I have come to believe that the career of a gardener should begin and end with containers. My Grandmother taught me this early on when I first expressed interest in her garden. I was just a small boy when she gave me a small terracotta container as an introduction to the world of gardening.
I had complete autonomy over my container and also complete responsibility. This experience taught me how and when to water my plants, how to nurture them and the joy of seeing my beautiful creation thrive. A far cry from the jar filled with beans and cotton that I did as a project in the second grade.
Anyway, as my experience and confidence grew, so did my containers. In time, I earned my own little section of my grandmother's garden. I was so thrilled and proud, and I credit my grandmother not only with encouraging my passion for gardening, but also showing me the benefits of container gardening in particular. Today, I set up bold new container creations in the little spaces on my property that produce a big impact. I love to incorporate herbs with perennials so that I can use the herbs in my summer cooking. Come fall, I find a home in the garden for the perennials. It's an unexpected mix, but all the more fun because of it!
For me, containers should be something made personally—not by an employee of a garden center. Sure, one can purchase pre-made hanging baskets and pop it into a container and call it a day, but what fun is that? Do you even know the names of the plants that are in it? I don't think so because if you knew the plants, you'd be making your own containers yourself. And what if you're asked "what are those small flowers in that container"? Oops, you're caught!!
Most people new to container gardening get hooked easily and quickly acquire many containers. For those with limited space, container gardening can be the answer to adding color, texture and life to areas that might otherwise be overlooked. I love to be bold and scatter a number of pot-planted hostas in the shady area under my pergola which add height, interest and drama. I find that if I'm going to take the time to plant something in a container, I only want to do it once. That said, I prefer to plant perennials rather than annuals. It's just my thing—hydrangeas, ferns and hostas are just a few of my favorite plants that provide a stunning display and something you don't see everyday. Now that's what I'm talking about!
As for types of containers, a lot depends on the weather and the look you want. Here in New England, stone planters or concrete containers stand up year-round to the changing weather, while terracotta pots can take a beating and crack under cold conditions. I've learned this the hard way. If you want to use terra cotta, just be certain to empty them and house them in the garage or shed for the winter. In winter, my garden studio is filled with all the terracotta pots from outside in addition to the large supply of various sizes that I keep on hand everyday.
Consider using non-traditional containers, too. In my efforts to be more earth-friendly, I've been trying to recycle and reuse items in my home in new creative ways. An old galvanized bucket has become a home for my fall mums. Simply by drilling a couple of holes in the bottom for drainage, I'm good to go. There are no limits to what you can use to hold beautiful plants. Think outside the "box", no pun intended and have fun and be creative. However, avoid old toilets or bathtubs please. Just kidding!
Here are some tips and ideas for a successful container garden:
Containers must be watered everyday, preferably in the early morning or early evening. If it's extremely hot, consider watering at both times. Your plants will thank you with beautiful flowers and lush green leaves. If you're going out of town, employ the watering services of a neighbor or even better a neighbor's kid. You won't have to come home to a wilted mess and you'll help a child earn some cash and perhaps introduce them to the wonderful world of gardening.
Do the watering by hand rather than by sprinkler if at all possible. Not only are you more certain to give each container a good, healthy soaking, it's the perfect time to enjoy the benefits of your hard work. I love to come home from a long day and spend time in the garden, weather I'm dead-heading flowers or discovering what's new, this is my time to relax. This "chore" for some and passion for me doesn't have to take a long time. I can get in and get out, a lot like when I call my mother, come to think of it. I make sure everything is ok, I tell her I love her and hang-up. No matter how you look at it, it it's a wonderful time to bond with nature and as the cliché goes "stop and smell the roses". Soon, you too will find that it is a rewarding task rather than a chore.
I got your back! There's no need to fill large containers with so much soil or rocks that you can't move them. Fill large pots halfway with those empty water bottles you would otherwise have to recycle. This will provide you with plenty of drainage and you will be able to change the placement of your containers with ease. I do this for my friends that can no longer carry or move heavy items. Just be certain to recycle them at the end of the season and start fresh each year.
Don't limit containers just to the outdoors. Bring the joy of container gardening inside by filling small containers with herbs for your kitchen window or by putting a fabulous house plant in an old urn on a pedestal or on a table. Remember to use a good potting soil from your local nursery or garden center rather than any old soil or dirt from outside. Even if you can get it free from the garden, you never want to invite outdoor bugs inside your home. Leave that to your pet.
Grow your own food. Several years ago when I started my side garden, I decided that I'd grow fresh tomatoes and lettuce in the herb garden. That came to a rather abrupt end when a woodchuck discovered my plan. I soon learned that he would win the battle over me ever growing vegetables again. What's a single guy to do? Pay full price and shop the local farmer's market as the alterative to growing it myself. So, Mr. Woodchuck got no more free meals from me! For many people enjoying a harvest of tomatoes that were home grown on the back porch works perfectly well and is even quite satisfying. Children especially enjoy the process of nurturing vegetable plants – and it may even entice them eat them, too! On my porch, I keep various herb planters near the back door so I can snip what I need when cooking.
Container gardening is a wonderful "entree" into the adventure of gardening. It's like taking a back road so you can slow down and take in the beauty of the landscape up close. For those looking to downsize the maintenance of a large yard or have moved into a condo or smaller quarters, it's a great option for adding beautiful foliage and flowers to nooks and crannies. However, no need to wait to downsize to enjoy the upside of container plantings. So, what are you waiting for? Look around and imagine a fabulous container filled with color and texture. Make one for a friend or a neighbor. They make a great host or hostess gift. It's the gift that keeps on giving even after the flowers have bloomed.
And there you have it.