Containers come in a wide range of materials, from metal to ceramic to wood, but the right choice depends on three key factors: the design of your garden or patio, where the containers are to be positioned and the size of your budget.
Advantages: Most garden centers now have a huge range of clay pots, from the tiny and inexpensive to wide-rimmed, big-bellied "sumo wrestlers" that can be very costly. Old pots (or reproductions) with swagged patterns add Renaissance antiquity and a sculptural touch.
Disadvantages: Clay is porous and dries out quickly; a polythene liner can help reduce this problem. Also check that pots are frost-proof, not just frost-resistant. Make sure that plants aren’t top-heavy, or the pot may blow over in high winds and break.
Tip: Clay pots are often best in semi-shade to prevent them from drying out too quickly.
Advantages: Solid hardwood barrels and containers made from logs are long-lasting and a good choice for permanent plantings in rustic settings. Large tubs have plenty of space for root development and extra plants—such as seasonal bulbs—around the sides.
Disadvantages: Check whether softwood containers or windowboxes need treatment with a plant-friendly wood preservative. They also need to be lined with plastic to prevent soil from spilling out. Large barrels are heavy when planted, so plant them in situ.
Tip: Rustic wood is ideal for woodland plants.
Advantages: Stone has a solid, antique look. Larger containers suit permanent plantings and offer plenty of room for root growth. Genuine old stone can be very expensive, but less costly modern copies in reconstituted stone or concrete are widely available. Smear with natural live yogurt to create an algae-covered surface.
Disadvantages: Since real stone is heavy, check its final position before planting. Large, expensive containers may need concreting in position to prevent theft. Gray stone can be dispiriting.
Tip: Soften a gray stone container with daisylike anthemis.
Advantages: Shiny metal containers have great appeal, particularly in modern, minimalist settings. Use with shapely, sculptural plants, such as bamboos, grasses and large-leaved exotics.
Disadvantages: Metal heats up quickly on scorching midsummer days. To avoid plant roots becoming frazzled in hot, quick drying potting mix, line the insides of containers with bubble plastic or plastic sheeting. This will also act as a quilt in winter, protecting the roots from freezing temperatures.
Tip: Plant metal containers with spreading, shapely leaves for a sculptural touch.
Advantages: A wide range of synthetic containers (usually plastic) are now available in many different colors and shapes. Inexpensive and fun in the right setting, they’re also lightweight (for those with badbacks), and are ideal for roof gardens and balconies where you need to minimize the load.
Disadvantages: Not suitable for tall or top heavy plants, which may blow over in strong winds. Avoid using them in sober, traditional settings, where they can look cheap and tacky.
Tip: Set off flashy containers with equally strong planting.
Excerpted from Simple Steps: Containers for Patios
©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007