Greenhouse Canada

Hot pots: Landscaping goes miniature in containers

July 15, 2008  By Lisa A. Flam The Associated Press

July 15, 2008, New York – Forget planting geraniums in a whiskey barrel: The humble world of container gardening has gone upscale. Container gardening is the fastest-growing area of nurseries, says John Trax Jr., past president of the Garden Center America trade group.

Forget planting geraniums in a whiskey barrel: The humble world of container gardening has gone upscale.

Container gardening is the fastest-growing area of nurseries, says John Trax Jr., past president of the Garden Center America trade group. Nurseries are creating custom pots and seasonal arrangements, while books detail highly designed plantings that some consider an art form.


“I'm doing it more and more and more,'' says Jan Johnsen, a landscape designer in Bedford Hills, N.Y., whose clients with containers include Bill and Hillary Clinton. “When we design swimming pools and outdoor seating areas, the plan is not complete unless we include pots of summer flowering plants.''

Planting flowers, plants, trees, shrubs, ornamental grass, herbs or vegetables in a pot is touted as a quick and low-maintenance way to add something beautiful to the landscape because weeds typically do not grow. It's also great for people short on time or space.

While the method has been around for decades, the more highly designed arrangements have come into style in about the past 10 years.

“It's not just growing plants in pots, but thinking about colour, line, form and texture and turning it into a little bit of an art exercise,'' says Ray Rogers, author of “Pots in the Garden.''

“People have been container gardening forever. Now it's more adventuresome. A lot more effort is put into it.''

Planted pots can go on a patio, around a pool, near a front door or gate. They can also be put right into a plant bed or used to create a focal point in a garden. Properties may have one or two pots, or 50 or 100 to add drama.

While the whiskey barrel and strawberry jar planters that became popular decades ago are still around, pots are available in wood, stone, iron, ceramics, metal, cement, terra cotta clay and synthetics made to look like heavier, more expensive materials like lead and zinc. Pots are sold for anywhere from $2 to $1,000, Rogers says.

And the plants that go inside have also grown up.

“It used to be you put a bunch of geraniums in a pot and that was acceptable,'' says Johnsen, of Johnsen Landscapes & Pools. “Now of course, the range and the variety of plants we can put into pots have increased exponentially.''

A formal garden may call for a stone pot on top of a pedestal. A cottage garden may have profuse, lush plantings. Modern pots at a contemporary home often hold ornamental grass.

Pots surrounding a pool tend to feature tropical plantings, such as bird of paradise or hibiscus. A front-door arrangement may showcase a formal topiary.

Containers are a popular do-it-yourself project, or they can be done by a landscape designer or gardener as part of a larger project. Most retail nurseries have container gardening supplies, and some have staff to design and plant the pots. Nurseries also sell pre-potted mixed and single-species container gardens.

“The hottest button right now has been in the past two or three years to develop a container garden counter,” Trax said.

A large part of the business at Michael's Garden Gate Nursery in Mount Kisco, N.Y., is planting container gardens, says manager Michele Terlizzi. Many customers leave the design to her, she says. “Other customers are a little more choosy and want to be involved with the process,” Terlizzi says.

A pot can hold several different kinds of plantings, as long as everything in the pot has the same need for sun or shade. And while summer is the big planting season and pots are filled to bloom all summer, container gardening is done all year round by some dedicated gardeners and nurseries.

Michael's nursery creates fall pots with mums, pansies and ornamental cabbage and kale, winter pots with cut evergreen and cut holly, and spring pots with pansies and cool-weather annuals like snapdragon, nemesia and lobelia. Customers can have standing orders for the pots to be changed every season.

Several nurseries are creating “drop-in” container gardens, in which they design several seasonal choices and sell them in an inexpensive plastic pot. The buyer then drops it into a decorative pot they have at home, and they can change it each season.

Container gardening is popular, in part, due to its versatility. Rogers notes that if something is not working in a particular pot, it can be moved more easily than if it had been planted in the ground.

Rogers encourages experimentation with plant combinations.

“If it looks good to you and you enjoy it, then do it,” says Rogers. “There are definitely horticultural rules, but once you understand the basics, if you want to put pink and orange together, go ahead.”

The Associated Press

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