Gardening in containers can be a lot of fun, and I have found many situations where container gardening was the answer to a particular gardening dilemma. Using various containers absolutely solved many gardening issues including adding color to patio areas, creating planting areas where flower beds are non-existent, controlling soil pH, making cold- or sun/heat-sensitive plants portable, and water conservation.
For me, gardening with containers seriously began many years ago when my husband and I moved into our current house. We decided that part of what we wanted to do with the back patio was to add some lattice on the ends and across part of the width in order to create an outside room (sort of) and some privacy from the neighbors since our only fence at the time was chain link – great for keeping things in and out of the yard, but useless for privacy.
We wanted to grow vines on the lattice to offer additional screening, plus a cooling effect from the plants, which is very necessary during the summer. Natural cooling helps us reduce our cooling expenses during the hot summers of the Southern California desert. Each end of the patio was adjacent to planting beds so we were able to plant our vines – trumpet vine and honeysuckle – directly into the ground. Across the width of the patio was a different story – it was a good two feet from the lattice to the ground. Our solution was to use large containers as planting beds. The plants we chose for the containers were an evergreen vine called Star Jasmine, which quickly grew up the lattice creating the desired privacy effect, and have provided us with intoxicatingly fragrant springtime blooms ever since. We love hanging out in our hammock when they are in bloom.
For a few years I had blueberries in containers and they have done very well. I recently transplanted them into my raised bed garden and they are doing nicely there as well. In both situations, I am able to give the blueberries the acidic soil they require. The native soil in the desert is alkaline and it is a constant battle to make it acidic enough for blueberries, plus the containers and raised beds make managing the soil easy.
A few years ago I also purchased a selection of Kiwi Berries. I planted them in the desert soil along with some organic amendments. They struggled to survive, and I lost nearly half of them. The following year, I dug up the survivors and planted them in large containers with organic potting, mix. They have done quite nicely growing lengthy vines. I am hoping that next year they will begin to produce berries.
A couple of years ago we decided to enlarge the size of our front porch, along with widening our driveway, and create yet another enjoyable outdoor space where we could sit and watch passersby or enjoy a cup of coffee and a good book. To create some interest, I wanted to include many types of containers – mostly made from wood, plastic or ceramics – of various shapes and sizes in which to house a number of colorful flowers and maybe some edibles as well. Again, using organic potting mix, I chose a variety of mostly perennial flowering plants – hybrid tea roses, miniature roses, lavender, a Canna, a living Christmas tree, salvia, assorted succulents, sweet William, pincushion flower, and some bulbs. To add an extra splash of color I also add a few annuals to the mix – currently pansies. The container plantings have more than exceeded my expectations – gorgeous colors and textures – and I am always getting compliments on how inviting my front porch has become.
Also included in the grouping of containers on the front porch are three dwarf fruit trees – a Meyers lemon, a Bearss Lime, and a Negrone fig. Since these small trees can be sensitive to the desert’s cold winters, they can be easily transported to a space in the garage when temperatures plummet.
The benefits of using containers are many. They offer the ability to have a flower or edible garden no matter how small your outdoor space is. In earlier years, I spent time living in apartments, but always had a small patio or balcony. These places offered great opportunities for container gardening to add some color and to grow a few veggies as well – tomatoes and strawberries were especially successful.
It’s not new news that California is in a historical drought. Many folks are being forced to restrict their water use, especially for landscape purposes. Instead of having a yard full of water-hogging trees, shrubs, and lawns, people are learning to plant more water-conserving landscapes. One way of keeping a few thirsty plants and not use a lot of water is to plant them in non-porous containers and use them as accents or focal points in strategic locations near entries or patios, while letting the rest of the yard be drought tolerant.
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