How to create a container garden

Gardening is a pastime that’s not only relaxing but fruitful. While the process of actually planting and tending to a garden is the perfect mindful activity, getting to see flowers bloom is rewarding, not to mention easy on the eye.

Of the many different ways you can enjoy the green-thumbed life, container gardening is one of the most accessible given it doesn’t require masses of outdoor space and can be done on a balcony, window sill or even indoors.

Container gardening is the process of planting directly into a plant pot rather than into the soil of a garden and offers the added benefit of showing off decorative planters.

If you’re new to container gardening or are looking for tips, read on for our handy guide with advice from Isabelle Palmer (@thebalconygardener), author of Modern Container Gardening.

Choosing your plant pots

“Obviously, you want to pick something that’s going to go with your style, whether that’s a modern zinc planter or a more traditional terracotta planter. The best kind of material for container gardens is terracotta because it allows the soil to breathe and doesn’t overheat,” Isabelle said.

“If you’ve got a metal container, it will absorb the heat a lot quicker and that means the water you give the plant is going to evaporate and you’ll have to water more frequently.

“I wouldn’t necessarily use wood because it rots. You can line it but for me, if you want something that’s going to last a long time, I probably wouldn’t use that,” she added.

In terms of the size, always get the biggest pot you possibly can, according to Isabelle, as this increases the length of time the plant can live healthily there and also cuts down on watering.

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“Always make sure the container’s got drainage holes. Now terracotta ones will come with them already set in the mold. In a zinc or metal one you can drill the holes very easily, or if you haven’t got a drill use a very hard masonry nail and a hammer,” Isabelle said.

When arranging planters together, Isabelle’s top tip is to opt for odd numbers.

“If I’m doing an arrangement I normally stick to odd numbers, so one big planter, three or five. That way they really balance each other out,” she said.

Choosing your plants

“The first thing you need to look at is the aspect of your space – whether it’s sunny or shady or partially shady. This will decide what kind of plants you can grow to the maximum benefit in the space you’ve got,” Isabelle advised.

Isabelle prefers to keep color palettes tonal and not too busy in planters with numerous plants growing next to each other.

“I don’t normally go past three different colours [in the same planter], and they need to be in the same shade or contrasting colors. I think if you have too many colors it makes the design look very messy and it doesn’t really sit that well.”

It’s important to add different elements of interest within a planter.

“There’s a saying: you want a thriller (which is a tall, prominent plant); the filler (which fills in the gaps); then sometimes, not all the time, I’ll have a spiller (which is something that will trail over the sides).

“You want to basically have something that’s got various heights and textures. They’re really going to set each other off,” Isabelle said.

Lesego Terracotta Planter – AM.PM

Isabelle likes to contrast her plants with their pot.

“I often paint terracotta pots a different color because for me personally, that terracotta color isn’t really my style. There are some great paints out there, such as line paint, that are easy to use like a wash. It really transforms a terracotta pot.

“I painted one of mine a pale pink and then I had this burgundy black plant which is a potato vine called Ipomoea. Having those two colors created a striking effect and I suppose you could do that the opposite way by having a dark planter and a very light colored plant.”

It’s a good idea to include some hardy evergreens in your planter that will keep well throughout the year. You can then swap seasonal flowers in and out.

A few of Isabelle’s suggestions for easy-to-grow plants include Mexican orange blossom, Salvias, Snapdragon and bedding plants like Pansies.

“Alternatively, you can buy some of those wildflower mixes, there are loads of different ones and you’ve got things like Nigella or Asters in there. They’re really good for attracting bees and butterflies as well. You just sow those directly and you’ve got an instant garden pretty much,” she said.

Isabelle points out that when considering the above plants you don’t necessarily need a garden, as window boxes on sills are great, too.

Growing herbs

As well as growing flowers to enjoy their beautiful colors and leaves, you can opt for edibles that have the added bonus of working in your kitchen recipes.

“It’s such a lovely thing to do, to see that little seedling come up and then go on to cook with it,” Isabelle said.

“The easiest to grow, I think, are the soft herbs like coriander, parsley, chives, basil. Chilli plants are really easy to grow as well, and peppers. Those are things you can do just on the window sill if you haven’ t got any outdoor space.”

A word of warning if you choose to grow mint, though.

“Mint is really easy but I would never put it in a pot with anything else because it just goes rampant and takes over the whole container,” Isabelle said.

Zest Stepped Herb Planter

Ideally, herbs need to sit underneath a propagator to keep warm in order to germinate during non-summer months in the UK. If you don’t have one, though, there are items from home you can use instead, including a simple layer of cling film.

Looking after your plants

If you’re a first-time gardener, Isabelle recommends going for a moisture control compost because it’ll contain water-retaining granules which will prolong the time needed between each watering.

“In the summer you are pretty much having to water every day and I think that’s a prime reason why people aren’t successful, because they’ve forgotten to water, basically,” she said.

“I normally put some pebbles on top of the soil – this just stops the water evaporating as quickly. What you’re trying to do is keep that water in for as long as you can so that you know if you go away for the weekend and you’re not there to water, you’ve got a fighting chance of your plant surviving still .”

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To tell if you’re under-watering, Isabelle suggests putting your finger in the soil up to the knuckle. If that soil isn’t moist, you know you’re not watering enough. Give it a good water and the plant should revive itself.

“Plants are actually quite hardy. If they’re looking a bit droopy, get the watering can out. Make sure to take any dead bits off, because they’re going to be taking energy that the plant could be putting into new growth instead,” Isabelle said.

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