I live in the country with nature all around. My yard has rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. Our plot of ground is small and it takes the wildlife no time at all to eat up all of the tender spring plants. We have replanted many times over the years believing the varmints had passed by only for them to reappear, some within minutes of finishing the installation. My husband and I are both involved in the landscaping and gardening industry and love to have gardens to tend to. We also love the wildlife that forages around our property.
It is this dilemma that directed us to look more favorably at container gardening. We happen to have a deck that wraps around the house from the southern exposure to the western exposure and to the northern exposure. The quantity of containers has grown over the years and this has afforded a lot of opportunity to vary the types of plant material from one side of the house to the other. The southern exposure gets filled with plants that can handle full sun and heat all day through the Maryland summers. The northern exposure is where the house plants go in the summer as well as annuals that do well in a shadier exposure.
The basics of container gardening suggest mixing annuals so the container has height by including a plant that grows tall, one that has width including one that is medium in height and one that is trailing so it will drape over the side of the pot and grow down. If you can find a garden center that grows “market packs”, you have a chance of fitting a variety in the pot because the plants root balls are smaller. If you can only find 4 inch pots, the container is going to get quite crowded. We save our pots from year to year but it is important to replace the soil with some kind of potting medium fresh every year. The old potting medium is going to have a bounty of fungi, insect eggs, bacteria, and loss of what few nutrients were added by the maker of the potting medium. Potting medium is typically just a moisture retentive medium that grows container plants successfully but none of the ingredients actually have nutrients. They have to be added separately.
I have added soil from my garden and mixed it with the potting medium over the years and it works with some annuals but there are more issues with weeds, insects, fungi and bacteria. Container gardens are short duration gardens and if you have the money it is worth it to completely replace the potting medium from season to season, the container plants look better for longer. They remain weed free and the occurrence of insect infestation, etc is held at bay. Because it a soil-less mix it is important to add fertilizer. If the medium has some fertilizer mixed in it will confirm this on the bag of mix. Fertilizer will then have to be added monthly for the duration of the season. Have I missed a month? Yes, I have. Oh well. You have to look pretty closely to notice the difference. The container garden season is from May through September, or whenever the first hard frost comes. I like hanging on to them until we decide to put the lawn furniture under cover for the winter but they do start to look pretty spent.
Container gardens have to be check daily for water. As they grow and their root systems develop their need for water may be every day. We do like to plant potato vines every year because they are the plant that drapes over the side of the container. They come in lots of colors and have some really pretty variegated varieties. But when the potatoes in the soil get large they need water every day. These pots are always the first to wilt. We use to be able to water the container garden with a watering can but it has expanded so that we now have a hose permanently set up to water every day.
The part everyone wants to know is how to pick flowers for these containers. There is no way to make a mistake, no matter what you pick. We do have some that we like to include every year though. The potato vines, what every varieties are available are on the list every year. I love the pink saliva because they attract hummingbirds. We always select some marigolds because I am a sucker for yellow. Dahlias are also on the list if we can find any. They do tend to get powdery mildew in the fall but their colors are striking. This year we added some Celosia because it is so weird looking and the colors are so intense. Portulaca is mandatory but not always easy to find. We added some petunias and verbena since they are trailing but they were not the strongest performers. We also need to have a geranium or two and a market pack of snapdragons. Perennials have been planted in pots then transferred to the garden in the back at the end of the season but they add something different.
I used to be more concerned with balance, color, texture, shape but I really love the cacophony of color and the natural look of randomness with the varied pot sizes and shapes. I don't worry about balancing the rectangular containers anymore. I have observed over the years that when gardens are planted with a great degree of orderliness that anomalies are more noticeable. Some plants naturally peter out over the course of a season due to weather, sun, temperature, competition between the plant roots. The more random the plantings the less noticeable their absence becomes. Save the orderliness for the botanical gardens and those landscaped areas that have the assistance of professionals to maintain. In your personal garden at home do what you want, observe what does well. Keep the plant tags to remind yourself of what you picked and what you enjoyed watching and why. I can observe the plants on my front deck from where I sit inside. They are positioned so the color is always in my view. There are moments where my gaze will fix on something I haven't noticed before and it reminds me why I like this field so much, it's so small and so personal and gives me such pleasure.