Containers and planters aren’t just an option for most Muskoka gardens: they’re essential. Lush planters at the end of the dock, window boxes overflowing with vibrant blooms, and creative containers artfully placed around the cottage are part of the very essence of Muskoka landscaping.
Container gardens were first used here as a matter of necessity, but designers have elevated them to an artform. “Containers are the perfect way to enjoy some colour and structure in Muskoka, whether that’s just a few pots or you are using containers to define the entire look of your property,” says Karen Tolton, owner of Water’s Edge Landscaping.
In a region of thin, rocky soils like ours, containers serve a practical purpose. At their most basic, containers are a great alternative to bringing in soil, manure and compost to build a large flower bed.
They also allow gardeners to overcome another bitter reality of gardening in Muskoka: our short, short growing season. “With containers, we can bring tender perennials indoors when there’s a frost risk, or even for the entire winter. Heat-loving plants can be moved around the property, so they’re against a sunny wall in May and August when the nights are cool, but on the dock in June and July when they get all the heat they need,” Karen says. “They’re just so versatile.”
When it comes to designing a container, Karen uses a lot of the same principles as she uses for garden beds. “You need to think about colour balance, texture, height, the progression of blooms through the season.” she says.
In a container, you also need to balance the size of the plants to the container itself, as well as taking full advantage of trailing plants. “The classic line is ‘Thrill, Fill and Spill,’” Karen says. “You want something that will thrill the eye, something that will fill the container, and something that will spill over the sides.”
The biggest limitation for cottage container gardens used to be watering: in the heat of summer, some containers need watering daily, which is impossible for weekend cottagers. But these days, the combination of self-watering containers and easy-to-hide irrigation systems has all but eliminated that concern.
“Whether you’re at the cottage every day all summer, or you just make it for the occasional weekend, we can create containers that are at their absolute peak when you want them to be,” says Karen. “It really is the ultimate way to garden in Muskoka.”
This article appeared in the spring-summer edition of Dockside magazine.