Welcome to Container Day at the Garden Designers Roundtable. What a huge topic! I could approach this in so many ways, like taking you to my favorite pottery resource, Pottery Planet; but I've done that already.
I could show you lots of pretty pictures of containers I've designed professionally, and tell you things like how long it took to find just the right bonsai-clay bowls for this terrace.
Or how I prefer container plantings to have one main plant (like this Chamaecyparis) with soft underplantings that change periodically. But I think instead I'd rather show you how I use containers myself.
I have a close, personal, long-term relationship with container planting. When I was about 8, a little boy at school gave me a white petunia in a small pot. I don't remember his name, but I can still see that little plant and feel the unexpected delight that this perfect, living thing was mine to hold. During my teen years my obsession turned to houseplants; I had dozens of them, displayed in a stunning array of macramé plant hangers.
My outdoor gardening began during my stay-at-home mom years; I started with annuals and planted them everywhere. I did this corner just before my daughter was born. She turns 20 today.
Planting something in a container gives a gardener more responsibility for and ownership of a plant. Like capturing a bright butterfly or a tadpole and putting it in a jar, a plant in a pot is like a pet or an infant; it relies upon you for everything. So who are my current infants, and how do I use containers now? Read on.
I use containers for growing plants that need different conditions than my garden beds can easily provide, like the acid soil that blueberries prefer (they won't find that next to a new foundation, but a red glazed pot filled with azalea mix does the job).
My tomatoes get deep, rich soil and dedicated irrigation in the raised kitchen garden beds. Even when the vines spill over the top of their cages, the fruit is held safely off the ground. A small garden contained in this way is neat, easy to clean, and protected (somewhat) from pests.
Raised beds give herbs the warm soil and good drainage they require to come back year after year, like this combination of marjoram and sage. The bed also provides an architectural element to my overall landscape, as it loops around to provide an informal divider between the patio and the kitchen garden.
I use containers to nurture new plants in a more controlled environment, like this cutting of Corylus 'Rote Zeller' given to me by garden writer Alice Joyce, from her garden. Eventually it will be large, but for now it's having a 'nursery year' in the courtyard (next to gnarly Uncle Harry!)
Or this fragile-looking Fuchsia magellanica I got from Annie's Annuals; it will also become a sturdy shrub in time, but for now, I'm keeping a close eye on it.
Containers allow me to keep plants with me that otherwise might be lost when a beloved garden is left behind. I bought this Fatsia japonica the day I officially started my new career as a garden designer 9 years ago. It has weathered some storms, but planted in this large turquoise pot with regular water it is as graceful as can be.
Plants that might get out of hand planted in the garden grow with more restraint when contained. I have an 8 year old deciduous trumpet vine (Campsis radicans 'Mme Galen') that really minds its manners in a pot. In the ground? It might have eaten the house by now.
Some plants will live for years in a pot, and I treat them like bonsai, shaping them over time. I love a plant that has grown old in captivity; natural, yet refined. I think training plants is one of the most skilled things gardeners do.
Speaking of taking things with you, containers aren't just for plants you know; this bubbling blue water pot is another long-time friend that I've had running practically 24x7 for at least 8 years. The soft splashing sound is as much a part of the experience of my garden as anything else, and the nice little microclimate it creates is much appreciated by the locals, like this Nandina 'Firepower.'
When my neighbor-the-gardener became ill and had to leave her house and her garden, she gave me her stacks of small clay pots. What a treasure. Having these and lots of generous plants means that I will never be without a way to give from my garden. Which makes me realize that one of the best ways I use containers is to give plants to other people.
But mainly I use containers so I can put plants wherever I want! I tend to be a 'one plant, one pot, arrange the pots' type of gal. I also like stand-alone gems that coordinate nicely with their pots, like this succulent in a graceful little two-toned number.
Succulents are particularly wonderful in pots because of their low water needs; they aren't confined to areas where the drip irrigation can reach them, and can be arranged freely, like offerings on an altar. And yes, if you have this many nice containers and an irresponsible streak when it comes to regular watering, an automatic drip system is a wonderful thing. Everyone gets watered every 3 days for 8 minutes. If they want a little more, they let me know.
Thanks to containers, we can have plants wherever we are, tucked into any modest or fancy piece we like and changed or rearranged at will. (Don't you love the mini chiminea? I use it to burn sprigs of dried sage; it works great!) Needless to say a balcony gardener would be lost without containers of all kinds. The biggest mistake I see is too many small containers. It's nice to have a few big pots in the mix, don't limit your design to what you can lift by yourself!
So I ask you, what is more satisfying than taking a handful of succulent cuttings and making them into a work of art? I think, in the end, that is what I appreciate most about containers. Like a frame around a painting they allow us to combine craftsmanship and plantsmanship into something that is more than the sum of its parts.
Thanks for visiting, and don't stop here, for I have only scratched the surface of this topic! Please visit the other knights and ladies of the Roundtable who are writing about containers today: