If you're like me, you spend weeks poring over seed catalogs, envisioning a summer garden bursting with color and fragrance. It's no mistake that those catalogs arrive during the gray and drizzly days of winter! When gardening space is more limited than the imagination, you'll have a list, like mine, that contains more varieties than you can possibly cram into the existing beds and borders of the landscape. Rather than paring your plant list, why not think about growing things in containers as well as in beds and borders?
Gardening in containers allows me to grow herbs and vegetables right outside the door. There's nothing more satisfying than stepping outside, picking a ripe tomato, then rinsing it briefly and slicing it right into a salad. It's easy to bring fragrance to the patio and color to the balcony with a few well-placed hanging baskets. With attractive pots and barrels, I welcome guests to my front door, hide bare spots in the yard, increase my gardening area, and landscape instantly when I'm entertaining out-of-town relatives.
If you're interested in gardening in containers, don't go out and buy terra cotta or plastic pots until you've gone on a treasure hunt in your attic, basement, or garage. Almost any type of container can be used for planting, as long as it has holes in the bottom for draining excess water. If it's not possible to drill holes in the bottom of a container, put a layer of pebbles on the bottom and then place plants in plastic pots inside the container. Be creative! Old buckets and watering cans will take on new personalities when planted with brightly colored impatiens, pansies, or marigolds. A toy dump truck, spilling over with purple and white alyssum, is sure to draw attention when parked on the patio. Or, think how much fun it would be to see yellow and pink flowering sedums poking from a well-worn boot, or wooly thyme and violets springing from an old teapot. Even old Easter baskets, when lined with sphagnum moss and planted with parsley, will look fresh and bright all summer.
If using metal containers, choose plants that don't require afternoon sun. Direct sunlight will heat up the container and cook the roots. Regular soil from the garden can dry excessively within the confines of a container, so use a peat moss-based commercial potting mix.
When planting, fill the container halfway with potting soil, set the plants as you would in a garden bed, and then add soil around the roots. Water well to settle the soil. If you're sowing seeds directly, fill the container about two-thirds with soil, sprinkle seeds on top, lightly cover with potting mix, and water gently. In either case, watering may have to be done daily in summer, and this continued watering will quickly wash nutrients out of the growing medium. To combat this, I feed every other week with a diluted houseplant fertilizer. It's also important to keep faded blooms pinched off. This encourages more blooms and helps groom the plants.
So go ahead and find that perfect container to compliment your yard and show off those spring and summer blossoms.
Photography by Kate Jerome