Gardening in planters

Hanging planters, planter boxes and other container gardens are perfect for growing flowers in Muskoka

Any landscaping project at your Muskoka cottage must cope with two unalterable realities: the season is short, and the soil is shallow.

We can’t do much about the length of our summers, but we certainly have options when it comes to the soil. We can bring in truckloads of topsoil, compost and mulch and transform an entire cottage landscape. Or — at a much lower cost — we can go all-in on planter gardens.

Gardening in planters and containers was once considered a second-best alternative to “real” gardening, something you did if your property was not much larger than an apartment balcony. But those days are long gone, and creative garden designers have shown that planter boxes, hanging planters and other containers can be a fantastic complement — or even complete alternative — to in-ground gardening.

At cottages in Muskoka, one of the biggest limitations for container gardening used to be watering. Planters hold much less water than a well-mulched garden bed, and so they need to be watered more often. That’s not a problem if you are at home and can spend a few minutes every morning watering your containers. But if you’re only up at the cottage on weekends — or only every few weeks — it used to be a serious issue.

Thankfully, those days are gone. Irrigation systems are subtle and effective, allowing us to water our planters remotely, and even vary the amount of water different pots receive — so that the pots at the end of the dock, which are dried out by wind as well as sun, get more water than those in the shelter of the porch.

Self-watering plant pots have also become much more efficient than they used to be. These containers have a large water reservoir at the bottom of the container, with a passive mechanism (the details vary by brand) that draws water up into the soil whenever the plants need it. Just fill the reservoir every week or two, and science and nature will take care of the rest.

With watering taken care of, gardening in planters becomes an incredibly useful option for cottage gardeners in Muskoka and elsewhere. The next question to consider, therefore, is what to grow in these wonderful planters?

The answer depends on the effect you’re looking to achieve.

Garden design: Thrill, Spill and Fill

The classic container design has “a thriller, a spiller, and a filler.” That is, a dominant specimen plant that thrills the eye; a trailing vine or low plant that spills over the sides; and something that spreads to fill in the spaces in between.

This is still an excellent formula for container gardens. You want to ensure there’s a harmonious balance of height and colour, that the “thrill” plant isn’t so tall that it appears disconnected from the other plants, the “spill” plant not so exuberant that it hides the container from view entirely, and so on. But you could very happily fill your entire property with three-flower containers without any risk of appearing boring.

But there are other options as well.

Plant pots with a single species can be a dramatic choice. Consider:

  • A series of identical pots, each containing an identical ornamental grass, can be a dramatic flourish for a formal garden.
  • Place a series of pots throughout the grounds, each of them planted with blooms of the same colour. Long-lasting annuals such as Calibrachoa (AKA Million Bells), Ageratum, or the old reliable Petunias are great options. Seeing the same colour splash repeated throughout the property ties it all together.
  • Pack a flower pot full of spring bulbs and enjoy a mass of daffodils or hyacinths during the bloom season, then move them when they’re done.
  • Fill a planter with cactus or other plants that demand hot, dry weather, and place it near a south-facing wall. When the season ends, bring it indoors for the winter.

Or consider thematic clusterings – either several plants in a single container, or a cluster of containers each with a single species. A herbal container garden might have rosemary, basil and thyme all growing together. Or choose a colour theme — lavender in one container, purple fountain grass in another, hyacinth bean vines in a third to create a shout of purple.

Containers with deeply-scented plants can be a wonderful addition to an entryway — encountering the vanilla aroma and deep purple blooms of heliotrope makes every trip out onto the deck into a sensory delight.

And don’t forget the vegetables and fruits.

  • Trailing strawberries have become so popular in hanging baskets that there are now varietals bred purely for containers.
  • Cherry tomatoes and other bush tomato varieties do extremely well in pots.
  • Chili peppers look fabulous, particularly late in the season when they mature to bright reds and yellows.

Growing in pots lets you put your plants exactly where they want to be — in the sun, the shade, or whatever else they prefer. And best of all, planters let you try something and change it easily — even midway through the season, if you’re not completely satisfied.

Give us a call and let’s talk about about some options for gardening in planters. It’s a great way to add excitement and variety to your Muskoka cottage garden this summer.

Here are some other gardening articles you may find useful:

Posted in In the Garden.