Sunday, February 17, 2008

Four things I hate about container gardening books

I have two types of gardening books on my bookshelves : the first are about gardening, the second are about container gardening.

The container gardening books have a different emphasis from the others. They're not so much about how to grow things, as what plants to combine to produce the most attractive containers. And at times they drive me mad. Here's why ...

1. The presumption that container gardening means patio gardening, or at least that you have a large terrace. If you can use enormous containers, raised beds and so on, its a whole different ball game from balcony gardening, and much of what you need to know is no different from gardening with a garden. The book often looks great, but relegates small container gardening to hardly more than a chapter.

2. The perfect pictures. Five different types of plant in the same container, all in flower and at their best, and all exactly complementary heights and lengths at exactly the same time. Yeah, yeah. Buy them from the garden centre, give them a week to settle and they'll be like that - for another week. But then one will shoot up, another will get attacked by pests, and a third will stop flowering. And the container will spend the rest of the summer looking tatty.

3. The one-sided pictures. The most difficult thing about balcony gardening is that all the light comes from one direction. So the plants lean towards it, away from the house, and the container ends up lop-sided with the plants trailing over the balcony railings away from you. All you get to see from your living room are the backs of flowers and leaves leaning away. And tall plants end up looking like the leaning tower of Pisa. Smaller containers can be turned regularly, but that doesn't help with the large fixed ones. Look at the one in the photo for example - super. But what's it like from the other side?

4. The perfect colour schemes, achieved only by going out to buy an exact variety of a plant. Phyllitis scolopendrium "Cristatum" - whaaat ? Here I'd be lucky if I could get the plant, let alone a specific variety. I have sometimes thought of going to our local garden centre with a list and saying "I'm looking for these." I suspect the reply would be the Italian equivalent of "What about some nice pelargoniums, luv?"

OK, OK - I'm just envious because my containers never look as good as the ones in the books. But that doesn't stop me yanking them out every spring, poring over the pictures and trying again. And buying more. Maybe this year ...

8 comments:

Jim/ArtofGardening said...

I think you're confusing container gardening with styling a photo so it looks its best. You're right though, a good book would address many of your complaints.

jodi said...

Oh, Sue you're so funny. I'm trying to imagine an Italian nursery operator saying that, only I'm getting an English (cockney or lancastershire) accent on him.

But humour aside, you're correct. These points are a flaw that many container books don't address. My solution to the light thing is to turn the containers regularly--but I also have 7 acres, not a balcony, so I can just MOVE things if they're not getting exactly what they want.

artistsgarden said...

Sue,
Thank you so much for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I have enjoyed looking at yours
Regards
Karen

flowergardengirl said...

I know the solution! I've worked on many a balcony container and help is on the way---( superman music playing in the backgroud)---go to my site and look at my recipe for soil in containers. Now that you have good dirt--are your containers draining well? If not, cut a length of old towels, stick it in one of the holes in the bottom of the container and let it wick out the extra water. Most balcony containers are either too wet or too dry.

You are right about nursery containers being too busy and messy in a few weeks. First, only three plants per container. One tall, one busy, one trailing. Pick appropriate size containers for the adult size of the plant. Lastly--on the side that faces your interior and gets more shade, plant semi shade plants. It will most likely be the bushy plant in the combo. It could be coleus--many wonderful varieties with lots of color. It could be Euphorbias, heucheras, boxwoods, begonias, etc---I have lots of ideas for you if you would like help.

notsocrafty.com said...

I have to agree the majority of the books are aimed at florists and are totally unrealistic. I was given a book for Christmas called the Bountiful Container which is much more about gardening information and less about style.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Sounds like you need a book about balcony container design. Is there 1? Should you write 1? I'm glad I don't have that problem. I'm sure your containers look great from the public side, but the side you see is where you have the problems. Would strategically placed mirrors help with getting light to the back of the large containers? Or would it be better to plant shade lovers at the side away from the balcony? Tricky...

Marie said...

Once I got past the delema of what container to use, the rest was a snap! My organic container gardens have produced enough to food to save our family hundreds of dollars a year!

jc said...

I agree Sue. I think that most gardeners have only a little space not vast yards. I especially dislike the books that have so much white space around the pictures--I want to see the plants in their setting.(Yes, that is a styling issue but I'm an artist).

I've just begun keeping a blog about my balcony garden though I've been gardening in containers for over twenty years.

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