Contained to Grow
Instant gardening with pretty plants and a variety of containers immediately raises the spirits, and this month garden centres will be stocked with desirable plants
to make you go completely potty! We planted like demons to bid winter a final goodbye and to say a hearty hello to spring. Remember, you can plant basically anything in a container, so get inspired by our potting recipes
Container gardening definition:
The best thing about container gardening is that anyone can combine the beauty of flowers and foliage with the shape, form and colour of a container in such a way as to create a living piece of art. There is always room for a pretty container or two filled with plants, and that means that anyone can garden and nobody has an excuse not to try it!
Nourish your plants
Container plants are kept confined in a small space, unlike garden plants, which means that they are reliant on you to feed them according to their needs. It is generally best to feed any focal and leafy container plant at least once a month with a good liquid plant food. Do this twice a week for mixed containers housing seasonal annuals and perennials.
Use the right soil
Digging up some soil from the garden is not going to bring success in container gardening and should be avoided! Commercially produced potting soil has been carefully screened for weed seeds and soil-borne diseases, plus it contains fine bark, organic material and sharp river sand, all of which help with drainage but retain enough water to keep the roots evenly moist.
Inspired by: No other country in the whole wide world can lay claim to the same sensational indigenous spring colour that we can, with our fantastic Osteospermum hybrids sold under the collective name of Cape daisy. These ground-covering plants need full sun, and are loved by butterflies.
Good for: Window boxes, in mixed containers or in single patio pots.
Peak time: From spring to midsummer. Some of the tougher varieties will repeat flower in autumn.
Spread the light
Rotate a container plant sitting on a patio or a window box around frequently, to stop it from trying to grow towards the light and becoming skew.
Trust your fingers!
To test if a container needs watering, stick a finger into the soil: if it feels dry, it needs water
Inspired by: For a mass of colour, few plants beat the old-fashioned daisy bush, Argyranthemum frutescens. Every year more hybrids appear with each one seeming to be more floriferous and more compact than its predecessors.
Good for: Sunny patios, poolsides or anywhere that a typical spring feeling should be celebrated.
Peak time: They are showiest in spring but flower repeatedly in summer. If they are looked after well and pruned in midsummer, you can expect another massive flowering phase in autumn.
Two points to remember
1. When you garden in pots, you can control the plant environment to a large degree with a quality soil mix, the perfect growth position, regular feeding and the correct amount of water.
2. Remember that planted-up containers will not last forever and should be looked at each season to see if they can be rejuvenated or whether the plants should be replaced with something new.
Give your old pots a new look with a lick of paint before planting them up with daisies. We used fast drying chalk paint in red, yellow and light blue.
Inspired by: Summer is always accompanied by insects trying to take a bite out of you. Impress your guests with a very smart insect-repellent pot from which you can also harvest some leaves, petals and stalks to use in cooking, garden salads, or in mixing cocktails.
Good for: Place an aromatic pot like this one on the patio, or close to the braai area to repel flies and mosquitoes.
Peak time: This pot should remain pretty all summer long, and only the annuals (marigolds and calendula) might need to be replaced after a few months.
We’re often asked whether one can ‘stretch’ the volume of potting soil by adding some good-quality compost (which is cheaper than potting soil). There is no harm in mixing a general, all-purpose potting soil using 2/3 potting medium and 1/3 compost. This works well for mixed containers containing plants with no specific soil needs
Seasonal cross over
Inspired by: Some plants look great with or without flowers, like this beautiful specimen of Strelitzia parvifolia. The other reason for picking it as the centrepiece in this large focal pot is that it is a water-wise and disease- and pest-resistant plant.
Good for: This is an elegant combination with a wild and mature look, which is best displayed at a sunny entrance where it presents a good first impression.
Peak time: You will have much joy out of this potting combination, with flowers or subtle foliage colour all year long. What more can one ask from an instant ‘garden’?
Syncarpha argentea ‘Emma Everlasting’ lives true to the name given to it by an Eastern Cape wholesale grower. This plant seems to be indestructible and can suffer any abuse thrown at it without succumbing. But if you care for it, it will grow lushly and supply you with masses of papery, rose-pink buds fading to white with bright yellow centres carried on wiry silver-white stems. It flowers from winter until deep summer. Keep it in check by cutting it back firmly after a flower flush to produce compact new growth.
It seems that Strelitzia parvifolia falls between S. reginae (blue crane flower), with its assegai like leaves, and S. juncea, which has leaves that are more rush-like. This beautiful plant has shortened, spoonlike leaves, which give it a very interesting appearance. Strelitzias can flower from March to October and will grow nicely in full sun or partial shade. Strelitzia parvifolia is a slow grower that will withstand wind and drought, but will perform much better if watered and fed regularly.
Using two small Australian heathers (Thryptomene ‘Payne’s Hybrid’) in this potting recipe was probably more an act of nostalgia than anything else (although it blends in with the total look and will thrive with the same growing conditions as the other plants). This small, low growing shrub is no longer ‘top of the pops’, but is such a pretty and tough little thing! It produces arching branches covered in small pink flowers in late winter and spring.
The Festuca ovina ‘Glauca’ used between all the other plants in this container is not there just to hide gaps. With its silvery blue leaves it also supplies rich texture and subtle, complimentary colour to the container. Festucas, both in green or steel grey, will always play this role in any plant combination!