Container plants have made the big time this year—literally. For me, the memorable part of Kate and Will’s wedding wasn’t the dress or even the sweet pageantry. It was those 25-foot trees in planters that turned Westminster Abbey into a leafy green park. (Note for enviro-fans: My sources said the trees – English maples and hornbeams – would later be planted at Windsor Castle.)
Most of us aren’t up to planting trees in containers but container plantings of some kind are invaluable in the garden.
Bring the zing in
The classic position is at the front door or hanging from the porch eaves. But there are so many other ways container plants can add zing to your garden.
In small gardens, planting in containers will multiply your space. You can add them to your porch, your front steps, even your front or back walk. Paul Zammit, director of horticulture at the Toronto Botanic Garden, even fills most of his driveway with container plants in summer.
You can grow sun-lovers even if you have a shady garden, by planting them in containers and moving them from sunny patch to sunny patch.
You can protect precious plants from the ravages of local wildlife by planting them in containers on porch and deck. Furry beasties like raccoons and squirrels are less likely to invade protected container plantings.
You can experiment with colour combinations, using cheap and cheerful annuals, before you invest in pricey perennials.
You can jazz up a boring spot by plunking a pretty container and plant there. Handsome containers can disguise a blah concrete patio, for example. Or you can use a container as focal point for a section of your garden.
Finally – and most fun, for me – you can bring plants up close and personal when they’re in containers. Put them on tables, pillars, old benches and stools. Or choose a tall container to begin with, one where you can be eye-to-eye with the flowers and notice all their wonderful detail. Loblaws this year is featuring some planters that are 130 cm and 155 cm tall—plants you can look up to!
Size matters. One small plant in one small container isn’t anything special. But take lots of little plants and lots of little containers. Or choose a giant container and pack it full of one kind of plant – red or white geraniums, say, to create a major eye-catcher.
Size also matters if you’re trying to grow the popular container veggies. Don’t even bother if you don’t have a pot at least 30 cm or more deep.
Of course, you already know your container has to have drainage holes, don’t you? If not, get out the electric drill.
Give a thought to style when you’re choosing containers, too. For a front garden, it’s best if the container matches the home’s style. Wicker baskets are fine with cottagey Beach homes. More formal houses would call for faux stone or faux iron urns. The good old red clay pot is making a comeback, too, and looks charming anywhere, in my opinion.
Plants with pow
After many years, I’ve decided to use mainly plants that flourish for a summer and then die in my containers. This means:
• Annuals like the new heat- and drought-tolerant petunias, tender bulbs/tubers like begonias, and tender perennials like Diamond Frost euphorbia.
• Colourful tropical plants like bold cannas, exotic caladium and the gorgeous flowering Mandevilla vine.
• Single-season veggies like tomatoes, green beans, peppers and lettuce.
They’re great in containers because they don’t take up room in the garden, but you still get to enjoy their short-term beauty.
Of course, lots of perennials will do fine in containers too, but they take a bit of extra care, if you want them to survive a few years. Short clematis do fine; so do hostas, some herbs like chives and even dwarf shrubs–Black Lace elder (sambucca), especially.
But you have to bundle up these babies in winter and store them in an unheated garage or shed if you want them to come back the following spring. And, really, with all the variety of form and colour available elsewhere in the garden centre, why bother?
When planting a container follow this pattern: ‘thriller’, a tall plant at the rear or just off-centre in the middle; ‘filler’, several shorter, bushy plants with lots of flowers or colourful leaves; and ‘spiller’, trailing plants that drape gracefully all around the rim.