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More About Containers

The Flaneur du Pays continues his disquision on Containers.

Belgian pots from NYBG.org

Materials

Pots and containers are available in all the materials that a sculptor might employ: woods, metals (zinc seems to be the current favorite), clay, and recently fiberglass and synthetic resins. The natural materials remain the most aesthetically pleasing, but utility, lightness of weight and weather-durability all have their virtues as well and this is why the newer materials must be considered. These materials have, like the plants they’ll hold, a lifespan and a limit. Wood ages and rots, metal corrodes, terracotta cracks with frost and resins suffer solar damage. One can deplore this lack of immortality or face reality and embrace the patina. Face it: we’re all developing a patina, no?

Shapes – and Uses

Now that we’ve agreed we’re patinated, let’s also agree that we reflect an abundance of shapes and sizes. Containers for the garden are an equally diverse population and all have their uses. In plan, pots tend to be either round or square with variations (ovals, ellipses, rectangles and rhombuses represented). Planter heights are offered in infinite variety, and one may favor lower, broad containers to emphasize horizontal lines, or taller pots to underscore the vertical.

Chez Flaneur

Tall pots can, in pairs, define an entry or even act much as bollards and prevent unwanted circulation – such as keeping automobiles at bay and away from pedestrians. Lower, larger containers can provide color and texture without obscuring the view of someone who is seated. We’ve all seen the rectangular boxed planters that separate the pedestrians’ portion of the sidewalk from the café patron’s table. The (usually wood or metal) planters may themselves be pedestrian, but with something green flourishing, they become attractive and useful. Urns of flowering plants placed at the bottom (or top) of a stairway, a drive or a walkway emphasize the intended pathway and enhance the experience of making the transition between spaces.

A line of planters can define an edge, and act as a visual warning  – no there isn’t a railing but there is a retaining wall ahead. Round or square, tall or… not, pots can be had with or without drainage holes (and most purveyors will drill holes for customers – with the proviso that the item is non-returnable). More specialized containers include the “strawberry” pot, with multiple “pockets” on its side(s), suitable for cacti, Alpine plants and… strawberries.

By far the greatest virtue of a plant container is that it allows the plant to be brought indoors when outdoor conditions threaten. At the Boboli gardens in Florence, the scores of giant terracotta pots, each holding a lemon tree, are moved in and out with the seasons. One immediately thinks of wealthy fin de siècle sanitarium or spa patients being wheeled out onto a terrace to convalesce and take the sun. I assure you I have always felt as if my years of caring for agapanthus (which are now blessedly back out on the terrace) have been like years of caring for aging relatives: feeding them broth and wheeling them about in Bath chairs. Were they not in containers they’d be long dead. The agapanthus, I mean.

You know best the needs of whatever you’ll be placing in a container. You’d be foolish to seek my advice except to heed these admonitions:

Les Jardins du Roi Soleil

  • To paraphrase English Arts and Crafts Movement founder William Morris, possess only those planters you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
  • Less is more – both in design or decoration and in price. Quite often a discount store will have just the thing for a price that allows you to invest in more important garden assets. Recycled objects can be brilliantly employed as containers. For every bathtub inverted to shelter the Virgin, washing machine placed to receive geraniums or tractor tire employed to hold marigolds there have been handsome objects repurposed to splendid effect as plant containers. You’re a gardener for goodness sake: you have imagination!
  • Exercise restraint: after all it is a garden and plant materials installed as God intended should not be overwhelmed by planters, containers and plant-holding “furniture”. Quite possibly you’re the determined and capable gardener who can handle and manage plants in beds and plots. So you have no need for containers.

    Flora Danica

  • If you’re one of the many who have no garden at all – the apartment dweller, perhaps – but still have an urge to have a containerized plant, may I suggest the eternal and utile cachepot? Should you opt for the Flora Danica cachepot and go for a 200-year old, antique specimen, I assure you that you’ll be well on your way to financial ruin – just like a real gardener!

Ikea saucer

If you cannot use your container for planting, fill it with water – birds must bathe. Install a pump and you’ll be steps closer to the basins and fountains of Versailles.

5 comments to More About Containers

  • Every year a few more containers creep into my gardens. There are so many beautiful designs to choose from! I use them to cheat a bit – my alkaline soil prevents me from planting certain flowers so I grow these special ones in containers where I can easily amend the soil. 🙂

  • Pat

    kate – You have pointed out one of the other benefits of growing in containers. Thank you.

  • Less is more? Je crois que non, Flaneur!

  • Still smiling from the “we’re all developing a patina” bit. I’m getting my patina a touch too rapidly, in my opinion. Hoping that adds to my value, as with other things that develop a patina;)

    Christine in Alaska

  • Pat

    Christine – Patina is inevitable. We might as well accept all the benefits of value and enjoy it.

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