You can grow most plants in containers that you would grow in the open garden. Container plants come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours and include small trees (such as purple beech), shrubs (such as pittosporum, phormiums and cordylines), climbers (such as clematis and sweet peas), as well as perennials, grasses, bulbs and annual bedding plants.
To ensure success, ascertain whether you can provide your choice of plants with the right growing conditions. You can easily supply the best growing medium, but the amount of light your outdoor space receives is beyond your control. The level of sunshine is by far the most important factor for ensuring your plants will thrive — some plants like lots of sun, others don’t, so try to choose plants that will grow well in your space. The amount of sunshine a space receives depends on the “aspect”. This is the direction in which your garden faces —whether this is north, south, east or west. This affects which areas get lots of sun and which ones are in the shade for all or part of the day.
Working out the aspect of your space
Using the compass on your smartphone, stand outside with your back to your property and facing your garden, balcony, etc. Whatever position is directly ahead of you is the position your garden faces. So, if south is ahead of you, then your garden is south-facing. South-facing gardens receive the most sunlight; west-facing gardens receive afternoon and evening light; east-facing gardens receive morning light; north-facing gardens receive the least light.
Sun versus shade – which is better?
Strictly speaking, all aspects have pros and cons in terms of container gardening. Yes, there are more plants that prefer lots of sunshine – and who doesn’t want a sunny garden – but that also means you will have to water your containers more frequently. There are a few tricks you can employ to offset low light levels. For instance, to reflect light back into a space, try painting walls in white or cream, using mirrors and adding pale reflective gravel mulches. These techniques will trick plants into thinking they’re somewhere sunnier. If you’re gardening up high on a balcony or roof garden, then the wind factor also plays a part. Drying winds can desiccate plants, so bear this in mind when making your selection. You can also grow evergreen screening plants such as golden bamboo and laurel in large planters to provide shelter from cold, drying winds for susceptible plants.
Where to start?
I suggest you do a little bit of research and make notes before you buy any plants. This is the best approach for gaining a clearer idea of what you need, so you don’t stand dumbfounded in the garden centre not knowing where to start – which I have done at times.
I advise you to buy your containers first. This may seem a little odd, but it’s the best place to begin. Starting with the containers means that you can decide how much space you want to fill, where to put them and then how many plants you need to get. If you buy the containers before the plants, it’s a good idea to take them with you to the plant nursery or garden centre. If that’s not possible, make sure you at least take a picture of them on your phone. That way, you can match the containers to your selection of plants.