Creating and Planting a Container Garden

We all have a garden planter or two dotted around our gardens, perhaps filled with a specimen plant or a seasonal display. But there is a lot to be said for using containers as the design basis for a garden. Containers are probably one of the most versatile forms of gardening, allowing you not only to choose type of container but also the plant and its location. There are many advantages to container gardening. You can move your containers to different locations within your garden, thereby creating an instantly different effect. You can change planting displays as often as you like, perhaps making the most of the choice of different seasonal plants. You can also grow plants which like different soil types to your own by simply filling them with the right type of compost.

Types of garden planter

There are an ever increasing number of different types of container you can buy, with materials and designs to suit every climate and different tastes. Pots and tubs are probably the most popular type of planter available. They are for the most part versatile and easily moved to different positions in the garden. Pots and tubs come in an enormous variety of sizes and designs, both traditional and modern. Materials vary from moss covered terracotta and artificially aged stone planters, to reused car tyres and fibre glass. There are no rules when it comes to choosing a type of container and there is no reason why you can’t combine traditional with modern. Just be aware that your designs and materials complement each other in some way.

Pots and tubs are equally as versatile when it comes to planting. You can grow almost anything you like in a container. Formally clipped box and other evergreens look stunning as focal points, as do specimen standard plants such as bay trees or photinias. Group a number of planters of different sizes together with a plant type such as herbs. A particularly stunning planter can be filled with seasonal annuals for an all year round display.

Window boxes are another great way to grow plants and enhance the appearance of your house and garden. Window boxes are particularly useful if you have a tiny garden or even if you have no garden at all! You can buy ready- made window boxes, have them made bespoke to your requirements or simply make your own. Window boxes don’t have to be made of wood. I have seen some beautifully aged metal ones as well as reconstituted stone ground-level boxes. Grow seasonal displays or plant up a box outside your kitchen window with herbs or easy to grow edibles like lettuce.

Hanging baskets are probably the most versatile of all containers. They can be hung on walls, fences and even in trees. Not only can your display be changed from season to season, but you can also grow edible plants such as tumbling tomatoes and strawberries and even a selection of herbs, hung near your kitchen door. Hanging baskets also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. More traditionally made from wicker, but I have seen some great modern alternatives made from brightly coloured plastics.

Troughs and sinks can be used to create mini container gardens in one place. Although strictly speaking you can grow anything you like in a trough shaped planter, the lack of depth makes them more suited to growing alpines and herbs. Stone troughs probably look the best in any garden but why not also think about getting hold of an old Belfast sink which looks particularly effective when planted with herbs under a kitchen window.

Another type of container not readily thought about is the raised bed. Raised beds are a great way of growing both vegetables and garden plants. They are easy to maintain and therefore popular with gardeners with impaired mobility. They are also an easy way of adding structure to an otherwise flat garden space, lifting plants higher up and creating the illusion of different levels to a garden.

Some planting rules

If you are going to maintain a healthy container garden, there are a few rules you will need to follow whatever type of planter. Drainage is all important for container grown plants. Make sure your container has adequate drainage holes and always add some broken pot or crocks to the bottom of the planter to aid drainage. If your container is to be placed on a hard surface, sit it on some feet to raise it above ground level slightly. Use the right type of compost. Try not to overcrowd your container, most plants will need plenty of room to spread their roots and grow into healthy specimens. Conversely, don’t let your plants become pot-bound. Although there are a few plants which do well in these conditions, as a rule, either divide you plant or re-pot it into a larger container.

In extremely cold weather both your containers and their plants will need some protection. For those that are not frost hardy it is probably best to over winter them into a cold greenhouse. Others can be wrapped in straw or fleece to protect them from frost.

Perhaps the most important consideration of all for container grown plants is water. During dry weather in the summer months you will have to make sure your pots are well watered. Materials like terracotta dry out quickly as the clay absorbs water, so you will often find yourself having to water at least twice a day. Early morning and evening is best. During the winter water container plants sparingly. Waterlogged containers easily freeze killing the roots of the plants in them.

I am a firm believer that a garden reflects some of the personality of the gardener who tends it. Garden planters are a great way of putting your stamp on a garden, particularly if you are a little bit quirky! I have seen old wooden boats used as planters, odd worn out walking boots, pan tiles, antique wash tubs, old car tyres and even a disused toilet!

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