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Cork Lives
 Great Dixter is famous for its pot displays that it uses to trial different plants before adding them to the gardens
Great Dixter is famous for its pot displays that it uses to trial different plants before adding them to the gardens
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Container gardening is 'pots' of fun... here's why!

THERE are endless possibilities when it comes to container gardening, that can range from a few simple and affordable containers to complex and more expensive systems.

So, before you get started, it is always a good idea to sketch out or pre-design what your ideal container garden would look like and roughly what you think you would like to spend creating it.

You don’t need acres of land to be a keen gardener. With a little ingenuity and imagination, window sills, balconies and even flat rooftops can be adapted to provide an area that can be enhanced by you to become a beautiful garden.

Being a gardener is about having love or interest in plants and using whatever space you may have to maximize its efficiency.

Container gardening was developed by the Egyptians and Romans and became very trendy in California and in the U.S in the late 1950s before becoming popular throughout the world. It keeps gaining momentum and not only because of smaller spaces available for gardening. Container vegetable gardening or herb gardening in containers is a great way to have fresh ingredients outside your door.

You may wish your container garden to be as small as a single container with a variety of plants. Or you could set out several close together and give the effect of a larger garden area.

Using containers to create the effect of a larger garden area will still allow you the flexibility of expanding by adding more or removing them and becoming a smaller area again if you wish.

 Terracotta pots.

Terracotta pots.

For many people, especially anyone living in a town or city, this space could be very small. It might even just be made up of a few containers and pots around a patio or balconym but don’t let that hold you back from being creative. Garden centres have seen sales for outdoor plant pots rise dramatically compared to last year, from glazed to terracotta pots, it seems people are going potty for them.

Almost any type of plant can be grown in a container, including trees, but if you are gardening on a balcony or rooftop, there will be a weight limitation. Balconies are usually built to support only a few people, so it is important to consider how much extra weight it can support.

Weight is also important for roof top gardens. Remember that one cubic metre (10 cubic feet) of soil weighs about one tonne. This can be alleviated by using lighter soil mixes and making sure that drainage is adequate for the removal of excess moisture. The size of the containers you use will be dictated by the kind of plants you want to grow. Remember that when it comes to container gardening, the container you plant in is the only home for this plant.

If you want your plants to grow healthy, you have to make sure the container you plant them in is large enough. There are numerous types of containers made from different materials and each have their pros and cons.

 Wooden planters come in all shapes and sizes, seen here as home to succulents

Wooden planters come in all shapes and sizes, seen here as home to succulents

Terracotta containers (inset below) are really attractive to plant in. They look attractive in a garden, but do have their downside. They can be more expensive and heavier to move and are breakable. They also tend to get very hot in a sunny spot so may require more frequent watering.

Ceramic containers are similar to terracotta containers and once again look beautiful in a garden. They tend to hold moisture a little better due to the glaze on the container and won’t typically get as hot as terracotta containers, but they are usually more expensive. They are a good investment but maybe too expensive to do a large area.

Plastic is going to be the cheapest option and is the lightest to move around. One issue with plastic containers is they are difficult to dispose of, so if you choose to purchase them for your garden make sure you use them year after year.

 Stunning foliage arrangement in terracotta pots at Patthana gardens last week. Begonia and coeleus providing a great display.

Stunning foliage arrangement in terracotta pots at Patthana gardens last week. Begonia and coeleus providing a great display.

Wooden containers especially raised bed containers, can be very effective in gardens and are an excellent option for plants that need extra room.

Cement planters are expensive but incredibly durable. They are heavy though, especially once a medium has been added into them, so it is advisable to use them as more permanent containers that you don’t plan to move around.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting their container gardens is not investing in quality organic potting soil. Soil mix needs to drain well to reduce problems with waterlogging, fungal disease and increased weight. On the other hand, a soil mix that dries out too fast and doesn’t retain moisture will impair healthy plant growth.

Drainage is also important, a shallow container under a pot will reduce run off problems and the water collected can soak back up into the potting mix. A few small holes in a recycled plastic bottle filled with water will provide a slow drip system for larger pots and tubs.

Container gardens do need special care regarding water and nutrients, since in the restricted environment of a pot, roots can’t burrow deep down into the soil to tap into the earth’s natural supplies.

Watering systems can vary from a watering can through to trickle irrigation system or a garden hose connected to the kitchen tap.

Some fine mulch, small stones or gravel around the base of plants in pots will help retain water and keep the potting mix moist, but avoid building mulch up against the stem of the plant as that can lead to problems.

A wide range of plants, both native and exotic, will survive and thrive in pots and containers so, whether you have a patio, balcony, veranda or town house with little or no garden, there are still plenty of horticultural opportunities for you to avail of!