Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Container Gardening Part 1

Despite being a keen gardener, I don't have a garden attached to my house; I have a strip of land across the road, which comes with many problems for growing things so it's quite limiting. So I've been doing a lot of growing in pots and larger containers outside my house. I'm not alone in this here, most of my neighbours do the same thing and the village looks very pretty in summer. But you don't have to limit yourself to bedding plants; it can be like a normal garden, with seasonal planting which you rotate through the year. So I thought I'd share my container garden with you, hope it provides some ideas for those who are limited in space.

The photo above is of my house; the corner points just east of north so looking at the picture the right side of the house faces roughly west, and left side east. This means I have two very different micro-climates, and on this post I'll talk about the "hot" (right) side. This gets the sun from early afternoon through to early evening - at midsummer this means a little over 5 hours at the hottest part of the day. The house is made of stone and if you've ever leant on a stone wall which has been in full sun, you may remember that stone retains heat and radiates it for hours after the sun has gone down. So even plants which should cope with lots of sun can find it difficult on this side of the house should we be lucky enough to have a hot spell.

I have two roses on this side; you can see them in the first photo. My New Dawn seems to survive the conditions well, though I am careful to reduce the leaf cover after flowering so it doesn't lose too much moisture through the leaves. I also have a yellow rose in a pot by the door, and it also likes the sunny conditions. In spring, this side is perfect for early bulbs and flowers, such as these scilla siberica. Once they have flowered, they move to the other side to feed in the shade before resting for next year. This pot is by my front door, where I can see it regularly.

The great thing about container gardening is you can plant for more than one season in a large pot. My rose has space round the edge for me to tuck in some colourful annuals later, and this pot is a spring/summer mix, with grape hyacinths round the edge and a peony in the middle. A peony alone in a pot would be dull for months on end, the grape hyacinths flower briefly so a combination of the two works well. The grape hyacinths also shade the roots of the peony as they grow on for some time after flowering, so stop the peony drying out too much. You can just see the red shoots of the peony poking through the foliage. The grape hyacinths will be at their best next week, I think.

The two pots at the back here are rudbeckia goldsturm; I split one plant last year into two pots. Rudbeckia should do well in sunny conditions, but it doesn't cope with the temperatures here. It needs water more quickly and often than I can supply; at this time of year it likes the light but I'll move it round to the other side of the house in about May as I've found it grows better there through the summer.

In front is one of the white pelargoniums which I took cuttings from a couple of weeks ago. I've planted these up and popped them outside now, these plants cope very well with the hot conditions here and geraniums of all kinds are ultra reliable on this side.
More pelargoniums here, next to a large pot of daffodils - I think these are the white ones, but don't know as I regularly lose labels. Thank goodness for blogs - once the name is on here I can look it up! Bulbs cope well with living in pots all year round; I'm careful to move them to the shade and feed them once they've flowered until they die back, and they seem to thrive on this treatment.

The deep windowsill on the front is just wide enough for a trough pot, and this one is another mix; snowdrops with yellow primroses. The snowdrops have finished flowering, the primroses are just starting to open now. Occasionally I split the primroses, but again they and the snowdrops stay in here all year round. This windowsill is too hot for anything to grow later in the summer, plus my cat likes to sit on it by the open window in the summer, so once these flowers are over I'll leave the windowsill bare.

You can grow pretty much anything in pots, and I've started to grow more perennials this way, using annuals just to fill gaps. But we do have a large snail population here, and they like to munch their way through my precious plants. The answer is this copper tape, which has a self-adhesive backing though is is quite sharp on the edges, so beware! It does the job - this is a delphinium which would be gone in 8 hours if I planted it in the ground here, but in an armoured pot it will be fine.

If you're wondering how it works, it seems the copper gives the snail or slug (I have both) a small electric shock as they try to slide over, so they don't bother. The only thing you have to watch out for is that the leaves of the plant don't touch a wall or other plant, creating a bridge. The downside of the tape is if a snail does get in, it's imprisoned and will eat its way through your vegetation!

In summer I water the plants on this side every day, twice a day if it's hot. But by testing carefully, I've learned which plants like these conditions and always manage to have some colour here. Next time I'll talk about the other side of the house and introduce some of my new plants for this year.
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