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Single Container Satisfaction

By Meagan Russell
In p. Allen Smith
Apr 25th, 2014
A garden, complete with a climbing rose, grows in just a few containers.

A garden, complete with a climbing rose, grows in just a few containers.

Vegetables, herbs or cut flowers and a whole lot of self-esteem can come from just one container garden.

article by P. Allen Smith
photo by Jane Colcasure

`    Gardening, in addition to being a means to feed yourself or beautify your yard, has an important spiritual facet often overlooked; it reminds us of our connection to the earth and it fosters mindfulness, happiness, positive self-esteem and hope.

The average American spends about 8.5 hours in front of a screen per day, whether that be a computer, TV or phone, a 2009 Neilson-funded study found. That’s a lot of screen time. Now I appreciate all the innovations of our age, yet I worry that we can all too easily lose touch with our connection to the planet, our connection to our ecosystem and our understanding of ourselves as living things.

While digging in the dirt, we recover intangibles that we lose in our over-scheduled, clipped modern lives. We connect with something elemental. Science, of course, supports common sense: being surrounded by life improves our lives. Endless studies have outlined gardening’s rewards, among which are reductions in stress levels, improvements in mood and lower risks for dementia.

Yet you don’t need a full-scale garden to reap the benefits of being around plants.  A few containers on the patio will do. But beware, once you get started, you’ll want to keep adding. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

As you begin, consider your space. Will your new plant rest in a windowsill? Next to your chair on the patio?  An array of containers can suit the style of the space and infuse it with personality. Pick a galvanized watering trough and put a few drainage holes in it for a sturdy, farm chic planter. Likewise, you can’t go wrong with classic terra cotta pots; plants thrive in the breathable material. Similarly, a half whiskey barrel is a go-to favorite. The wood and metal combination is rustic and appealing. Plus, like the aforementioned, it can work with an array of styles.  Finally, experiment and make your own.  Repurpose a vintage pail, wheelbarrow, watering can or whatever else strikes you into a planter. Now for all of these, remember adequate drainage is key. If the planter of your choice has no holes, poke a few; plants hate having wet feet. Also remember, if you want a big pot and anticipate moving it around, get a plant platform with wheels.

Another trend I’ve been fascinated with recently is planter bags. Yes, they are exactly what you envision them to be—special bags filled with soil that plants grow in. They stand, others rest against walls and a few hang. They are a durable, relatively inexpensive and practical method of gardening and are used primarily to grow produce.

Now that the container has been taken care of, pick your plant. If you want to foray into growing food in your container, start with plants you eat. If you love a tomato on your summer salad, plant tomatoes.  Look for dwarf varieties for all container plants. Once you’ve planted a vegetable, consider adding a companion herb or two to the container. For example, I like to plant squash, lemon thyme and cilantro in one pot. Make sure to use a larger pot (22-inch to 24-inch), especially when combining a few plants. A raised planter box, which just means it has legs, is also a solid option.

Herbs are another possibility for containers: they are easy, vigorous growers. If you plant one herb, you might as well plant an array in one container because you won’t be able to get enough. Combine rosemary, sage and thyme, which are perennial in most regions of the country, in a container with basil. Rest it in full-sun, a place where it gets 6 to 8 hours a day, for a kitchen brimming with dishes seasoned with fresh-cut herbs.

For eye-catching beauty, try a few flowers. First, consider what you want to use the flowers for and then pick the plants based on those considerations. Will the flowers be a cutting garden or more of an outdoor focal point? Think seasonal and update as the year progresses.  In spring, sweet peas, pansies and violas will be showing out.  When fall comes around, plant bulbs like tulips, hyacinths and daffodils for radiance the following spring. Summer blooms suited for containers include coneflowers, zinnias and dahlias.

Dahlias are an impeccable flower and make for a perfect summer cutting garden. They are one of the best-keeping cut flowers. They bloom almost continually like an annual, but they can be replanted every year, or depending on the climate, be left in the ground like a perennial. Moreover, the more they are cut, the more they produce.  Dwarf varieties should be planted about 2 feet apart to ensure maximum blooms.  In the mild climate of Louisiana, dahlias can be left in the ground over winter. Even though in warm places it’s possible to overwinter dahlias, many choose to dig them up to plant something for winter in the container or spring flowering bulbs. Still some prefer to simply plant over the dahlias with a cool season annual like pansies.

Flowers for containers
•  Asiatic Lilies – These lilies are among the easiest to grow. They require no staking, are hardy and only require well-draining soil.
•  Dahlias –  Select a dwarf-version of these perky flowers and plant in a pot with at least a 12’’ diameter.
•  Dwarf Sunflowers – While their counterparts can grow up to 15’ tall, dwarf sunflowers tend to top off at 12” to 15”.
•  Tulips – Plant a container in the Fall for early Spring blooms.
•  Zinnias – These bright, cheerful annuals grow quickly in summer and bloom heavily.

P. Allen Smith is an award-winning designer, gardening and lifestyle expert and host of two public television programs, Garden Home and Garden to Table, and the syndicated 30-minute show P. Allen Smith’s Garden Style. Smith is one of America’s most recognized and respected design experts, providing ideas and inspiration through multiple media venues. He is the author of the best-selling Garden Home series of books. Allen is also very active on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Learn more at www.pallensmith.com.