If you’re planning to break into gardening as a beginner but you seem intimidated by all that soil in your front and backyard, why not go for container gardening. It’s an even smaller version than gardening on the ground with a small garden and you’ll have plenty of fun with the containers and moving around of the plants.
Having a container garden is the lighthearted version of gardening. Container gardening requires less energy, space, and time than ground planting. It’s a load of fun and lighter on your budget, unless you want to start spending more on exotic and expensive planters, pots, and other materials, including unconventional vessels and antique decors. All you need to remember with containers is that it needs to hold soil while providing adequate drainage without losing the soil.
If you are unsure about how to go about or start a container garden, feel free to research as much as you can on the Internet, because gone are the days when you had to buy gardening magazines just to study up on gardening. The actual fun in container gardening is playing around with so many different types of containers with so many different plants. And since containers are portable, you can move them around and play with proper placement. No matter where or what your house is, container gardens can add liveliness and color patterns to an ordinary and drab surroundings such as a blank wall or fence while providing high points to landscaping.
Container gardening doesn’t overwhelm, unlike ground planting or having a greenhouse. What could overwhelm a beginner are the hundreds upon hundreds of choices of plants, pots, containers, and not to mention choosing among glazed, terra-cotta, fiberglass, metal, and plastic ones at that. Choosing may not be easy but never intimidating. Choosing becomes fun when you are able to plan out by knowing what kind of outdoor you have at home, what your goals are in arranging the container garden, and your budget, of course.
Create a Vignette
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A vignette is simply arranging the container garden so that the plants form a sort of story or statement. Some examples include:
- The common triangle formation. No, this isn’t the famous triangle formation in basketball or football. Containers can be grouped into vignettes the same way plants can. For instance, a triangle arrangement of containers will produce fast and pleasing results. For design terms, a triangle consists of a dominant central element flanked by components of smaller stature. This form is a staple of all art forms for good reason because it always works.
- A single pot can dominate. A container grouping will look very nice if the tallest element is placed at the back of the group composition with the other pots on either side. Plant the tall container with something appropriately commanding so it will truly dominate the grouping.
- Experiment as much as you want. To expand on the classic triangle grouping, simply add more subordinate pots. While there are no rules set in stone for this, concerning how many to use is entirely up to you. It is easier to arrange uneven numbers into a pattern. Try mixing and matching by having a basic triangular vignette in the middle, add irregular triangles of pots of different sizes, a plant stand with small pots, and a garden décor such as a metal sculpture or terra cotta dwarfs.
Add Focal Points
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This is the exact opposite of the triangular design. Instead of a trio or a group of containers, have a single container stand out instead.
- Provide something to look at. The purpose of a focal point is to attract attention. If you are burdened with an area where nothing is really attracting, a container will quickly fill that gap. Because they can be planted and replanted with colorful, eye-catching plants, containers have the advantage over ground-planted combinations that will remain permanent.
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- Create coherence in mixed plantings. The opposite of having nothing to look at is having too much to look at. Often in a mixed combination of ground plants, there may be so much going on that one isn’t sure where to look first. Adding a focal point provides a sense of order to such almost chaotic scenes.
Break Up Wall Space
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Tired of looking at a blank wall space or wall fence at the side or back of your house? This is where container gardens come in.
- Massed containers bring a bland background to life. The rigid, repetitive pattern of a brick wall or high-walled fence can be tiring to the eye. But when flushed with lush masses of foliage and colorful flowers, the lines of mortar become the perfect blurred background for the massed container plants. The terra-cotta pots will echo the warm color of the brick. The clusters of bright red flowers will contrast with the darker orange and the greens of the foliage, bringing the whole thing to life.
- Fine texture stands out against a plain wall. A plain, unadorned wall with its monotony and mass will dominate an area any time with its blandness. You can take advantage of any bland wall feature by using it as a backdrop for fine-textured foliage that can often get lost on a large scale. For instance, large pots of small trees with fine foliage can be evenly spaced along a perfectly plain wall. A border of wispy ornamental grass reinforces the container plantings so that, together, they hold their own against the bulk of the wall.
- Saturated colors work with a light backdrop. Without any container plants, an ordinary and unadorned white wall will dominate an area with glaring brightness. But as the background for a dense, complex arrangement of containers with forms and colors, it is perfect.
Try Mostly Foliage Instead of Flowers
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When putting together a large container with three or four plants in it, try to zero in on the leaves first. Flowers are nice, but they come and go, so when there are no flowers, the plants look ordinary. If you can assemble a container combination that looks good with just all-foliage, you won’t have a need for the flowers. You can instead plant flowers individually in separate containers and place them somewhere else in the garden. Plants with interesting foliage can bring structure, texture, or color to the container. The best foliage plants will have all three qualities. Start by placing the most eye-catching plant in the lead. After you have planted the leader plant, get other plants and place them beside it to see if they have a contrasting beauty, pretty much like seeing if outfits match when worn together.
When mixing and matching plants, also keep the textures in mind. Choosing a blend of glossy, matte, or fuzzy leaves will give the grouping an added level of interest, as will combining fine, broad, rounded, or jagged foliage. Try to use contrasting texture to create dramatic container plantings. You can even try hefty, bold leaves, but the key to all this is to choose a variety of textures. Too much of one texture, such as large, chunky leaves, is like colorful pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that don’t quite go together until you find the connecting pieces in the form of fine-textured plants.
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Here is an example of a proven combination planted in a single medium to large plant container:
- Plant an ‘Excalibur’ caladium (Caladium bicolor‘Excalibur’) at the center of a container because of its large and smooth leaf foliage.
- Plant a ‘Fairy’ Rex begonia (Begonia‘Fairy’) at either the left or right side. It is smaller than the caladium but it has beautiful decorative leaves that look nice below the caladium.
- Plant a ‘Mint Frost’ heuchera (Heuchera‘Mint Frost’) at the bottom of the caladium, either on the left or right side, depending on where the begonia is.
- Plant a Creeping wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris) below the caladium and begonia so its stem and leaves will droop out of the container.
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When designing a container garden, try planting a beautiful shrub or tree in a large unusual or artistic container and place it in a prominent spot in the container garden as a focal point. Plant a low growing plant or shrub on its base to create a more alluring effect or just have the tree alone for a more dramatic appeal.
Group container plants according to their height to create a garden-like. Place the tall plants and trees in the back and short and low growing plants in front. You can vary plant height with plant stands, or put empty pots and empty buckets upside down to use as makeshift bases or pedestals. Create more interest by increasing the number of pots. Always place large and heavy pots directly on the ground rather than on bases or pedestals. These may easily topple over and their size and weight will make the pot break easily. You can use pedestal pots or pedestal stands to draw attention to the interesting foliage plants or delicate flowers that might otherwise be overlooked in a grouping. If you are using ugly pots and plants stands because they are very much usable, you can disguise these by placing containers in front of them. This will also create the illusion that the plants are larger than they actually are.
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Other Important Tips to Consider When Designing a Container Garden
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After all is said and done, take a look around your home and see how much space is available for container gardening. In devising your container garden plans, make sure not to overfill the available spaces with too much containers. It’s better to plant and maintain just three or four containers with beautiful plants rather than having too much in too little a space.
Decide how much time you are willing or able to spend to caring for your plants. Whatever you decide at this point will help you design a suitable layout for your container garden.
Grow only the plants that you can or what your family has decided to eat, if it’s a vegetable container garden. Do your research and start planting with simple plants and work your way up to more complicated ones or combinations.
Water as often as needed or as instructed for that type of plant to keep soil damp. Outdoor plants, even in containers, need to be watered almost daily, unlike indoor plant varieties.
Outdoor container garden plants need full sunlight, so these plants thrive better than in the shade. Container gardens need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day to thrive.
All outdoor container gardens will always have a resting period in the winter. This is also your resting period from your garden. However, even in winter, take time to check on the plants from time to time. Don’t water the plants or else they may die of frostbite. However, just before the end of winter or during the start of spring, fertilize the plants every two weeks because this is the growing season.
Use fresh and enriched soil at the start of planting. Give plants some breathing room. If plants are crowded in a large container, compensate for lack of root space with frequent light liquid fertilizer feedings.
Provide good drainage so as to remove excess water. Never allow excess water to collect in any container plant. You want the soil to be damp, not flooded. For this, make sure the containers have at least one small hole at the bottom for excess water to drain out. Make sure the holes are big enough for soil to run through or else you’ll have soil erosion.
Avoid areas that are frequently hit by strong winds especially for native tropical plants. Plants might get damaged or the container may topple over and break, especially for terra cotta and glass pots and containers.
Mist leafy plants during dry low-humidity weather. To be successful, container garden designs can be made in advance and held to a manageable size.