Exploring the evolution of container gardens

Container gardening started centuries ago but has mushroomed in popularity in recent years. I have toured old Roman ruins in Turkey and Europe and have seen the remnants of large urns and other early container gardens. I am uncertain exactly what plants they grew in those stately and impressive stone containers but as conservatories and the first greenhouses were created in old Europe for the early day royal families they hosted their collections of container grown orange trees, lemons, limes, bananas and other exotic fruit trees, shrubs and plants brought back to their kingdoms by early day plant exploration teams sent sailing around the new world. Some of these early royal conservatories were called Palmery’s to host exotic palm collections. Then herbs, vegetables and other plants in addition to the palms and trees were often moved in large stone, wood or ceramic containers out on patios or verandas in the summer and back into conservatories for winter protection and enjoyment. For years we have used a limited number of container gardens, often in urns or other decorative pots at each side of a main entrance or a couple of container gardens on a front porch or a back patio to create a more welcome, beautiful and inviting atmosphere.

There have been many plants used in modern container gardens but the most popular has probably been a colorful geranium plant surrounded by asparagus fern, sometimes with a dracaena spike to give another texture and a little height. Hanging baskets have surged in popularity in recent years enjoying their greatest use in the last 20 years since the fabled “Hanging Gardens of Babylon”. This surge in container gardening is being driven by several main trends. Container gardening can be enjoyed by practically everyone whether you live in an apartment, a house or an estate. They are easy to plant and give you a chance to make your own artistic or design statement since there are literally thousands of containers you can use and thousands of plants that can work well in container gardens and even more combinations of plants that you can put together to create your own unique container garden. If you have a greenhouse or patio room you may be able to select your favorite container gardens to bring inside this fall to enjoy for the winter months and then return to the patio or other special spot next spring like you are royalty with your own conservatory. I have one friend who tells me he likes container gardens because he can move then to where the action is. He says they have some front porch friends and some patio friends and he moves most of his container gardens to the porch or patio depending on their guest hosting plans. Part of the rapid growth in container gardens is because of the dramatic expansion of choices in available containers and plants that do well in these containers. We live in the period that will be known as the container garden rebellion. Most of the old rules for container gardening have disappeared to where most all kinds of plants and a wide combination of plants can be used and enjoyed in container gardens. You are definitely not limited to orange trees, palms, herbs or geraniums and fern. Today we plant vegetables or tropicals with color plants and other previously unimaginable combinations.                

This is a great time to plant most everything including your own container gardens. The larger the container the easier it is to manage as far as watering and feeding. Use a good, well drained soil mix in your container gardens. If you are replanting an older container you should plan on changing the soil every few seasons as most soil mixes used with annuals will lose their porosity over time and not provide a good mix of air and water to the roots. Soak your container gardens after planting as you would a new flowerbed and then check the watering regularly. Make sure the container has one or more drain holes so the roots will not stand in water. As we get hotter and drier they will dry out more often, smaller containers and hanging baskets may dry out daily. You can reduce watering on container gardens by about half by adding polymer water absorbent crystals to your soil mix. You can also reduce watering by mulching the top of the containers with a bark or other natural mulch like you would use on your flowerbeds. Feed your container gardens regularly or use a slow release granular fertilizer periodically to keep your plants healthy and blooming.  Some folks like container gardens because they don’t have to bend down and dig in the ground but can plant than on a table or bench and set them where desired. One lady described container gardening as a planting hole she doesn’t have to bend over to reach and she is excited because the hole comes to her. One other interesting trend is setting container gardens on top or partially buried in flowerbeds to create focal points, provide different height elements to your designs or to make it easier to save special plants to bring in before winter.

We have been blessed with magnificent weather the last couple of weeks so get outside and work in your garden. Add a new flowerbed, plant some new trees, replant your old container gardens or add several new container gardens to liven up your home.


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