Container gardening is one of the most flexible and versatile ways of growing plants and the diversity of candidates for these conditions is rivalled only by the variety of pots to put them in. Equally at home in the most restricted of plots as in the largest of gardens, container gardening has become immensely popular with generations of modern gardeners seeking to maximise the impact of limited spaces such as patios, balconies or roof gardens.
The idea of growing plants in containers to bring life to courtyards and paved areas is centuries old – dating back to Roman times and beyond – though today’s gardener enjoys a selection of plants, containers and growing media quite unknown to the ancients. Although, of course, these growing conditions are essentially artificial, a remarkable range of plants will thrive perfectly well, provided their watering needs are met – and it is surprising how quickly containers can dry out in even the most average of British summers.
Container gardening can also allow plants to be grown which would not normally tolerate the soil conditions of the main garden – making it possible to enjoy the widest possible array of species by using specialist compost mixes.
The selection of the containers and pots themselves really depends on personal taste, the overall design of the garden and the size of plants they need to house. Within these broad confines, the choice is very open and the increasing popularity of this style of gardening means that even the smallest of garden centres is likely to have a good selection of possible options.
The range available is very large – from traditional unglazed terracotta to the opulence of polished marble – so there will be something to suit every garden style and every gardener’s pocket. Modern materials such as plastic and fibreglass bring their own benefits too, in terms of lightness and water retention – an important consideration for keeping the container garden as low-maintenance as possible, particularly if the number of pots in the collection is a big one.
To generate the best effect, the plants and their container should complement one another, rather than competing for attention – so bold, colourful pots need to be matched with an equally striking planting scheme.
Few approaches to gardening offer anything like the number of possible planting schemes – making container growing a great way to experiment with different styles and designs, if that appeals. It also permits different areas within the plot to have their own unique look, without irrevocably committing the whole landscaping project to follow any one particular vision.
It is perfectly possible to grow a single specimen in a container – whether that is a little touch of the exotic such as a Cordyline or a Japanese maple (Acer) or a more traditional bay tree or frame-trained ivy. Alternatively, mixed plantings can make very successful subjects, though it is a good idea to select plants which share similar needs in terms of water, soil and sunshine to make sure they all thrive. Architectural schemes call for the plants to be chosen for their colour, shape or texture to make their own unique impact.
Siting Pots and Containers
Containers can be used as individual features to lend a focal point to a particular area, or incorporated into the garden itself to underpin the overall design. In formal gardens, a repeated line of containers can reinforce the geometry of the scheme, while an informal space benefits from a looser, less defined placement. Containers arranged in matched pairs can be a very effective way of marking the change between different parts of the garden, while using them in amongst traditional beds can create a contrast and provide a new perspective to the shape of the border.
In paved areas and patios, pots and containers can be used to create a formal entrance or walkway, or to inject a riotous splash of colour to an otherwise uninteresting corner. Pots of differing sizes, arranged in tiers and planted up imaginatively with colourful flowers can provide more than enough interest to brighten the dullest of back yards.
There is almost no end to the kinds of plants or types of pots and containers which lend themselves to this kind of gardening – nor to the number of ways in which you can use them. Offering unparalleled versatility, the only real limit is your own imagination – so enjoy yourself and be creative with containers!