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IT MAKES SENSE TO GO POTTY IN THE GARDEN!; Shortage of space is not a problem if you fill your patch or patio with a rich display of blooms and shrubs - in containers. CHARLES LYTE explains how...; `There is almost nothing that cannot be grown in containers - even tomatoes and strawberries'.

PATIO and container gardening is one of the great modern developments. It has brought the joy of growing plants and creating a beautiful environment to hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise have missed out on the nation's favourite leisure pursuit.

In many new housing developments there's not enough room for conventional gardens but there's often space for a patio or a paved area which can then be "planted" with hanging baskets, terracotta pots, glazed pots, troughs, urns, chimney pots, wooden barrels...anything, providing it is free draining.

Even in flats, the same principles of gardening can be applied to verandahs and window boxes.

The huge growth in container gardening has brought a much wider range of plants. At one time it was Geraniums (Pelargoniums), Lobelia, Fuchsias, Tagates and Petunias. Now, just about anything goes as people realise there is almost nothing you cannot grow in a container.

Usually the priority is for a brilliant summer display. If you don't grow your own plants from seed, the most economical way is to buy plugs, or starter plants. The cheapest are the small plugs, scarcely more than seedlings, or jumbo plugs, which can be planted directly where they are to flower, providing all risk of frost has passed.

To guarantee success, plug plants - which come in trays - should be transferred into three-inch pots, grown on into sturdy plants under cover, hardened off and then planted out.

This is easily done, using a soilless compost, in a greenhouse or cold frame, with a little heat, in a conservatory or sunroom.

If you have none of these then a windowsill will do as well, although you will have to keep turning the pots to prevent the plants becoming leggy by growing towards the light.

All-purpose soilless composts are not over-rich in nutrients, so to encourage good root growth water the plants with something like diluted seaweed extract, such as Maxicrop.

They can be encouraged to become bushy by nipping out the leading shoot when they are planted out.

Hardening off is important and should be done quite gradually by standing the plants outside during the day for a week, bringing them in at night, and then leaving them out day and night for four days to a week.

Whether you use a soil-based John Innes-type potting mixture, all- purpose soilless, or make up your own, relatively little mixture in a container has to support a large number of plants, so they must be fed with liquid fertiliser throughout the growing season.

Dead flowers should be removed daily to ensure a steady succession of blooms.

Container gardening is like creating a stage set. In a relatively small space, you are creating a picture, a beautiful illusion, perhaps, by using height and depth as well as the colour, shape and texture of the plants.

Hanging baskets and window boxes immediately raise the level of the planting. They will be the first containers to catch the eye, and so must be very well planted - err on the side of over-planting.

Individual terracotta flower pots set in wall brackets and planted with Geraniums produce a superb Mediterranean effect.

There is a wide choice of hanging baskets in garden centres and shops. Some are moulded out of plastic or fibre but nothing can really beat the traditional wire basket because they can be planted in the round.

Basket liners come in a variety of materials - plastic, coir, foam plastic, cardboard and papier mache. But sphagnum moss gives a truly natural look. Manufactured liners have to be punctured for drainage, and slit to allow side planting.

Whatever you decide to use, first line the basket and then about a third fill it with the potting mixture. Plant from the outside all the way round so that the roots of the plants are lying on the compost.

Cover them with a generous layer of compost. Then plant the second tier and continue to within a couple of inches of the top and plant up the surface. As the plants develop, they will create a ball of foliage and flowers.

To get a lovely cascading effect, plant the sides of the hanging baskets with Ivy-leafed Geranium, Lobelia, Diascia or the new trailing Petunias.

Fuchsias, or the compact dwarf Zonal Geraniums, are perfect for the surface of the basket.

Window boxes are simply small, narrow borders and can put on a year-round display with Winter Pansies, Crocus, Snowdrops, Narcissi, Scillas, dwarf Tulips and Primroses in the spring, followed by half -hardy annuals in the summer.

Trailing Fuchsias like Red Spider and Pink Marshmallow look wonderful tumbling over the side of the box.

Dwarf conifers, variegated ivy and low-growing Hebes can be used for permanent planting.

The most exciting challenge comes at ground level. There is a very wide choice of pots now available, some quite cheap, others pretty expensive, but barring accidents good terracotta pots, and they really are the best, will last for years, but make sure you buy those guaranteed to be frost- proof or they will crack and flake.

When you are starting a potted garden begin by buying the largest pot you can afford. It will become the centre piece.

After that buy pots of different sizes and shapes which will give you the scope for making interesting arrangements. The thing to avoid is buying pots of all the same size. However well you plant them, they will look flat and uninteresting.

Make permanent plantings in large pots, using Camellias, Rhododendrons, Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata) and roses - particularly the new English Roses which have all the charm of old-fashioned roses but are repeat flowering. Miniature and Patio roses do well in small pots.

New Zealand Flax (Phormium), particularly those with beautifully- coloured and variegated leaves, Yuccas, Fatsia and Fatshedera, create a sculptured look.

The Blue African Lily (Agapanthus), colourful hybrid Asiatic lilies, and the magnificent species lilies like Lilium regale, L. auratum and L. speciosum, and Angel's Trumpets (Brugmansia) bring a glamorous opulence to the display.

As with the window boxes, bulbs will give an early splash of colour before being replaced with annuals.

Once the shape of the potted garden has been established with the permanent planting, pools and swirls of colour are created with clusters of small pots crammed with the bright shades of Monkey Masks (Mimulus), Busy Lizzies (Impatiens), Alpine Campanulas, bedding Dahlias, Swan River Daisies (Brachycome oberidifolia), icy cool pools of white Allysum, and miniature volcanoes of the bushy Nasturtiums. The list is almost endless.

Softer colours come from two well-behaved Bindweeds (Convolvulus mauritanicus and C. cneorum), and a particularly lovely Onion (Allium karataviense).

You can, of course, use containers to grow climbers such as Morning Glory (Ipomea), Canary Creeper (Tropaeolum peragrinum), Wisteria, Passion Flower and many others.

Don't dismiss the idea of growing herbs, tomatoes, strawberries, French beans, and even carrots and beetroot in pots. Troughs and stone sinks are perfect for Alpine rock garden plants, and ornamental urns are elegant.

Even if you only have a patio or a small paved area it doesn't mean you can't have a water feature.

Wooden half-barrels lined with plastic or Butyl pond liner are perfect for growing Water Lilies, or the exotic Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes). They both float and because they come from hot climates are treated as half-hardy annuals.

TAKE A TIP

Always thoroughly scrub and clean containers with hot water and Jeyes Fluid before planting.

Never use last year's potting compost or the

contents of old grow bags.

Make sure all containers are free-draining.

Water daily. Once potting compost dries out it is very difficult to get moist again.

Feed with liquid fertiliser at least every 10 days.

Make certain that window boxes and hanging baskets are securely attached to walls and posts.

If plants have rootballs too large to push through the side of a hanging basket, wrap the top growth in a twist of newspaper and push through from the inside.

Cover the surface of pots and containers with pea beach gravel to reduce evaporation and

suppress weeds.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Lyte, Charles
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Mar 24, 1996
Words:1345
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