Container gardens are excellent devices for the space-challenged gardener or the garden with a trouble spot. They can add a jolt of colour or a small pocket of serenity. What you quickly learn is that the container is as important as the plants to providing a satisfying visual experience. Here are a few of the lovely books inspiring me this year.
Succulent Container Gardens: Design Eye-Catching Displays with 350 Easy-Care Plants by Debra Lee Baldwin (Timber Press 2010)
Succulents are the perfect plant for container gardening in Calgary. Abetted by our strong sunshine and dry climate, containers dry out quickly. Succulents get by with minimal water, so are more forgiving for absent-minded gardeners. Succulents have impressive sculptural qualities that add texture to the garden; their little leaves are bulked up like young dudes on steroids.
Baldwin’s containers are varied and interesting. Hard materials, such as crushed gravel, polished pebbles, marbles or driftwood, complement colourful plants.
Successful Container Gardening: 75 Easy-to-Grow Flower and Vegetable “Gardens” by Joseph R. Provey (Creative Homeowner 2010)
Provey suggests winning combinations like planting rosemary with oregano, pineapple mint and lavender and recommends saving 4-gallon nursery containers for larger vegetables like squash. “Chard is one of those amazing plants that’s difficult to eat fast enough," he says. Not quite my experience last summer.
The book has clear instructions for making hypertufa containers. Hypertufa is a composition of Portland cement, peat moss, sand and vermiculite. Planters made from this material mimic old stone water troughs which are expensive, hard to heft as well as hard to find.
(Find easy-to-follow instructions online as well from sources like Fine Gardening and Martha Stewart.)
Container Gardening: Fresh Ideas for Outdoor Living by Hank Jenkins (Sunset 2010)
“Think of containers as problem-solvers,” advises Jenkins. You can target these tiny perfect gardens to suit your situation. They can be customized for sun or shade, ornamental or edible. They might feature scent or water. Choose the container to suit your style, for example, contemporary, formal or rustic.
I love the Japanese-inspired combination of spiky grass-like rush encircled by Scotch moss on p. 104. His chef’s special combines Early Girl tomato with purple ruffles basil, garlic chives and jalapeno chili in a galvanized tub.
Continuous container gardens : swap in the plants of the season to create fresh designs year-round by Sara Begg Townsend (Storey Pub. 2010)
The title says it all. One of the delights of container gardening is that a failed experiment or just end-of-season weedy growth can be refreshed into a beauty spot with new plants to suit the season and it’s not a deep-pocket enterprise. If you hit the garden centers late in the season, there are beautiful bargains for refilling pots.
For those who enjoy formal gardens, Container Topiary (2003) by Susan Berry shows how to sculpt plants into globes, spirals and standards. Standards are neat balls of flowers or foliage on top of a clear stem – lollipop plants. For garden whimsy, twist wire into bird and animal shapes to support the plants which are trimmed to the shape.
Better Homes and Gardens Complete guide to container gardening by Kate Carter Frederick (John Wiley & Sons, 2010) demonstrates the creation of planters from concrete pavers that are budget-friendly containers with contemporary flair (p. 46).
Salvage Style in Your Garden: Inspirational ideas and over 30 projects for using rescued and recycled materials in the garden by Moira and Nicholas Hankinson (2001). Upcycling hits the deck with this old charmer. The Hankinsons repurpose an old dining chair into a planter by removing the upholstered seat and fitting it with a zinc tray drilled with holes for drainage.
Other planters are made from packing cases, waste bins, spray-painted tires and even an ex-army latrine bucket. Who knew there was such a thing?
Canadian Gardening shows an old boot filled with succulents:
As I tripped around the web, I found old boots with plants surprisingly popular.
The moral of the story is that anything that can hold an adequate amount of soil and water – and appeals to your aesthetic soul (no matter how outré) – can contain a plant.