CONTAINERS are wonderful assets to a garden.
Big, handsome containers can close a vista or frame a view, while smaller pots and vertical planters will furnish an outdoor room.
Best of all, a vast choice is readily available at modest cost.
Early spring is a great time to set up containers as nurseries are full of tempting offerings with which to fill them.
It's also a good time to refurbish existing pots as nothing lasts indefinitely and the nutrients that your plants take from the soil need to be replaced regularly.
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Whether you're growing plants in pots or in the garden, the old adage applies: the answer lies in the soil.
In a pot, like in the garden, soil needs to be free draining but moisture-retaining, to contain the right balance of nutrients and be acid or alkaline depending on what you're growing.
Garden soil is generally unsuitable for pots as it's too dense and quickly becomes waterlogged, though you can use it to half fill large pots (see below). Potting mixes are lighter and easier to use, though being quick draining they need regular watering.
You can make potting mix using your own compost but it's time consuming if you have lots of pots to fill.
Also it's my experience that, after you've bought the necessary soil lightening ingredients like coir peat, vermiculite and sharp sand, you've spent as much if not more than you would have on a ready-made mixture.
When selecting a commercial potting mix, make sure that it contains slow-release fertiliser and some type of wetting agent, and always check it carries the Australian Standards label. Expect to pay from $12 to $20 for a 50 litre bag.
There's no need to fill a big container entirely with potting mix. Half fill with garden soil mixed with stones and gravel, then top up with potting mix (it helps to put your pot, especially one made of clay, in its permanent position before you start).
When choosing a pot, the further from the house, the plainer it should be, especially in a country garden. Keep garlanded terracotta and glazed, swagged, Anduze-style urns for your best terrace or patio.
Likewise, the more ornate the pot, the simpler the contents. Stick to evergreen bay (Laurus nobilis), box (Buxus) or glossy leaved Japanese mock orange (Pittosporum tobira).
For variety, group pots made from the same material into different sizes and plant them with the same shrub but clipped into different shapes.
Keep the colourful flowers you love for invisible pots in vertical planters, to enjoy from the kitchen window.
I never thought to say this but COVID occasionally works in our favour. Lockdown has forced gardener, designer, author and TV presenter Michael McCoy to switch his upcoming, sold-out garden design symposium from actual to live online.
Michael has assembled a herd of distinguished local and international garden designers to discuss the future of gardens and planting in Australia.
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