Container Gardening By Michael
In the summer our patio is a riot of colour as my wife grows a lot in
pots. They soften the edges and link the patio to the rest of the garden.
When we had a terraced house with a concrete back garden, container growing
made life tolerable for me as I grew vegetables in containers.
If you have designed your garden in such a way that you have areas of paving
or gravel, you may want to liven these up with some well-planted containers.
Equally, if your garden is very small, some strategically placed pots full
of colourful flowers may be what you need.
Choosing Your Containers
There's a selection of special containers available for growing vegetables.
If you have a metre square then you could use link-a-bord to create a
large container or mini raised bed.
Grow Pots enable you to maximise the availble compost when using growbags.
- Pots are an obvious place to start. They come in all shapes and sizes,
glazed, terracotta, hand-painted, stone (real or fake), plaster - you
name it. If you intend to leave your pots outside all winter and you
live in a cold climate, don't forget they must be frost resistant. There's
no point buying hand-painted containers in Spain then expecting them
to survive a winter in Scotland!
- Troughs look good against a straight wall but you need to choose your
planting carefully because I've found that many plants quickly become
pot bound in a trough. For example, in a trough 24inches (60 cms) long,
I have just ONE verbena which is doing very well but it's foliage reaches
to each end and I originally thought that the trough would take at least
- Wooden containers. You can buy these or make them yourself if you
have the skill and you can add a trellis for something to climb up the
centre. You can use small split logs for a rustic effect or normal wooden
planks for something a little more formal. Don't forget to leave drainage
holes. The wood will last longer if you apply a wood preservative and
line your container with plastic. Many wood preservers are coloured these
days so your container could be blue or green or whatever you like. The
easiest to construct is obviously square, but if you're a little more
adventurous, you could try octagonal or triangular. Divided containers
are great for growing herbs.
- Hanging baskets, wall hanging half baskets or pots or hanging pouches
are lovely for trailing plants and can create quite a show in summer.
- Basket-shaped or amphora-shaped pots look great but are quite hard
to plant and maintain.
- If you have a talent for construction, you could build your own pots
or raised beds with bricks or decorative blocks.
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Planting Your Containers
There are so many different plants suitable for container gardening that
I would need a complete book to name them all. Suffice to say that a small
shrub will grow ok in a large pot but won't want to share will a stack of
other things. Annuals are great for containers but will need to have the spent
flowers removed to encourage further blooming. Herbs and alpines are good
too but be careful of the sun/shade needed. Be careful also of herbs like
mint which can take over a whole flower bed, never mind a pot, left to its
Unlike, traditional borders, container plants are planted very close together
so you need to bear a number of things in mind.
- Buy proprietary compost. Garden borders can, to an extent, obtain nutrients
from the soil itself plus leaf mulch and other naturally-occurring organic
matter. Containers cannot so buy the best compost you can afford.
- Container plants need a whole lot more water than those in beds. Don't
think that just because it rained all day, much moisture will have penetrated
the foliage - it probably won't. In the height of summer, hanging baskets
and the like (unless they have a water reservoir) will probably need
watering twice a day. So you have a couple of choices; set up an irrigation
system for your pots (optimum but pricey) or add a moisture retaining
product to your compost (you will still need to water once a day). These
are available at garden centres and take the form of a powder which you
hydrate into a gel or water retaining balls which look like polystyrene,
either of which you mix with the compost.
- You will need to feed container plants more often. You can choose
a compost which has already had sufficient nutrients added to last a
season which is a good start for annuals. You can also buy slow-release
pellets which you mix into the compost in the dosage recommended by the
manufacturer. The alternative is to apply a liquid feed once or twice
every two weeks throughout the growing season.
- OK, so you have your container and you've mixed the correct amount
of water retention medium and feed into your compost as required, now
for the planting.
- Try to design the planting on paper or in your minds eye before you
start. Remember that trailing plants such as balcony geraniums or surfinia
petunias need to be planted around the edge of the container.
- If you're using baskets, line them with moss and/or a plastic liner.
Fill one third with compost, plant the first "layer" of plants
which will poke out of the sides of the basket, add the second third
and finish with the top "layer". If you're using tubs, don't
forget the perspective - tall at the back or side against a wall or fence
and smaller at the front.
- Groups of pots look good together, particularly if they're colour
co-ordinated and the addition of a few well-placed pebbles or coloured
ornaments completes the effect.
All you need now to enjoy your container garden is a strategically placed
table and chairs and a nice chilled glass of white wine!
About the author: Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Gardening