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Tips for growing a container garden

The best thing about growing plants in pots is the ability to have an ever-changing display of seasonal plants. If you have limited space, a dull corner that needs lifting or you just love pots, then get busy creating a wonderful collection of container plants.

Adorn your garden with small alpines
If you like small, delicate flowering plants that can sit at eye level or off the ground in groups, then a good way to start a container garden is by planting alpines. You can use an old sink or trough to great effect as a container. First, make some drainage holes in the base, then fill it with a soil-based compost mixed with some grit, plant your alpines and finish off with a generous layer of grit or small gravel on top. These larger containers are very heavy once filled, so make sure you site them first before planting. Alpines need good drainage and prefer a sunny spot. Some varieties, such as our native celandine, also grow in a woodland habitat and can be seen in woodland hedges or verges. Alpines are relatively cheap to buy and the variety of colours available is endless. Choose from varieties of dianthus, helianthemum, saxifrage, achillea, alyssum, aubretia, campanula, erodium, gentiana, geranium and oxalis to name but a few.

Browse small gardens on Houzz to give you some design inspiration

Complement a minimal terrace
If you’d like to add container plants to a roof terrace or a patio without cluttering up the space, here’s a great way to create a chic retreat. In this roof-top garden, clipped buxus balls sit neatly in tall, tapered pots, which echo the large, sculptural purple allium heads in the corner planter. The alliums are underplanted with soft lavender, so the homeowners can enjoy the sweet scent in their stylish surroundings. If you’re planting buxus in pots, they’ll need a liquid feed during the summer months and regular watering so they never dry out. Top dress established potted buxus in the spring with fresh compost and a slow- release fertiliser. To enjoy even more fragrance, you could also grow some potted mint – perfect for adding to your drinks while relaxing on the rooftop.
Contemporary Landscape

Go for bold symmetry
For a classic look, and to add a touch of drama to your plot, use the same style and size of pots in a row, all in the same, strong colour. When placed along a fence and planted with the same trailing variety of plant, the matching containers immediately disguise a bland backdrop, as shown here, and add a wow factor to what could have been a very ordinary bed. Using the same plant adds to the elegance and creates a clean, unfussy look. Unless you’re using a pair of pots either side of a door, it’s more effective to place containers in groups of threes or fives – odd numbers are always more pleasing to the eye.

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Calvin Street - The Courtyard

Grow upwards
A vertical ‘green wall’ has become very popular in urban gardens. Although it’s not technically container gardening, the plants are held in small pockets, where they are watered and fed so that they grow and cover the wall. You can grow perennial and evergreen plants and ferns over a wall as well as herbs, fruit and vegetables. Green walls could be seen as the urban equivalent of a hedge, providing a habitat for insects and reducing pollution. If you’re planning on having a green wall, check which plants are suitable for the position of your wall. If you want to care for it yourself – lots of companies that supply green walls also offer maintenance – you may need to replace some plants from time to time, so if the planting is very high, make sure you have a steady ladder!

How to create a Container Garden

Make it edible
Growing edible crops in containers is relatively easy and looks stunning, as these elegant pots at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show demonstrate.  Some vegetables have very large root systems, so choose a container that’s deep and wide enough to accommodate them and which won’t dry out. Using small pots can result in a lack of moisture and nutrients for plant roots, so go for a minimum depth and width of about 46cm. Keep your vegetable and fruit well watered. Plants such as tomatoes are greedy feeders and need a lot of water, so you’ll need to keep an eye on them if they’re in containers. There are lots of inventive planting you can do with fruit and veg. Try planting chives around the base of standard bay trees – other edible crops look better planted with similar varieties or on their own. Blueberries look lovely in pots but are acid loving, so make sure you use ericaceous compost. Fig trees, especially the variety ‘Brown Turkey’, do well in pots too, as restricting the root growth encourages fruiting.


Place a container centre stage
Make a statement on a patio by placing an oversized planted pot in the middle. This will not only add impact, but also create a central feature to look at – a similar effect to having a statue at the end of the garden. Use one variety of plant in your central pot for greater impact; the deep blue flowers of the salvias in this garden combine well with the aged terracotta urn. Another trick that adds height and interest to a border is to nestle a large pot among other plants. This works well in very wet and dark borders, where little grows and the area needs ‘lifting’ visually.

Tone it down
Choosing which plants to use in a small container garden can be hard, especially if you want your space to look after itself as much as possible. The plants used in this balcony garden, when teamed with the mellow aged wood of the long planter, help to make the compact space feel larger. This is because the muted greens of the plants and the subtle touch of burgundy from the heuchera don’t shout out or jar the eye, but instead soften the whole corner, making it appear to have more depth and space. Bright colours can make the eye stop and not follow the flow of the planting, so they can make a space seem smaller. Use bright shades with caution in a small area unless you really love bold planting.


Have herbs at your fingertips
If you like cooking, what could be better than having fresh herbs within easy reach? Herbs are perhaps the most rewarding of container plants and can easily be grown indoors or outside.  Growing herbs is also a good way to start a container garden. To keep herbs healthy in pots, pick the tips regularly and feed  with a liquid seaweed while they are growing. Rosemary, bay, thyme, sage, coriander and sorrel grow particularly well in containers. Basil needs warm sun if grown outside, and parsley will die after a couple of years once it has flowered, so you’ll need to replant it. Plant herbs together or mix them in with other plants in containers. Mint is actually better grown in a pot rather than in a flower bed as it tends to run and you will be forever cursing it – despite the lovely smell!

Want your potted supermarket herbs to live longer? Follow these essential tips


Pick the perfect pot
A courtyard garden is ideal for containers and can really bring the outdoors inside – especially in this verdant spot. The glass panels on the doors let the homeowners see the pots and plants clearly from inside – so choose your planters well if you’re likely to see them a lot from indoors. Planting in pots means you can have an ever-changing floral display, so your choice of pots is crucial if you want to create a particular look. Choose classic terracotta containers if you want a timeless feel or opt for sleek, angular concrete or metal pots if you prefer something more contemporary. You can even transform old decorative tins and olive oil cans into containers to create a boho, eclectic feel. The choice is endless. Don’t be afraid to plant large shrubs or trees in containers, this will add to the feeling of space and the added height will provide interest. 

Discover how to create an amazing courtyard garden with a definite wow factor

How to create a Container Garden

Showcase a single specimen
Using an individual shrub in a container can add real impact to your space. Here, a soft-hued hydrangea has been used which blends well with its glazed pot to make a statement at the corner of a building. If you go for hydrangeas, be sure to plant them in ericaceous compost as it’s an acid-loving plant. If you want to pot a single plant that has lots of fragrance, try Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, a compact plant which produces scented blooms from April through to October.

Claudia De Yong

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