Containergardening hits stride

Published on Thu, May 13, 2004 by . Durbin Wean

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Container gardening hits stride

By B. Durbin Wean

Once Mother’s Day happens, container gardening comes into its own for the year. It’s pretty safe to say that the last frost has occurred and we can start planting window boxes, deck containers and hanging baskets.
For lots of people this is the only way that they can get their hands into the dirt. When my daughter, Chris, and I took care of my very old and wheelchair bound auntie, my daughter would arrange a planting party for her on a warm spring afternoon.

We wheeled her out onto the deck to a table that was the perfect height for a wheelchair to wheel under. Chris had prepared the potting soil in containers and placed summer bulbs for some plants, and annuals in six-packs or four-inch pots within auntie’s reach. Then Chris encouraged auntie to be creative and plant anything, wherever she felt inclined. Chris was there to encourage and help when needed, but didn’t interfere; this was one of the few times auntie was happy and involved. She loved to garden when she was younger and this was as close as she was ever going to get to the dirt again to watch her flowers grow.
I think auntie was at least 90 when we thought of this therapy for her. You are never too old to enjoy gardening no matter how limited you or someone else thinks you are. This is extended therapy because as the weeks went by auntie was so excited to see ‘her’ flowers bloom and flourish. Just provide the tools, encouragement, company, and a warm wet cloth to wash up afterward and have fun.

I thought I’d give you some tips about different types of containers to try. The only caveat is to make sure it’s deep enough for the roots of the plants and has good drainage. If you have a beautiful container that you don’t want to put holes in, plant your flowers in a plastic pot that will fit in the container and take it out when you want to water. This summer when you’re out garage sale’ing look for salvage materials for containers. Try baskets, old drainage tiles, metal animal feed cages and for a large space at the end of the driveway old wheelbarrows are great! Just find something interesting to go with your old standby plastic or terra cotta pots.
Fill your container with a good quality potting mix and stir in a supply of timed-release fertilizer (your potted plants are heavy feeders). Now you are ready for your plants. Depending on whether you are planting for sun or shade will make the difference in the plants you select. If this is your first experience with containers, for sunny spots, try pansies, lobelia, geraniums, marigolds, petunias and something to trail over the edge of your container like verbena or one of the trailing petunias. For something green I like ivy, vinca, or lotus plant. For the brave souls who are not faint of heart, try deep purple, yellow and red with a touch of white for an eye-popping combination of colors. If you are a little quieter in spirit, pastels like soft pink, lavender, soft yellow and for your trailing green, licorice plant, because it is a soft gray and all will combine to make a romantic combination.

In the shade try bizzy-lizzies, ferns, a coleus combo, fuchsias or begonias. Be inventive. For other sunny ideas, try different ornamental grasses or succulents (escheveria and sempervivum).

Baskets are not for the folks who want to plant and forget. They take a lot of work to care for so be prepared and if you leave for vacation, hire a plant sitter! As they grow they will probably need water once a day, in a hot place even twice. They should also have a half dose of liquid fertilizer mixed with water applied at least every other week. It is also important to deadhead the spent blooms to keep them blooming all summer. People are always asking me about deadheading petunias - pinch them back behind the bloom on the stem.

The subject of container gardening is fascinating and very satisfying to try. Look for healthy plants, fun containers and great color combination and get started!