The Basic Elements of Container Gardening | A Unique Garden Article by Amy Ridgway
Container gardening has been a significant part of garden design for centuries. Plants and flowers contained in a movable space add an element of finesse and dimension to an otherwise stagnant horizon. In addition, small spaces and areas that typically would not lend themselves to planting gain a sense of living beauty. Not only can containers be appreciated for what has been planted inside, the pot itself can be a sculpture to admire. In addition, the ways in which containers are placed or, “the art of display,” is yet another feature of design. While there are no “rules” to container gardening, over the years I’ve compiled some basic elements to consider when trying your hand at this naturally chic hobby.
Soil amendment is one of the most important aspects of container gardening. I’ve spent quite a bit of money experimenting with pre-packaged potting soils, granular rock additives, or anything the local nursery promises will create lasting beauty for my arrangement. This year, because time and money was a consideration, I used a mixture of primarily top soil with a hint of soil conditioner and the plants are thriving! Keeping to a consistent watering schedule is important too, especially for containers receiving direct or afternoon sun and for flowers that like moist soil. Because pots planted for the summer do require more watering than those planted for fall, winter, or spring, remember that they will also require more feeding. Any fertilizer should work whether you decide to add a loose granular, a concentration to mix with water, or a fertilizer spike.
Choosing what to plant and where to place it is also noteworthy. Sun is always a factor, whether direct or indirect. If you have an area that is partially shaded, choose plant materials that are intended for part or full sun and don’t anticipate having to water them too frequently unless temperatures are high. On the other hand, areas that receive full sun during the summer months are better suited for plants clearly marked as such and will require watering almost every day, unless of course an afternoon shower does the work for you. If that type of demand does not fit your schedule, consider planting succulents which are much more drought tolerant than typical summer annuals.
When attempting the design element of container gardening, choose a pot that reflects the architectural style of either the structure or landscape surrounding it. The width, height and whether it will be stationary or hanging also play into the overall scheme. Think about how tall the plant will grow, how wide it will spread, and whether it will climb or trail. When grouping plants and flowers together in a single pot, plan ahead for what will stay and what will go at the end of the season. For instance, if you have planted an evergreen central to the container surrounded by a trailing vine and a flowering annual, more than likely the only thing in need of replacing for the next season should be the annuals. On the other hand, if the pot consists of a variety of perennials and annuals, the perennials can be trimmed back and/or replanted and the annuals can be removed and tossed in the compost pile. There are a multitude of combinations that can be expressed in any container creation using basic design fundamentals such as color, texture, and size.
Container placement is also a key to successful design. Sometimes a container positioned by itself can be very impactful. Other times a grouping works best. Allow the area in which the containers are displayed to dictate how they are arranged. For instance, a large container works well to soften a patio corner. A grouping of small containers might warm a front porch. Even a modern look can be achieved with a single plant in a simple container repeated in a linear fashion. When done effectively, containers can enhance any area by complimenting or contrasting the surrounding color, creating interest, and filling voids in empty spaces. Some of the best designs continue to move the eye, adding significant detail to landscape and outdoor living areas throughout any season.
These few tips and tricks should get your started with containers and alleviate some of the guess work. Although there are many variables to plan for and choices to make, start small and be practical. Get into the habit of trying a new plant variety each season and see how it grows. Continuously add to your collection of pots. Remember, containers are not permanent fixtures, so if you need to move them around for the sake of your plants survival, or to change the look of an area, then do so. Consider it a constant work in progress – a look that is never fully complete.