Pots, Kettles, Planters, Baskets
An unlimited variety of containers is available for your garden. These range in size from small house-plant pots to large boxes and planters. Equally variable are the materials from which they are made. These include wood, glass, clay, aluminum, bamboo, straw, plastic, fiberglass, terra cotta, tin, cast iron, zinc, copper, and brass, each with certain advantages and disadvantages. What you select will depend on availability, cost, background, and appeal. In addition to traditional circular pots and tubs, there are modern and ultra-modern forms-square, rectangular, triangular, hexagonal, and octagonal. Also eligible are old iron kitchen pots, kettles, pails, jugs, casks, vases, crocks, jelly tubs, barrels and nail kegs, Japanese fish tubs, old sinks, bathtubs, bamboo soy tubs, and novelties such as driftwood, wheelbarrows, donkey carts, spinning wheels and boxes attached to roadside mail boxes. There are also bird cages, decorative well heads, animal figures, and strawberry jars. Woven baskets may be used to conceal unattractive containers. Even tar paper pots, handled by nurserymen and florists, are worthwhile if painted or covered to improve their appearance.
Search Attics and Cellars
Start with what you have. If you scout cellars or basements, attics, garages, and sheds, you will doubtless encounter something interesting. Old-fashioned pots and kettles, often sold in antique shops at country auctions or seen at old New England inns, have much appeal. Consider old cookie and bean jars, pickle and other types of crocks, wash tubs, coal pails, jardinieres, and ceramic bowls. For drainage, spread a thick layer of large pebbles or broken pieces of pots or bricks at the bottom and then water plants with care. In large containers of this kind, drainage material should be several inches thick. Where rainfall is heavy, it is advisable to keep containers without drainage outlets on porches or under awnings or the broad eaves of houses. With pails and old galvanized wash tubs, holes can be easily punctured at the bottom. Plants in containers without drainage openings remain moist longer. Some of these-crocks, jardinieres and cookie jars-are heavy enough to be secure against wind. Earthy in character, they harmonize with geraniums, ice plants, cacti, and succulents. Yet others-iron pots, kettles, and pans-do not break and can be painted.
The Ideal Container
What constitutes the ideal container? A container must be attractive, even if it is not an object of art. It should be strong and durable and able to resist all kinds of weather. This is especially true of the large sizes, which usually remain outdoors all year around. In the North, alternate freezing and thawing is a problem in winter; in tropical climates, excessive heat, humidity, and moisture are to be considered. And in semiarid areas, there is the effect of scorching sun to keep in mind. The ideal container must be large enough to hold a substantial amount of soil. It should have good drainage facilities through holes or other openings at the bottom or sides, though this is not absolutely necessary. It must not rust, at least in a single season, and it should have a wide enough base to rest firmly wherever placed. Besides, it ought to be heavy enough to withstand average winds. In severe storms, movable containers can be shifted to temporary safety.
Resistance to rot is another requirement. Wooden containers-except those made of rot-resistant redwood, Western cedar, and Southern red cypress-will need to be treated with a wood preservative. Except for permanent containers, movability is another feature of the portable garden. Large boxes and planters can be fitted with wheels, and garden centers have redwood tubs that rest on platforms with wheels. A hole in the platform corresponds to the hole in the tub. Large containers without wheels can be pushed on iron or wooden rollers by two or more persons.
Common unglazed clay pots make good starters because they are readily available and go well with all kinds of plants. Made of natural clay, they acquire a neutral color with age, even though they are harsh orange-red when new. One gardener gives them a mellow look by dunking them in a tub of manure water. On the other hand, clay pots become dirty with accumulations of white fertilizer salts and mosses, but they are easily cleaned by scrubbing with a stiff brush and sudsy water. Unglazed clay pots are inexpensive, so you can keep a supply on hand. Since they are easily broken, you must guard them against wind, pulled garden hoses, and dogs. Place them at a safe distance from pedestrian traffic on steps, walks, or other passageways. Stained small pots can be broken into pieces for drainage material. Clay pots vary in size and ornamentation. The large decorated types, planted with lemons, oranges, and oleanders in Italian villa gardens, are also obtainable in this country. Porous unglazed clay pots insure good aeration and proper drying out of the soil. Yet they often dry out too quickly, more quickly than glazed or wooden containers. In hot weather, plants may require watering in the morning and again in the evening, especially if they are pot bound. Actually, clay pots can lose twice as much moisture through their sides as through the soil surface. A properly prepared soil, with humus or other organic material plus a mulch of peatmoss or pebbles, will cut the loss of moisture. For cacti and succulents these pots are ideal. Dry clay pots, painted before they are planted, will be less porous and in some cases more attractive. If different colors are used each year, the container garden will not be dull. Desirable among clay pots are the small Italian types, characterized by simple circular rims. Large Italian pots, decorated richly with garlands, are indeed handsome and the gardener with the proper setting for them is fortunate.
For your garden, you might prefer glazed ceramic pots. Like jardinieres, they usually lack drainage holes and are most useful when unglazed pots are slipped inside them. These then do not dry out so quickly. Always be certain the potted plant stands above drainage water by placing pebbles, stones, or pieces of wood at the bottom of the jardiniere. Glazed pots with drainage holes have several advantages. Plants require less frequent watering because the soil remains moist longer and surfaces of containers remain free of salt accumulations. On the other hand, watering requires care though with practice you can learn just how much water to apply and when. Glazed pots come in many colors, but delicate pastel shades-pink, peach, aqua, or yellow-are usually preferred. For instance try pink geraniums in pink, soft green, or pale blue containers. Glazed containers may be gaily decorated with intricate patterns or designs. These are seen in the patios of Portugal, Spain, and Italy as well as in Japanese gardens. In certain settings they may be appropriate with flowering plants, but they are best suited to foliage types, since the decorations detract from the flowers. In a Portuguese jardiniere or a Japanese porcelain urn, you will like sprenger asparagus, Japanese privet, rubber plant, French ivy, upright philodendron, cast iron plant, rosemary, or a foliage begonia.
Tubs Are Popular
Tubs-the traditional circular or the modern square, triangular, or hexagonal type-are outstanding plant containers. Easily available as well as durable, they are heavy when filled with soil, so they are not easily knocked over. Wooden containers can be painted; in fact, they can be given a different color each year, a pleasant chore for the winter. Wooden tubs can also be stained or allowed to weather naturally, and these are recommended for foliage plants, scented geraniums, and such herbs as rosemary, basil, chives, and sage. The familiar circular wooden tub is widely accepted. Newer angular boxes-square, rectangular, triangular, octagonal, or hexagonal-have been designed for contemporary houses. These may be purchased or custom-made, generally in redwood, cedar, or Southern red cypress. Allowed to weather, they become a neutral gray, a color that goes with all flowering and foliage plants. But if desired, these woods may be painted or stained. Wooden tubs, long lasting when treated to resist decay, hold moisture well. They also keep out the heat of the sun, preventing overheating of soil. Then, too, wood, substantial and solid in appearance, is well suited to formal or informal gardens.
Wooden Barrels, oldtime standbys, are always excellent. Unless you prefer the full barrel shape, simply cut off the top at the desired height. Then bore holes at the bottom and paint the inside with a wood preservative. If the hoops are galvanized, they will not rust; if not, they will. To prevent this, apply oil or paint outside of the barrel. Hoops, which tend to slip, can be secured with nails.
Wooden boxes are becoming more and more the thing for the modern terrace. Varying in size and shape, large units are planted with trees, shrubs, and vines. The smaller sizes are allotted to perennials, herbs, and bulbs. Long planter boxes, intended for terraces, walks or driveways, can be filled with evergreens and blooming plants. When flowers-petunias, wax begonias or dwarf geraniums-are massed in large, low boxes they give the containers the look of garden beds.
Black locust, osage orange, and chestnut are other woods that do not rot if left untreated. To prevent boxes from resting directly on solid surfaces and thus stopping good drainage, raise them on short lifts or legs. Better still are wheels, allowing the boxes to be pushed about.
Make Your Own
When possible, construct boxes to fit your needs. For example, a long, narrow box can be built for the driveway area adjacent to the house. If raised a few feet, it will be easier to care for. For that matter, you can make the box in units that are small enough to be easily moved and stored in winter. Long boxes can be constructed for the front of the house to give interest and avoid the monotony of the traditional foundation planting. Or modular boxes of the same size can be arranged in a row for a pleasant effect. You can also make boxes of special shapes and sizes to fit around your swimming pool, on your terrace, or in front of a fence or tool house. Planters are also well adapted to small city or rooftop gardens. In some instances, boxes can be tiered in front of a house or along a garage or fence for the sake of variety. A large box, with a shade or flowering tree, can give accent to a terrace or a doorway. Best of all, plant boxes can serve to guide traffic in the garden and through the outdoor living area. Some gardeners also like to maintain two or more sets of boxes to replace those with plants past their prime. This plan gives the gardener the fullest value from his portable garden.
Plastic pots, often preferred by growers of house plants, are attractive, lightweight, and water retentive. Available in neutral grays, greens, and black, they do not gather fertilizer salts on their surfaces. In clay pots, roots concentrate along the sides where water and nitrogen collect; in plastic, roots are distributed throughout the soil area. Yet plastic pots are not always practical because they are easily knocked over. The larger sizes, of course, are more secure. One way to make plastic pots heavier is to slip them into clay pots, jardinieres, or wooden tubs or boxes. Another method is to arrange them in sheltered locations, grouped for support. On the other hand, they make desirable hanging baskets because they are light and attractive. Urns for Grace Urns, whether decorated or plain, are charming containers. Often they are used as a pair at each side of a doorway or driveway entrance, but just a single specimen will enhance a terrace or a garden nook. Urns are often made of cast iron, but clay and concrete are also used. In old palace gardens of Europe-at Versailles and Quelez, outside Lisbon-urns were important accents, and they may be seen today gracing these lovely, elegant formal gardens.
Sturdy concrete containers have a solid appearance. They do not topple in strong winds or crack where winters are cold. Usually they are left outdoors all year to ornament house, shop, or hotel. Concrete containers may be plain or highly ornamented, and what you select will depend on the setting. Though generally purchased, they can be custom made in small sizes for geraniums, petunias, and other flowers or in large sizes for evergreens-as arborvitae, yews, Japanese privet, aucuba, camellia, pittos-porum, or holly. These are often placed in front of large apartments, hotels, restaurants, department stores, and public buildings. Plants grow well in concrete containers because the soil remains moist and the roots cool. As a rule, they have a single large drainage hole. To avoid clogging, the holes are covered with large pieces of crock or other coarse material at planting time. Burlap and sphagnum moss are spread over this to prevent the soil from washing through.
Gardeners in many places rely on tin cans. In sections of southern Europe, they are used almost exclusively; even oil drums are planted with trees. To improve their appearance, they are whitewashed or painted and either decorated with designs or covered with tiles. On Rhodes, I remember a yellow cottage with plant tins also painted yellow. In Piraeus, a little old woman grew grapes and pink hollyhocks in blue tin cans scattered over the rooftop and placed in front of her dazzling white house. Plants thrive in tin cans because they hold moisture well. As in plastic pots, roots are distributed through the soil. One professional grower who experimented with geraniums in both tin and clay concluded that the cans gave superior results. To make drainage holes in tins, use a hammer and a large nail or spike, punching from the inside out. This will bring the rough edges outside and not interfere with the outward flow of water. The larger the tins, the larger the outlets; with oil drums, make them with a crow bar. Set large tins on bricks or blocks of wood to allow water to pass freely through the drainage holes.
Plastic and Fiberglass Containers
Besides the smaller sizes, plastic pots are available in various shapes and forms, and in many colors. Indoor gardeners plant them with philodendrons, dracaenas, aloca-sias and other tropicals. In summer, the planters are taken out to shady terraces or porches where they perform double duty. Also procurable are containers of other synthetic materials. One, a combination of fiberglass and plastic, known as Fiberglas, is made into window boxes, room dividers, and liners for built-in plant boxes. If custom made, these cost more because they are hand moulded. They are obtainable in white, beige, slate gray, charcoal, turquoise, coral and other colors. Fiberglas containers are light, durable, and unaffected by cold. Nor do they corrode or conduct heat. The surface, which is soft and opaque, has a dull attractive luster that requires no refin-ishing. Non-porous and strong, a container weighing five pounds can hold 150 pounds of soil. In winter, plants suffer little damage from cold, but there is danger of flooding.
Rope and Basket Containers
Containers made of sisal rope (also used for boat rigging) are fine for seaside gardens. They are a burnished brown due to several coats of liquid plastic. Artistic in appearance, they are not harmed if left out through the winter. In the garden, baskets give an Old World look and are effective near cedar or picket fences or on gates. Durable baskets hold soil for planting, but the lightweight types are only intended to cover unattractive tin cans or tar paper pots. Baskets also give weight to plastic pots and lessen the evaporation from clay containers.
The strawberry barrel is a delightful novelty for terrace or doorway. If you have not seen a wooden barrel with strawberries growing from openings at the sides, you may know the glazed strawberry jar, with strawberries, sedums, or strawberry begonias planted in the protruding cups.