When I was growing up in Britain in the 1960s, serious gardeners considered plastic gnomes and similar garden ornaments completely unacceptable. Most planters were made of stone or wood. My mother used an old stone sink in a sunny spot to grow early bulbs followed by a bed of thyme. There was also a large stone cider press – Mother planted bulbs and other perennials in the shallow trough that ran around its base.
Gardening in Canada, with thre children who loved plastic chickens, gnomes, and other garden ornaments, made me rethink my repressed planter strategy. I realized that there are many advantages to using planters, usually filled with brightly-coloured, fast growing annuals. They can be used in hot sunny places (provided water is supplied continuously) or as bright spots in shady areas. Planters mean there is no competition with tree roots so they can be used as accents under shady trees or in a place where annuals would normally not thrive.
Unusual planters can also be used to have some fun in your garden or even while at the lake. I noticed an old pair of hiking boots, filled with annuals, beside a camper at Namekus Lake. That inspired me to repurpose a favourite pair of rubber boots that were cracked and no longer waterproof. These green “wellies,” decorated with red dragons, were a cherished reminder of a trip to Wales with my daughter. So I filled the feet with gravel and a few larger rocks (for stability) and planted them with red and white geraniums that thrived all summer. These boots will live on with a new purpose in life.
You can be very creative and plant a pun. For example Sara Williams sent me a photo of a Time Share/ Thyme Chair, an old wooden chair in a bed of thyme. You could use an airplane planter to show that ‘Thyme (Time) Flies.’ I have even planted an old (well-cleaned) toilet with creeping house plants in the tank and vibrant petunias in the bowl, an example of ‘An Outdoor Toilet.’ You may be the only one to get the joke, but as long as you enjoy it, that is fine.
There are only a few simple rules to follow. One is to make sure the soil can drain well. There should be adequate drainage holes in the bottom of the container. If this is not possible, put in a layer of coarse gravel or some broken up clay pot pieces at the bottom of the container. Use potting soil and add some sand (if you want the plants to dry out between watering – best for succulents) or peat moss (to retain moisture for longer spells). It is important to keep a check on the pots: some containers can dry out very quickly (such as pots made from hyper-tufa or terracotta), or they may flood easily in a rainstorm.
Another rule is, think about where you want to place the planter and what plants will do well in that location. Is it hot and sunny? Partly shaded for some of the day? No direct sunlight? Look for appropriate annuals to plant there and put several kinds in your planter. Think about using nicely scented plants under windows that will be open in the evening. I like putting petunias and Nicotiana where we will enjoy their fragrance as night comes. I also like to give my trailing house plants a break in the summer, by putting them in planters. Tradescantia and different kinds of ivy are very happy to go in a shady planter for the summer. Just make sure they don’t bring bugs with them when you bring them back inside in the fall.
Before you throw out a favourite old piece of furniture, household appliance, etc. think of it as a possible planter. Old milk churns, coal baskets, wheel-barrows and other items may find a place in your garden next summer.
Jill Thomson is a plant disease specialist (retired) who enjoys gardening in Saskatoon with her family, including the dogs.
This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; firstname.lastname@example.org ). Check our website (www.saskperennial.ca) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/saskperennial) for a list of upcoming gardening events.