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Top container gardening tips

Maximise your outdoor space by perfectly positioning your garden pots.

By Lee Ann Bramwell
Gardening with pots and containers was made for me. I’m one of those people who has to move the living room furniture every five minutes, so I can get a bit frustrated by the permanent components of the garden.
Moving the outdoor table and chairs, which always involves an argument with the misbehaved umbrella and the subsequent collapse of it or me, is far too difficult, so having a collection of pots which can be re-homed whenever I’m bored is a happy solution.
But there are rules. Of course there are. It’s no use buying a pot, putting a plant in it and sitting it on the verandah. That’s no fun at all.
Firstly you need to identify the places that could benefit from a pot, and then decide what colour it should be, what shape, what size, whether you need one or three (not two unless you’re flanking a path or entranceway), how it should be positioned and finally, whether to plant it with one plant, several plants or no plants. You can put a pot on the ground, on a step or a pedestal, on an area of paving, on a windowsill, or you can hang one from a pergola or a tree. Decisions, decisions.
This lovely basin-shaped container has pride of place on a pillar. The joyful colours of the flowers offset the grey tones of the pot and the wall.
Single, large, beautifully shaped containers can be used for outdoor decoration and often don’t need to be planted with anything. You can site them so they can be easily seen from the house or outdoor living area and they will act as a sculptural focal point. In a larger garden, consider hiding one around a corner or behind a hedge, so your garden guests will discover it as they wander around. If you choose one that’s splendid enough without a plant, you’ll never have that heart-sinking feeling of coming across it after a period of neglect and discovering its contents have disintegrated.
I like clusters of pots – usually the same colour but differing shapes and sizes. They’re great for herbs, trailing ground covers, annuals and special plants, and they add a nice ambience to a terrace or courtyard. But as with any close planting, make sure your foliage colours work together, and mix up leaf shapes and textures for impact.My current favourite, since we’re now into drier weather, is dwarf astelia with white convolvulus, which gives you spiky with soft and the bonus of flowers.
Pots are gregarious and like the company of other similar pots.
Planting with annuals is also gorgeous and if you use basin shapes they look very good on plinths.
If you’re planting up a container that you intend to be a permanent fixture, think about the shape and size. A tall, skinny pot with a tall, skinny plant, for example, isn’t the best combination. Check out images on the internet or in magazines for combinations that work.
There’s not much to worry about in planting up containers – the pot should always be a bit bigger than the planter bag – no point moving out of one house into another the same size. If it’s going to sit on a surface you don’t want to stain, make sure it has a waterproof saucer underneath. Water the plant thoroughly to make it easier to get out of its bag. Put a layer of gravel in the base of the container for extra drainage, and top with good potting mix and some compost.
A bit of whimsy never goes astray.
Finally, make sure you have an inch or so of space below the rim of the pot so that when you water it, the water doesn’t spill out all over the tiles. It also leaves room to get a grip when you want to move the furniture, so to speak.
What to plant in pots
What you decide to plant should depend on where you’re planning to put your containers, although happily, if you get it wrong you can move them.
Heat lovers: Succulents, festuca grass, lavender, Dracaena yucca, marigold.
Shade lovers: Impatiens, cyclamen, ferns, fuchsia, fatsia.
Scented container planters: Daphne, chamomile, miniature Australian frangipani.
Super shrubs: Metrosideros Tahiti, hydrangea, camellia.
Small trees: Puka, Japanese maple, olive, some magnolias, bay trees.

For more gardening tips, take a look at how to produce a bumper crop here.

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