African Garden + [winter]

A Policy of Containment

This post is part of Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop.

I am a recent convert to the benefits of container gardening. There has always been a "fixture" container that came with the property when I bought my houses. Here at Squirrelhaven, there were two half whiskey barrel planters, one by the front door and one on the back patio. I used these containers mostly for annuals. But it is only in the last few years that my container gardening adventures have moved beyond these basics.

My back garden is mostly shaded mini-woodland, not conducive to a vegetable garden, and I am not such a good designer that I can attractively incorporate edibles into my increasingly less sunny front garden. My solution for growing vegetables? Pot them up. The back patio has enough direct sun to grow veggies in containers. At first I tried terra cotta pots, but they dried out too quickly. Then I tried the thin, cheap plastic pots, but things rotted in them. My most successful vegetable plantings and outdoor seed startings were in two plastic-lined baskets. I poked holes in the plastic for drainage, which rendered them, in the words of Goldilocks, "just right." I've used these baskets for three years now, and it looks like it's time for replacements.

The baskets would have lasted longer had they not been left out over the winter, but we have no shed, so storage space is a problem. This lack of space is the main reason why I do not use ceramic planters for my ornamental containers. Containers around here need to be durable enough to be left outside all winter. The whiskey barrel planters lasted a long time, but last spring when the one in the back started falling apart, I decided to replace it and the one on the front porch as well. I've never liked the look of the whiskey barrel planters; they were too rustic for their setting. Instead, I found new planters made of fiberglass and plastic which mimic the look of ceramic which I love. I bought two matching planters for the front, a large container for the back, and this green one for where ever I found a place to put it.

These new containers are perfect for my ornamental container gardening. They hold moisture better than terra cotta, but with the bottom plug removed, do not water log the plants. For a planting of annuals, I use potting soil with fertilizer in it. For growing perennials in containers, I mix potting soil with equal parts compost or leaf mold and (horrors!) garden soil. I add a slow release fertilizer to these containers every spring. I use perennials that are at least one Zone hardier than my Zone 5, and the plants have never been winter killed. I learned my lesson about using polystyrene peanuts to make the containers light enough to move. No, instead, for large containers, I put an upside down nursery pot with drainage holes in the bottom of the container and then put the potting soil over that. To keep the soil from washing out of the bottom of the containers, I put a square of window screening over the drainage hole.
In planting the ornamental containers, I try to follow Steve Silk's recipe of Thriller, Filler, Spiller design.

Later in summer, the Spiller, Scaevola, spilled down over the edge of this front walk container. The TFS plan also works for mixed or all perennial plantings, although the Thriller of this grouping, a Pelargonium, had finished blooming by the time this photo was taken.

I have one terra cotta container that I had to have because I love its shape. It gets cleaned out in fall, its plants relocated to the garden or a more durable container, and the pot itself goes inside for the winter. Instead of constantly watering this container, I plant it with Sempervivums and a Sedum/Hylotelephium.

They're happy, I'm happy.

I also have my Cacti in terra cotta and ceramic pots because they have to go inside for the winter anyway.

This is my most utilitarian container

a stump which has stubbornly refused to break down. To hasten the process, I planted this Painted Fern in the decayed cavity.

The fern seemed to enjoy its moist new home.
Recently, I picked up these two containers.

What I wanted was a combination of these two: tall and cobalt. Of course it was sold out. If I see it again, I'll get it. In the meantime, I have to find homes for these containers, which make a focal point on their own, even empty.I'm still a neophyte container gardener. Someday, I hope to have enough containers so that I can combine individual planters of Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers.