Before buying containers, work out what sizes you'll need, how they'll look, what plants you want to grow and how much time you have for watering.
There are many different types and styles of containers, each producing a different effect; some suit formal schemes, while others are best for more naturalistic designs. In addition, the material your pot is made from affects its durability and cost. Antique stone containers, for example, are expensive, long-lasting, and very heavy, but you can buy cast-stone pots for less, while imitation plastic replicas achieve a similar effect for a fraction of the cost. This article explores the pros and cons of each type of container, helping you to make the best choices for your patio and your budget.
Advantages: Large containers are instant focal points, so spend as much as you can on a few beautiful ones, and place them strategically. They don't need large plants—small plants look just as good—or you can leave them empty.
Disadvantages: Large pots can be costly and heavy. They dominate small spaces, and may become superfluous if you restyle the garden regularly.
Advantages: You can pack a huge number of small containers into a limited space, hanging them on walls and standing them on shelving supported by bricks at different heights, creating a traditional border with plenty of height at the back. Small, lightweight pots are also easily rearranged, and they can be squeezed into borders where gaps appear. There’s a large choice available, from ornamental Italianate models to glazed pots in blue, red or almost any color you like.
Disadvantages: There are two main seasonal problems. In summer, the pots quickly dry out in hot weather, and may need watering three times a day. In winter, the roots are just the width of the thin pot away from icy winds and may freeze solid, so tender plants will need protecting.
Advantages: Look in Mediterranean courtyards and you will see trailing pelargoniums, herbs and other colorful plants in an incredible range of containers, nailed to the walls. They increase the scale of the garden, creating vertical planting space in small plots. Windowboxes also help to frame windows, and bring the garden up close to those inside the house.
Disadvantages: As with all small containers in full sun, they need frequent drinks in hot weather. When watered, the soil becomes surprisingly heavy, so wall pots and windowboxes must be fixed securely with nails or screws. Beware of water dripping down walls; marks may stain unless they are wiped away promptly.
Advantages: You can squeeze a surprisingly large number of plants into hanging baskets, creating varied, layered displays with strong presence. The baskets can be subtle or magnificent, and used individually or in groups. The plants are also easily replaced each season for continuous, colorful displays. The baskets themselves can add fun anywhere from shoulder level to above head height, and there are many different types to choose from.
Disadvantages: Baskets need to be securely attached to the wall with brackets since they are heavy, especially when wet, and can cause damage or injury if they come crashing down. Check that no one is going to bump into them, and that they can be watered easily with a can or special hose extension.
Excerpted from Simple Steps: Containers for Patios
©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007