June 18, 2012

Big trend in container gardening

You don’t need a big garden to exercise your green thumb; versatile solutions abound

Tall grasses such as this corsyline, massed in a narrow metal planter, can be grouped to provide a screen or border effect.

BY ANN SUTHERLAND

Living in a condo doesn’t mean your green thumb can’t still get a workout. And if you are new to gardening, setting up a patio or balcony garden is a foolproof way to start. Balcony gardening is all about container gardening for both vegetables and flowers. Tina Burback, manager at Edmonton’s Greenland Garden Centre, says that container gardening is a big trend right now. “Container gardening is more than just petunias and spikes,” she says. “Whatever kind of plant you like, you can work it into a container.”

That includes small shrubs like cedars, or perennials such as coral bells. Burback finds that people tend to shy away from shrubs because they think they are too expensive. But for $30, you can pick up a shrub — such as a mugo pine — and you are further ahead than if you had to buy 10 packs of annuals at $5 each. Containers come in various sizes and shapes, from classic urns to sleek, tall rectangular boxes. Colour is in this year, especially primary colours.

“The container is really the first expression of your style,” says Burback. “There is a lot of individuality and something for every budget.” Materials range from plastics to ceramic. A popular and inexpensive alternative is containers made from zinc. It’s super light and comes in modern metallic colours. Designing your container is easy if you remember the tall, medium, small rule that Burback likens to a staircase. Start with a tall focal plant, such as ornamental grass, a tree or shrub, or even a tropical plant, such as banana. Fill in around the focal plant with medium-sized plants. Finish off with small plants that cascade over the edge of the container.

Container gardening can be used to create a privacy screen on your balcony. Burback suggests planting a tall, narrow container with ornamental grasses, dracaena, or bamboo. “If you live in a modern-style condo, a plant with a linear structure really complements that contemporary look.” Another option is a living wall planter. Essentially, it’s a polymer box that’s hung on the wall. Units can be hung side by side to create horizontal or vertical “art.” It has an irrigator box, so it waters itself throughout the week, and a drip tray so it won’t mess up the deck or balcony floor.

Burback is a container convert and swears by a nifty product called EarthBox, which is used primarily for vegetable gardening. It comes as a kit that includes fertilizer, instructions and a self-watering system. “The EarthBox is very low maintenance, which is great for the condo dweller’s lifestyle,” says Burback. “You can leave for a week or two and not have to worry about your plants not getting watered. It’s also great for a beginner gardener because it’s so easy.”

Special to The Sun

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