newbie q: Container garden

Hi, i'm a newbie and looking to do a small container garden here in Scottsdale, Arizona. I have a East Facing patio that gets sun until about 1p and a North facing entry-landing (1st floor) that is partially under a stairwell and so half of it gets sun until about 2p or so.
i've started reading and asking my mother (in NM) about planting and gardening but wanted to get more advice and links to what i'd like to do.
Ideally i'd have this amazing container garden that is an oasis inthe desert, but what i'm really looking at is to make my patio a bit prettier and nice to sit and relax/read in duringthe cool springs/falls/winters and to make the entry-landing evoke calmness and let me know i'm "home".
since i cook, i'd like to grow some veggies and herbs, say tomatoes (er fruit, i guess), basil, thyme, rosemary.
and since i work fulltime and dance quite a bit, i'm generally away from home alot so i only have moderate time weekly to maintain them.
I'd like some shrubs, foliage, and flowers. apparently Sago Palms are quite popular here, but i'm not so fond of the Palm look. i like Geraniums. I think Lavender are quite pretty. Roses are nice; but Orchids are my fave flower. daisies are nice.
i have a a few questions:
I'm a bit confused about Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Shade. I understand that Full Sun is fully int he sun (obv), but does that mean all day or most of the day? Does an area that gets full sun until 1p and then is in shade qualify as part shade? or is part shade a place that is partly shady all day? i'm sure this is quite obv to many of you but to me, it's just a little confusing.
how do i know how big a container to get for my plants? I hear that Geraniums like cramped roots and so to get a container that's not too big. ok. But in general???
i plan to buy one plant each of a couple and use them as a "test-bed" as practice. any suggestions of what to try?
any comments, suggestions, links, faqs are highly welcome.
Also, are there gardening groups that get together and meet? i'd like to sit and hear what they have to say about sutff here in AZ.
And anyone in Scottsdale or Phoenix-metro area: what are the better, nicer nurseries that i should visit.
thanks all, -goro-
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Goro, I recommend the first thing is pick up a copy of Sunset Western Garden Book, published by the Sunset magazine folks. It is well worth having.
Sunset has divided up the western states into 24 climate zones, yours is Zone 13. The Sunset Western Garden Book contains an extensive encyclopedia which lists over 6,000 plants and includes their requirements for zone, light, and water.
Their definitions for light requirements are:
Full sun - unobstructed sunlight all day or almost all day, can include an hour or so of shade at the beginning or end of the day.
Partial shade - shade for half the day or for at least 3 hours during the hottest part of the day.
Full shade - little or no direct sunlight (North side of the house, under a dense tree, etc.).
They also have four different watering categories:
Arid - no water needed at all once the plant has been in place about 1 or 2 years.
Semi-arid - plant will take some drying out of soil but should be soaked well 4-5 times during the growing season.
Regular water - don't let the soil dry out or become waterlogged. May need regular weekly or daily watering.
Wet - soil needs to be consistently wet or moist.
As far as growing in containers, I think just about any plant can be grown in containers. Generally speaking, the only real difference the container size makes is in how big the plant will grow. Usually the more confined the roots, the smaller the plant will stay. You can always repot into a larger size container. If a plant likes "tight feet" (or a cramped pot) the Sunset book will tell you, and if it doesn't mind being in a large pot then its up to you to choose the pot size.
Watering needs will have to be closely watched in containerized plants. Heat, wind, and aridity can cause a lot of water to be taken out of the plant. I recommend you get a probe which you poke down into each pot and read the moisture level. A nursery will have one, and they are reasonably priced.
You might want to think about an automatic drip irrigation system if you don't have much time to devote to the plants. You can tailor each emitter to the watering requirements of each plant.
Plastic pots will require less watering than terra cotta or unglazed clay pots.
As far as your specific plants mentioned, tomatoes do very well in containers. Tomatoes like at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day and regular water. Lots of herbs like basil, dill, sage, rosemary, and thyme can get by with less water; parsley and chives like regular watering. Use the moisture probe and lean towards underwatering rather than overwatering, when in doubt.
Orchids would do best out of the direct light but in a North-facing location. Direct sunlight will scorch the leaves and eventually kill the plant. Orchids like higher humidity so may not do well in AZ. Air conditioners remove moisture from the air so unless you have the orchids in a bathroom or near the kitchen sink you may not have success.
Geraniums and roses will take all the light you can give them and do well in containers. You might try dwarf citrus like lime, orange, lemon. They will do nicely where you are.
Just dive in and start. The Sunset book and your common sense will see you through.
Hope this helps!
- Dewolla
On 4 Jun 2004 08:44:09 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (Goro) wrote:

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See my <http://www.rossde.com/garden/garden_potting_mix.html for a do-it-youself potting mix. See my <http://www.rossde.com/garden/dwarf_citrus.html for growing dwarf citrus in containers.
I usually recommend either clay pots or redwood tubs because they tend to keep roots cool. If you can't water daily in the summer, use containers larger than usual; you still might have to water at least every other day.
Alternatively, you can use plastic pots set into decorative ceramic or concrete containers. In this case, allow 1-2" of space between the inner pot and the outer container, for air circulation and so a hot outer container does not cook the plant. Be careful when watering and during any rain that excessive water does not accumulate in the outer container and drown the plant.
--
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean
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On Sat, 05 Jun 2004 10:30:19 -0700, David Ross wrote:

I would also add in a little extra peat moss to retain moisture longer.
Tom
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