There was a time when my gardens just flowers and herbs in pots: dozens of them, all shapes and sizes, crammed full of annuals.
They were everywhere…. On the deck, the stairs, the walkway and even on the fence.
Sometimes our space to garden is not very big or perhaps so big, we are overwhelmed and don't know where to start… I suggest starting with containers and fill them with flowers, tomatoes, strawberries or herbs.
(I know this page is about summer containers, but if you are reading this in winter, then check the Outdoor Arrangements for Winter.... )
If you're a new gardener, eager but not sure where to start, planting a few containers with your favourite annuals or small veggies- it's a great place to start.
Many of us have verandas or decks, balconies or tiny front doors. No matter what our spaces are, we can make the most of them by dressing them up and giving them a bit of ‘glam’.
I used to think a container or planter was a clay flower pot… but imagine what you could plant in an old claw-foot bathtub – or an old rubber boot. A container is anything that holds soil and large enough for a plant to grow.
Haunt yard and tag sales for something different…. Or your basement or attic…. Could be a basket, bucket or baby bath.
Think of planters as a moveable feast for your eyes. From your front door to your back. From the deck to the pathway. From your balcony to your living room. Think colour – and lots of it.
SPEAKING OF COLOUR, now is a good time to talk about how to choose colours. The fun part of container gardens is how flexible you can be… how you can add zip to your spaces… or a sense of calm.
Containers are a great way to create or move a focal point and even though you may choose one overall colour scheme, there is no reason not to change things up, add a little spice and choose totally opposite colours.Let it draw your eye from one place in your garden, to another.
The garden below is full of varying shades of pink... look what adding orange with the blue does to a focal point:it draws your eye to that back garden.
How about the next colours? Do they change how you feel? are they energetic, calm or relaxed?
Of course, we can always follow nature by using a mixture of colours… reds, yellows, purples all together… a ‘riot of colour’ - because it looks like an artist spilled her paint box in your planter.
The nicest thing about containers is that every year you can have a new colour scheme limited only by your imagination.
You can put them at any level- hanging from a tree branch, on a deck railing or on the ground. Think about how you will water them.how easy that makes watering.
(Fuchsia is perfect for a shady spot - they won't overwinter in zones 6 and below but hummingbirds will easily find shelter from a nearby tree while feeding on those glorious colours.)
Container gardens don’t have to be just flowers… how about your own tomato plant ?– my Beautiful Daughter is new to gardening and has taken it on like dew to grass… and although I am a FLOWER gardener, she begged for her own tomato plant. Every day, she talks to it, checks it out for unwanted pests and every day it rewards her with larger tomatoes.
And 3 weeks later……
We will eat them with gusto when they ripen… beefsteak, and if we can do it, so can you… oh, and remember to plant some Basil at its base. (whether you say Bay-sil or Baa-sil…..) it helps to ward off the wee bugs that eat the tomatoes… besides, you'll want it closely for that tasty salad with tomatoes, balsamic and feta…. Mmm.
Last summer we bought a strawberry plant…. "Ever bearing" which means it keeps producing strawberries.
Strawberries symbolize the beginning of Summer for us… The Anishnaabe native people believe the Strawberry gives them strength. “Ode’min” is Anishnaabe for strawberry from the root word ‘ode’ which means heart. They believe the strawberry represents the heart, and they get together for the ‘Ode’min Giizis’ which is ‘strawberry moon’ in the sixth moon of their calendar to celebrate its sweetness.
It marks the beginning of Summer and the Summer Solstice. This symbolization of our one of our favourite fruits was reason enough for us to celebrate it too and plant one.
We have lots of black squirrels in our neighbourhood, so we decided to put the berry plant in a pot high upon a table on the deck… indeed, the squirrel came by and managed to break a small branch. Incensed, we placed a large iron blackbird in the pot… Mr. Squirrel did not like the bird and knocked it out of the plant. We stubbornly put it back.
Father’s Day was coming soon and the biggest berry, we decided, would be perfect that Sunday morning for my Most Handsome Son (MHS)…. We watered it, talked to it and that morning, we went out to fetch the perfect berry for his breakfast… and Mr. Squirrel had taken a bite out of each and every one…. Including THE ONE for MHS.
…Next time we will buy our berries at the market.
Your planters or containers can be even larger than pots on your deck or porch… how about beautiful antique urns? Glorious for a more formal garden. Indeed, they will be too heavy to move around or to put on most decks, but they make a delightful addition to any garden path or terrace.
Now that you know what colours you like, the pots you want, how much sun or shade you have, you can choose your flowers. Most likely they will be annuals, (perennials need to be planted in the ground) especially in northern climates such as ours (Zone 5) where we have frosts and cold winters… In the Fall, we empty the pots, and store them until Spring. In warm climates, they can move indoors or to a more sheltered spot.
Sunny spots are great for geraniums, petunias, lobelia and sweet alyssum etc…. lots of choice for colour too. Shady spots will do well with impatiens, streptocarpella (mauve flowers in pot above) begonias and coleus, etc.
HOW TO START?
You will need a container with holes in the bottom, for drainage or the roots could rot. Then the soil must be suitable for containers so it holds moisture if you cannot water regularly.
However, containers will need more water than your gardens may need. Especially hanging plants that seem to dry out daily. Don’t let the leaves get dry to the point of wilting or you could lose the whole plant in a few days…. And rainfall may not be enough… keep checking the soil.. stick your finger down about an inch… if it is dry underneath, it needs to be watered… Remember, wind dries them out too.
We soaked floral foam (that florists use in their arrangements) in water till it was really heavy, and put that in the bottom of our window boxes, then potting soil on top. Even in the hottest, driest summer in years, the boxes didn't need as much water as our other pots on the deck.
Stick your plants in the pot and fluff up the soil around them… I don't advocate fertilizing your perennial gardens because you will be adding compost regularly but most potting soil will need a boost because annuals need fertilizing because their whole purpose is to bloom and then die.
Remember - feed the soil and not the plant.
It will be messy as you plant, but take heart, the effort is worth it…. Most plants come from the greenhouse with flowers already blooming….If you have enough nerve, when you buy the plant, cut off the blooms and this will stimulate the plant to produce more.. lots more... for me? I seldom have the courage - I want that instant lush... I can be rather impatient.
In a few weeks, it will look like this…
Be brave with containers and pots. You can move them, change them, or give them away and next year, you can do it all again- different colours, different plants and different ideas.