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Tips for Beautiful Containers
by Lesley Reynolds
by Lesley Reynolds

email: lreynolds@saltspring.com

Lesley Reynolds is a freelance garden writer who was born in England and emigrated to Regina as a child. Lesley has always loved plants and the natural environment and has gardened in Saskatchewan and Alberta for over 20 years, spending most of that time in Calgary. For the past seven years, Lesley has been working with her friend and writing partner Liesbeth Leatherbarrow and they have several best-selling gardening books to their credit.

In August 2001, Lesley moved with her family to Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. She is enjoying learning how to garden on the west coast and is busy planning a brand new garden.


June 23, 2002

It’s almost planting time and many prairie gardeners are already turning their thoughts to creating lush and beautiful container plantings to adorn their gardens this summer. Container planting is easy and suits any size and style of garden. Creative gardeners love the flexibility and inspiration offered by containers, as container location and design can vary from year to year. Here are a few tips to get you started:

· Choose containers that suit the mood of your garden, and to achieve a harmonious look try not to mix too many pots of differing styles or materials. Combine different heights and shapes within a single style of container rather than mixing materials. Simple, unadorned containers are best to show off elaborate floral groupings.

· Match plant size to container size. Substantial, large-leaved plants show best in ample containers. Give large containers plenty of space so that they are in proportion to their surroundings. It is best to use a grouping of smaller pots in confined spaces. Small containers should be grouped together and suit single plant specimens, alpines, and dainty, small-leaved or small-flowered plants. Smaller containers also work well for single-color themes. Shallow clay pans or saucers are ideal for miniature plants and succulents.

· Use vertical spaces by affixing pots on walls or suspending them from wall-mounted brackets. Hanging baskets make good use of limited space and vary the heights of container plantings. They may be mounted on walls or hung from gazebos, pergolas, porch ceilings, lampposts, or trees. Remember that hanging baskets should be placed where drips aren't a problem. Box and trellis planters for vines can be placed against walls or used as moveable screens.

· Don't sacrifice foliage interest for too much color. Foliage serves an essential function as a background for flowers, and many exquisite container designs are based upon foliage alone. Successful container designs exploit the huge variety of foliage colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. Quite apart from a palette of greens, leaves come in shades from dark purple to blue to yellow to silver, not to mention the many variegated plants now available. Foliage may be solid and bold, feathery and delicate, soft and fuzzy, smooth and shiny, or rough and spiky. Try combining different textures in a container arrangement.

· Limit colors to about three per container and avoid the use of too many variegated plants in one pot. Plant colors should complement the colors of surrounding walls, fences, furniture, and garden. Natural wood, stone, and cement offer a neutral background to any container composition; brightly painted walls and fences or red brick can be more difficult to work with.

· Don't match flower colors too closely to containers. The color and design of the container should not distract from the plants. Don't put profusely flowering plants in richly ornamented, glazed pots or the effect will be too busy.

· A good soil mix is essential to successful container gardening. Good commercial mixes are available and there are as many recipes for good container soil mixes as there are gardeners, and no single one is superior to others. Keep in mind that whatever soil mix you choose should be light enough to crumble easily in the hand and drain freely, but substantial enough to retain moisture. Do not use pure garden soil in containers. Most prairie soil is heavy with a high clay content, and becomes hard and crusted on the surface.

· Do your homework before purchasing plants. Consider whether the container will be located in sun, part sun, or shade, and the amount of wind it is likely to be exposed to. Consider the size and shape of plants when fully grown. Make a list of plants that suit the prevailing growing conditions and your color and design requirements.

· For hanging baskets select vines and plants with branching or arching growth habits rather than those that grow in an erect fashion. If you find it difficult to water on summer mornings before you rush off to work, it's wise to select plants that don't mind drying out a bit between waterings.

· Annuals offer many advantages to container gardeners: there is a huge variety of flower and foliage colors and forms to choose from; there are annuals to suit any growing conditions; they grow quickly, bloom for a long time, have shallow roots and are easy to care for. Annuals are often classified as hardy, half-hardy, or tender. Hardy annuals are tolerant of several degrees of frost and can be sown directly outside or put out in containers early; most hardy annuals, like pansies, don't like strong heat. Half-hardy annuals will tolerate temperatures down to freezing, but are not frost resistant, whereas tender annuals will die at temperatures at or even near freezing.

· Perennials are enjoyed as container plants for their incredibly diverse blooms and wonderful foliage effects. Unlike annuals, most individual perennials do not bloom for the entire summer, however, many offer delightful foliage for summer-long color and texture. Some perennials, such as ferns, hostas, and ornamental grasses are used for foliage alone. Because the roots of perennials are not sufficiently insulated in above-ground containers to withstand the extreme temperatures of a prairie winter, to say nothing of the extreme freeze-thaw cycles common throughout the Chinook zone, even hardy perennials should be planted in the garden in the fall, unless pots can be extremely well insulated and grouped in an area where they are not subject to temperature fluctuations.

· Container-grown small shrubs and trees are elegant additions to formal gardens, but like perennials they must be protected for winter or brought indoors. Hardy shrubs and trees are best kept outdoors either buried in the garden or in well insulated pots, whereas many tender broad-leaved evergreens, like bay trees, are happy wintering indoors.

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