I recently treated myself to a day at the Cotswold Gardening School to refresh my skills in Container Gardening and get some inspiration from Caroline Tatham, the award-winning designer and lecturer. I certainly achieved both goals with the added bonus of rekindling my love of art and the works of the Impressionist painters in particular – more of that later.

So, I thought I’d share some of the ideas that I took from the day with you as it also reminded me that however long you’ve been doing something, there is always something new to learn. In this blog I’ve focused on planting containers for their aesthetic appeal primarily, although they can be used very effectively for vegetables and herbs, but I’ll save that for another day.

The principles of Garden Design

The first thing that I was reminded of, is that wherever you are planting, whether in a garden or a container, the basic principles of garden design apply. These are; colour, shape, texture, harmony and contrast. These principles apply not just to the plants you choose, but also the container itself and where you position it in your garden.

Colour – possibly the most important tool in the designer’s kit bag. Depending on the effect that you want to create, you need to choose your colours accordingly. Primary colours (red, blue, yellow) create dramatic effect and draw the eye instantly to the subject, while tertiary colours (achieved by combining primary and secondary colours) can create a more calming effect.

When it comes to choosing plants for your containers, it’s important to think about the position and purpose of the container. Is it a focal point or feature or does it provide a backdrop or more of a supporting role in the effect you want to create? Your choice of colours for planting need to reflect your container’s purpose- primary colours bring contrast to create a focal point, while tertiary colours are more harmonious and effective for creating more of a supporting role.

Colour theory can help us choose colours that complement rather than fight each other- by choosing colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel. So, blue and orange work well together as do purple and yellow. This is precisely what the Impressionist painters did as they explored colour theory and the effect of colour and light in nature.

Shape – just like colour, the shape of your plants, flowers and the containers themselves is an important consideration when planting containers. Soft, round flower heads contrast well with a square container in the same way that spikey foliage can set off a round pot to a great effect. Too much of one shape can result in the individual elements disappearing.

Texture – the third key element to consider when planting containers is texture: rough or smooth, uniform or uneven. This can apply to plants and their containers; a smooth and shiny leaf contrasts well against a rough or patterned surface of a container, while wooden containers planted with soft, flowing foliage on the other hand, can bring a harmonious effect.

Container gardening – do’s and don’ts

  1. Choose your spot – just like your garden, choose the right plant for the right place – sun or shade loving, wind or rain tolerant. And remember you can always move pots into a more sheltered place during the winter months.
  2. Fill large pots where they will live – a large container can be very heavy once filled with compost, drainage material and plants so plant it up in situ.
  3. Water correctly – having chosen plants that like the same conditions, whether moist or dry, water accordingly. Little and often is the best advice, ensuring that your containers have a good layer of drainage medium (old crocks or polystyrene) before you start planting.
  4. Plant with good stock – start as you mean to go on and choose plants from reputable nurseries.
  5. Feed correctly – choose the right fertilize for the effect you want to create; lucious foliage will need a different mix of nutrients to prolific flowering annuals or perennials. Ideally start with a slow-release fertilizer mixed in with compost then water regularly using a liquid fertilizer.

Keep on top of pests and diseases – remove any sickly plants quickly and consider adding nematodes to your containers to prevent the dreaded vine weevil – more advice here from the RHS https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=234.

So, if you’ve been inspired, like I was, to make containers a feature of your garden, please do get in touch to find out how GreenArt can help. Email us at info@greenart.co.uk