing to experiment on my garden was a big eye-opener.

For starters, we discovered that we didn’t need to spray our garden with anything, not even with organic sprays. I spent a few moments every morning inspecting the garden for pests and picking them off. I later discovered that wasps loved to eat cabbage worms! So, instead of looking at wasps as my enemies, I saw them as my allies. Whenever the wasps raided my garden, I just stepped inside the house and let them do their thing!


Comparing Garden Containers

Eggplant growing in GT2 next to eggplant growing in small container

2 large eggplant fruit next to 2 small eggplantsAnother discovery was seeing how important composting was for the plants. I did an experiment using eggplants in the GT2 and eggplants in conventional pots. The eggplants in the GT2 grew much larger and healthier than the ones in conventional pots.


The eggplant fruit produced by the eggplants in the GT2 were actually edible and nearly free of blemishes, whereas the eggplants in the conventional pots produced small, hard, and ugly fruits. The eggplants in the GT2 had access to compost, whereas the other eggplants did not.



Discovering Compost Critters

Perhaps the biggest discovery was the black soldier fly larvae. For a few days, I noticed that the compost contents were quickly reducing in size. Then I’ve discovered these maggots in my compost tube. After researching about them and seeing them in action, I fell in love with these guys! Unlike red wigglers or European night crawlers that eat veggies and fruit scraps, the black soldier fly larvae ate almost anything, including meat and cheese (two of which would usually be forbidden to add in a compost pile).



Because of my success with the GT2, I started a Facebook page called “The Back Deck Harvest.”  The page has a ton of photos of my experience with the GT2. I simply post what I’m doing in the garden. No silly memes, no articles, nothing but my work in my vertical garden.

The GT2 was a great investment. We have grown tomatoes, lettuce, eggplants, squash, peppers, basil, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, cilantro and parsley, and have even revived a few dying marigold plants I bought. We have eaten the fruits of our labor and have shared our fruits with others. We went from growing barely anything to growing a big crop of food on a small deck of 90 square feet. 



Amy Rhodes

Seed Catalogs & Garden Planning to the Rescue!

Seed Catalogs & Garden Planning to the Rescue!

Woman lying in bed, snow outside window

If you live somewhere between Hardiness Zones 1-7, you may be lolling and snoring along to winter’s hibernation song right about now. The colors outside are drab, the daylight hours are short, and the “nothing-like-it” taste of crisp sugar snap peas and sweet cherry tomatoes picked fresh from the garden linger someplace off in the distance. 


Winter doldrums have you down? 

Here's a quick and easy way to snap out of the winter blah blues.  Put the kettle on for a cup of mint, lemon verbena, or ginger-turmeric tea. Sweeten it with local honey, and grab a stack of next year’s seed catalogs!  


My friend Kristi, an extraordinary cook who prepares nearly all her meals from local, pasture-raised meats and homegrown produce, is also an absolute connoisseur of seed catalogs!  She can’t wait for her selected catalogs to arrive in the mail. This time of year, her collection is scattered across her coffee table, dog-eared and littered with sticky notes marking her wish list for the garden.  Kristi told me, “It’s the vibrant pictures, unique colors, shapes and patterns of the seeds, flowers and vegetables that inspire me on these gray winter days. I also love discovering the newest heirloom and container varieties. I want to try them all!”


Request Free Seed Catalogs 


Baker Creek LinkBurpee Link 

Johnny's Selected Seeds LinkKristi also hinted that seeing pictures of fully mature plants in the catalog is important. This helps her visually plan how she will arrange her community of plants.  After marking the pages of the seeds she’d like to purchase, she draws a map of her garden and plays matchmaker with companion plants. Planning tools found in Johnny’s Selected Seeds Grower’s Library and Garden Tower’s Planting Design Guide are helpful when designing your garden. 


Planting season is closer than you think. Before you know, you'll be starting seeds and watching the world wake from its slumber.  Until then, enjoy getting lost in Spring and Summer daydreams and planning.  What will your garden grow? 


Cautionary note!! 

Looking at magazine

The enthusiasm induced by looking through seed catalogs can lead to ambitious plans and a bountiful garden with more produce than you can manage to eat.  This, of course, is a wonderful problem to have! Apply to sell at your local farmers’ market, start a food stand, or share with co-workers and neighbors. Your local food bank will also be happy to receive your extra harvest. Check out for a place nearby to donate. 


Joel Grant

Garden Tower Project Partners With NAVA On Traditional Healing Village

Garden Tower Project Partners With NAVA On Traditional Healing Village

For immediate release

Contact: Amy Rhodes



Garden Tower Project Partners With NAVA On Traditional Healing Village

Bloomington, Ind. ---During a recent visit to Southern California, Garden Tower Project was contacted by NAVA about discussing a sustainable food and farming project for their community. Ted Tenorio, a decorated Vietnam Veteran and President of Native American Veteran’s Association (NAVA), shared his dream and inspiration with two partners of GTP, Joel Grant and Thomas Tlusty, at a Veteran’s Day Memorial Pow-Wow in South Gate, CA.


Army photograph by David Vergun

The GTP team learned of NAVA’s goal to create a Native American Healing Village and Community Urban Orchard where learning, planning and healthy living can take place. The village will serve Veteran[AR1]  women and children who were victims of domestic violence and abuse, along with Veteran’s suffering from PTSD, whether Native American or not. The healing center will offer alternative methods for treating PTSD by assisting Vets dealing with the effects of trauma, war, resultant PTSD and re-integration, through more traditional methods. NAVA’s project will be set up to teach farming, native crafts and business skills through volunteer efforts as a way to address the indigenous population’s need for skilled employment training.


NAVA has been granted 47 acres by Mayor W.H. “Bill” DeWitt, of South Gate CA, for a historically accurate educational and healing village on the banks of the Los Angeles River. The facility will be a re-creation of a traditional Tongva village complete with longhouse, roundhouse, sweat lodges and talking circles. The Tongva Nation was nearly obliterated during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Only seven families remain. Ted himself, hails from New Mexico and is a part of the Tiwa (pronounced Teg-wan) Nation. The village re-creation is being built out of respect and in memory of the Tongva Nation.


Native Americans have the highest representation of any ethnicity in all branches of the military since the founding of the United States. In the LA area, urban Indians outnumber reservation Indians. As of 2003, over 7,000 Native American Veterans were registered in West LA. Unemployment was 7.1 percent, higher than for any other ethnic group.


There will be no admission fee to the facility, as all NAVA events are free and staffed by volunteers. For the past 15 years NAVA has never charged a fee or accepted any government grants or funds, relying solely on donations and personal contributions.  Ted refers to the operation of NAVA as an “Urban Sovereign Nation” who “takes care of themselves”.  Until 2003, NAVA 501(c)19, was a military order. On Nov 10th, 2015, they gained approval to transition to a 501(c)3 which will allow them to pursue public grants and funding.


Ted revealed to the Garden Tower Project partners that he sees the Garden Tower 2 playing a pivotal role in the farming, education and healing aspects of the Native American Indian Healing Village.  Tlusty, who couldn’t agree more, stated, “This is right in line with our concept of distributed agriculture and education being key for local health and economic resilience.” Grant added, “The efficiency, elegance, simplicity and productivity of the GT2 system, will lend itself well to the success of this program.”


The Garden Tower 2, is a patented, compact planter and vermicomposter that enables gardeners to grow up to 50 plants vertically and compactly inside a footprint of just 4 square feet. The new design easily rotates 360 degrees for optimal lighting and convenient watering. At the heart of each Garden Tower 2 is a perforated compost column that, with the simple addition of redworms, converts ordinary kitchen scraps to nourishing organic fertilizer.


In combining gardening with vermicomposting, the Garden Tower returns nutrients to the closed system, making it self-fertilizing. Vegetables thrive as the potting blend grows richer naturally over time. A nutrient collection drawer also allows the gardener to harvest compost “tea”, finished compost and worm castings, for easy recycling to the top of the Garden Tower to increase soil fertility. The Garden Tower can also support a much wider variety of large vegetables that cannot be grown in any other container type garden, including cabbages, broccoli, squash, zucchini, cucumber and melons. With supplemental lighting, the Garden Tower 2 can even be used indoors.    


Learn more about NAVA or the Tongva Healing Village Project -


Army photograph by David VergunArmy photograph by David Vergun


Learn more about GTP and follow on @TheGardenTower and Facebook


About Garden Tower Project LLC: A socially responsible business concept based in Bloomington, Ind. Garden Tower Project strives to ensure easy availability of fresh, organic food, particularly for people who lack access to growing space. Garden Tower Project has been recognized by the International Design Awards for excellence in Sustainable Living/Environmental Preservation. Garden Towers are now being used to grow food in all 50 states, throughout Canada and has distribution in Australia, UK, Japan & Germany.



Joel Grant

Garden Tower 2 Achieves First Ever Living Product Certification

Garden Tower 2 Achieves First Ever Living Product Certification

PITTSBURGH, September 15, 2016 /3BL Media/ - Humanscale, Bureo, Owens Corning and Garden Tower Project have received Living Product certification for new and redesigned products that meet the high bar of the Living Product Challenge, that is, to design and manufacture products that function as elegantly and efficiently as anything found in the natural world. Turning inspiration into action, these forward-thinking companies were awarded new certifications at the second annual Living Product Expo, hosted by the International Living Future Institute September 13-15, 2016, in Pittsburgh. For more information, visit the website.


“These leading companies are writing a new chapter in industrial design and challenging the status quo when it comes to how products are designed, sourced and manufactured.” said James Connelly, Director of the Living Product Challenge for the Institute. “And, they are at the Living Product Expo to share and discover disruptive new ideas and technologies that are reshaping the materials landscape, accelerating the pace of transformation and making Living Products possible today.”


The full list of newly certified Living Products includes:

Garden Tower Project's Garden Tower 2 – Living Product Petal Certification for Water and Materials

Garden Tower is committed to socially-responsible practices at every level, and has a mission to help transform the face of gardening and food sustainability.  The uniquely designed composting Garden Tower allows for the growing of a large variety of food in a very small space.  The product has achieved Petal Certification for Water and Materials, and the company is currently implementing a new low-carbon, bio-based plastic, a first for its product category.


Garden Tower 2 Living Product Certification Label

“Garden Tower’s social mission is just as critical to the company’s certification as is their material health and regenerative manufacturing innovations,” said James Connelly. “It is a great example of a new product that has the power to transform traditional industries.”


Humanscale Diffrient® Smart Chair -- Full Living Product certification

The Humanscale Smart® Chair is an ergonomically designed commercial desk chair that required a significant redesign on the path to Living Product Certification. Often, commercial office chairs are covered with fabrics that contain perfluorinated compounds. These chemicals, according to the National Institutes of Health, contribute to the body burden of toxicity and have a several year half-life, which means that the time it takes for the chemicals to leave the body can be several years. Humanscale has eliminated perfluorinated compounds from the redesigned Smart® Chair, which is manufactured in a solar powered facility with a newly installed rainwater collection system that offsets the water used in production.


Humanscale Float™ Table -- Full Living Product certification

The Float Table is an innovative sit/stand desk that 'floats' effortlessly when you push a small lever, contributing to an ergonomically superior sit/stand work experience. Humanscale removed PVC from the product—a material with significant lifecycle health concerns—and is working to ensure the remaining product ingredients are fully optimized and safe for humans and the environment.  The product is manufactured in a process powered by 100% renewable energy onsite. “The lifecycle health benefits of using this product versus traditional tables is massively positive when compared to the potential health consequences of tradition design and production,” said Connelly.

“Both newly-certified Humanscale products are not only Net Positive for Water and Energy onsite – but we have conducted a rigorous LCA on each product and are now working to create Energy, Water and Carbon Handprints greater than the footprint of each product,” said Jane Abernethy, Humanscale’s sustainability officer. “We are increasing our handprint by switching to recycled nylon made from fishing nets from Bureo, teaming up with Kohler and an NGO to supply Clarity water filters, and providing water heater blankets to school children.” The practice of Handprinting refers to the measurement of positive impacts that a company makes compared to business as usual in addition to reducing their environmental footprint. More on the Humanscale achievement here.


Bureo – Net+Positiva Plastic -- Petal Certified for Water and Materials

Bureo is a unique company designed around the concept of net positive, and its first product was a skateboard made of recycled fishing nets from coastal artisanal fishing communities, which has been widely recognized for ingenuity in design and sourcing, with investors including the Patagonia $20 Million and Change Fund. Bureo has achieved Living Product Petal Certification for Water and Materials for its Net+Positiva Plastic, recycled plastic resin and pellets which they source from fishing nets, and which they intend to sell to other consumer goods companies to scale up their business.

“Bureo recently installed low flow shower heads in their production facility and is planning to distribute them in communities in which they work, which contributed to the Water Petal certification,” said Connelly. “Bureo is also investing in a solar array for a nearby community school for disadvantaged youth, which will contribute to the company’s full Living Product Certification.”


Owens Corning® EcoTouch® PINK® Fiberglas™ Insulation – Unfaced – Living Product Imperative Certification

With EcoTouch® unfaced fiberglass insulation, Owens Corning achieves its second Living Product Imperative Certification for a product that reflects the company’s long-term commitment to sustainability. EcoTouch® is a residential and commercial insulation product that is certified to include a minimum of 65% total recycled content, and is GREENGUARD validated to be formaldehyde free.

“Owens Corning’s commitment to sustainability is embedded in the foundation of its product stewardship process,” said Connelly. “A core value of the company is developing products that make the world a better place.”


About the Living Product Challenge

The Living Product Challenge re-imagines the design and construction of products to function as elegantly and efficiently as anything found in the natural world. The creation of this program kicked off a groundbreaking new event that brought together leading minds in the product industry to inspire a revolution in the way materials are designed, manufactured and delivered: the Living Product Expo.

At the first event in 2015 sustainability directors from the world’s leading design firms, prominent manufacturers and sustainability consultants learned about and shared game-changing innovations in product design.

This second annual event moves from inspiration to action. The Expo is an opportunity for participants to share and discover disruptive new ideas and technologies that are reshaping the materials landscape, accelerating the pace of innovation and making Living Products possible today. Join us, and together we will craft the future of materials.


About the International Living Future Institute

The International Living Future Institute is an inspiring hub for visionary programs. Our mission is to lead and support the transformation toward communities that are socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative. Com­posed of leading green building experts and thought-leaders, the Institute is premised on the belief that providing a compelling vision for the future is a fundamental requirement for reconciling humanity’s relationship with the natural world. The Institute runs the Living Building Challenge, Living Community Challenge, Living Product Challenge, Net Zero Energy Certification, the Cascadia Green Building Coun­cil, Ecotone Publishing, Declare, JUST and other leading-edge programs. A global network of more than 450 volunteers across nearly 42 countries drive the local adoption of restorative principles in their com­munities.



Lisa Lilienthal
International Living Future Institute
Joel Grant

Salad Tower Planting Plan & Design

Salad Tower Planting Plan & Design

Just in time for spring, here's a visual guide to designing your Garden Tower with a focus on salad veggies & herbs! 


Due to many requests from gardeners, we've completed a Garden Tower planting design template and created an example "Salad Tower" using easy to grow, gourmet salad-appropriate plants that can be started from seed mid-spring.  We paid attention to companion planting relationships in this design as well; however, most everything in this "Salad Tower" can be re-arranged without worry.  Throughout the year we will post numerous requested garden designs from the brain-food garden to the perennial culinary herb special.  We're having fun with this!


(click image to enlarge) (printable pdf: landscape) (printable pdf: portrait)

Salad Garden Layout for a Garden Tower


Tower Designer: Print the empty layout below and plan your garden!

(click image to enlarge) (printable pdf: landscape) (printable pdf: portrait)

Customizable Garden Design Layout for Garden Tower Gardening


When designing your garden, pay attention to veggie scheduling and companion planting info!


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Happy Gardening -- Garden Tower Project

Additional information