If Great Britain is a nation of gardeners, then the same can definitely be said of Bermuda where almost every house, humble or grand, boasts a garden of some kind. For apartment or condominium dwellers or others with confined living or recreational space, container gardening is the answer. For pools, patios and entrances, plants in pots can provide a moveable landscape, one that can change with the seasons, be easily maintained and add colour and textural interest to even the smallest of areas. As our gardens “wind down” in midsummer we can still look forward to a feast of colourful flowers or a cool oasis of greenery provided by our pot gardens.
Almost any plant will look spectacular when massed in a pot and favourites like petunias, verbenas, geraniums, impatiens, portulaca, coleus etc., are summer standards.
The nurseries offer a marvellous variety of new annuals to choose from and experiment with both in our gardens and our containers. Plants with bulbs, corms or tubers like Asiatic or Easter lilies, daylilies and caladiums look spectacular in pots. Lilies can stay in their pots year-round with the addition of pine-bark nuggets to keep down weeds – one can turn a blind eye to the Easter lilies’ dying-down period, but one can easily dig them up and store them in sand or sawdust for the winter. The same goes for caladiums, but you can turn their saucers upside down on top of them and leave them under their tree. When they begin to sprout the following summer, refresh their soil, add timed-release fertiliser and replant them back in the same pots.
In a gardening year one can rotate the plants in your containers at least three times. Early in the New Year, plant impatiens or geraniums for a wonderful early display. After they have flowered, and run their course, dig them up and discard. Replace about half the potting soil as well as fertilizer and ad cosmos seeds (culled from the blooms of the previous summer and kept in the fridge) sprinkled on the surface and watered in. These seeds germinate quite rapidly, as would many annuals like violas and lobelia. In three weeks you’ll have a pot full of frothy cosmos (you can also buy seedlings at the nursery). These wonderful early summer flowers will self-seed and give another cycle of bloom. Caladiums are another great option and give a wonderful show all summer and new strains are very sun-tolerant.
Pots are available in myriad shapes and sizes and we now have many more options in our choice of materials in which they are made. Terra cotta still tops the list-and “faux terra cotta” pots of pvc or other synthetics are becoming more attractive, are more portable and hold moisture longer. Glazed ceramic pots from Italy, Mexico and the Far East inject colour into the setting and sturdy concrete is very durable and comes in classic shapes. For fun, almost anything that can have a drainage hole drilled through it will make a container garden-cum-conversation piece. An old wheelbarrow or a strawberry jar filled with herbs and veggies such as basil, sage, parsley, cherry tomatoes and lettuces will reward you with easy-to-pick ingredients for salads and cooking in an eye-catching display.
Pots look wonderful grouped together using various sizes with the larger ones at the back-elevate them if necessary by placing them on upturned pots or concrete blocks. Another effective method is to take three pots of graduated size-fill the largest with potting soil and sink the next smaller size into it part way, fill it and repeat with the smallest pot thereby forming a “pyramid” of pots to be filled with plants that cascade, like ivy geraniums.
Small pots tend to dry out quickly, so for a container garden using a number of plants choose at least a 5 gallon pot with a saucer. Saucers can elongate the period between waterings slightly, but in wet weather it is best not to let pots stand in water for a prolonged period of time for this may promote root rot.
A container garden can be treated just like very large flower arrangement. Ideally the height of the plants in maturity should be one and a half times taller than the height of the pot. This might not always be possible, but taller plants should be in the middle of the pot or towards the back if the pot is against a wall. If these plants will eventually be “leggy” make sure the plants in front of them will be fuller and rounder to cover the “legs” Place stronger colours and larger leaved plants-(note: larger-leaved plants are more drought-tolerant) lower in your “arrangement” and make sure there are plants around the edge that “drip over” or trail.
Choose your favourite colour scheme and use plants for their textural value as well. Naturally, make sure their requirements for sun or shade are similar and suited to the site of the pot.
When planning your pot garden it may be difficult when buying young plants to ascertain their habits and what they will look like in maturity. Your nursery assistant is invaluable for advice and will be only too happy to help. Books and magazines articles on the subject are very useful too.
- Loosen roots transplants by breaking apart or slashing bottom and sides with a small knife.
- Place a layer of stones or broken shards of a clay pot in the bottom of container to aid drainage (optional)
- Use ordinary good-quality potting soil-I find the brands with “goodies” added tend to be heavy. Moisten slightly before filling pot to within an inch or two of the rim.
- Mix in a handful or two of Perlite for drainage (optional)
- Mix in some timed-release fertilizer-(Jim Wilson recommends 6 tablespoons for a 5-gallon pot).
- Absorbent polymer granules which hold water could be added at this point.
- Arrange plants, leaving room for future growth, starting in the in the middle of the pot. Gently secure them in the soil by pressing down around each one.
- Water liberally and watch your garden grow.
- Don’t forget to remove spent blooms and damaged leaves etc. daily.
- Trim more aggressive plants (like helichrysum) to keep them from overwhelming their neighbours.
- Trim leaves of plants that may be growing too large and therefore out of scale-or to maintain a better overall shape.
- Rotate hanging baskets so that all sides get equal exposure to light.
- Water daily in summer, (pots in shade may need it less frequently) and add a half-strength fertilizer solution weekly. Always water early, as moisture left on leaves at night may promote fungal growth.
- Spray with a safe organic product at the first sign of bugs or leaf damage.
- Replace plants that prove unsatisfactory or when they have reached maturity and look tired.
- Enjoy your beautiful garden for many weeks.