Spruce up your outdoor space with creative container gardening.
BY WENDY MCLELLAN
Containers are a great way to garden, and the possibilities are practically endless. They also work in any space.
“People are downsizing or couples are just starting out in a small space, and they want something stylish for their patio,” says Jen Lasko, owner of the Victoria-based Modpots, who specializes in creating containers.
“I do container gardening with a more modern approach — I try to do showstoppers.”
Lasko says terracotta or terracotta-coloured containers are popular again, and mixing containers of different colours is also trending.
“It used to be that pots had to be black and square, but the trend now is round or oval shapes, and instead of all black, we are mixing black, white and terracotta. Or grey and terracotta or grey and orange. It looks a little more modern.”
She loves to use chartreuse foliage in containers, such as sedum Angelina, which creeps over the edge of planters, or the grass Carex Evergold. With terracotta pots, she looks for plants that are silver or blue to complement the container. Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’ or lamb’s ears are perfect, as well as the blue salvias.
Succulents are being used in many containers now because they are low maintenance and drought tolerant. There are also loads of varieties to choose from. “Drought resistance is big — people are conscious of climate change,” says Lasko. Other drought-tolerant options for containers include hebes, euphorbias, phormiums and most grasses.
Lasko says her container plantings have shifted from the colourful, mixed palette of years past. “Now you’re seeing more green on green on green. We are really paring down the colour palette, and green is number one.”
When she adds annuals in her planters, Lasko looks for big colour. Black and yellow is a favourite combination. “If you want to grab attention, going with sharp contrast is a good formula.”
She also loves using annuals with silver foliage because it can be mixed with warm or cool tones. “It adds a fun design element.”
Big Pot, Small Pot? Choosing your Container
Choosing the right size container is important, especially if it is to be placed at the front door. Lasko looks for containers that are 20 to 30 inches high so that they have visual impact.
“Buy bigger pots than you think you need. If you have to look down at your plantings, it’s over. Most people buy pots that are too small.”
Louise Boutin, landscape designer and owner of the Ucluelet-based Ultramarine Tidal Atelier, prefers big “statement” planters and an architectural style. “Investing in good containers is always worthwhile,” she says. “Look at containers as an accent to the home.”
In large containers, she chooses sculptural trees, such as conifers, Japanese maples, olive trees or a dwarf Ginkgo biloba. She plants bulbs under the trees for spring colour. A jasmine vine on a trellis in a pot adds height and fragrance to a space.
She often elevates containers to bring them just below eye level.
Thriller, Filler and Spiller (or Maybe a Veggie OR TWO)
For summer colour, she has lots of favourites, including black/purple fuchsia, coleus, heliotrope, bougainvillea, osteospermum, cosmos, zinnia, sweet pea and Prince Tut papyrus. You can have so much fun with containers.
Linda Petite, head gardener at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, says the old rule of “thriller, filler and spiller” still works to create beautiful containers.
The “thriller” is the upright focal point that goes at the back or centre of the planter, depending on where the pot is going to be placed. The “fillers” are shorter plants that fill the space between the thriller and the edge of the container, and “spillers” are the trailing plants that cascade over the edges.
One of her favourite thrillers is a rex begonia with its swirl of silver or dramatic foliage. “As much I love flowers, we do need foliage.” She likes silver, pink and white as a cool colour combination, and a vibrant container might be filled with purple, blue, red and orange flowers.
If she is nesting together three or five containers, she creates a theme. It may be by repeating a plant or with complementary colours. One collection she created last year used pinks, yellows and greens. The front door colour, trim or style of a home can influence choices.
Containers are also great for growing vegetables, and companies such as West Coast Seeds offer a range of container-specific seeds. Dwarf peas, beans, small carrots, patio tomatoes, herbs and edible flowers can be used to create delicious and colourful containers for a deck or a patio.
To create a successful planter, look for plants that have the same light and water requirements. Also, adding a slow-release fertilizer to the potting soil when planting a container provides extra nutrients to replace those lost with watering. Using a water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks will keep flowers blooming. Deadheading also improves blooming.
“A lot of people think they can plant their pots and walk away, but that doesn’t work,” explains Petite.
As for trends, she says there are some predictions that this year, gardens and planters will include more bright, vibrant colours.
However, whatever you choose, the wonderful thing about containers is that they are a versatile way to garden. You can create something new over and over again, and even if you don’t have much space, containers can create an oasis in any area.