The first and most important secret of container gardening design is realizing that the final resting place of the gardening container itself, will decide what sorts of plants you can use. You cannot just flick through the flower catalogue, deciding what flowers to use, based purely on what you think would look nice. Having decided where the garden container will be sited, you must choose your plants depending on their preferences of soil, light, moisture and of course, the size of the container.
Having researched the needs of the plants and found out what sorts will be suitable for the space, you can next decide on a “palette” of colors. This does not just have to be about how their colors fit in with their surroundings. You can use the color of the plants for other more subtle effects. For instance, a container full of blue and mauve plants will seem to recede from the viewer, giving a sense of distance. Put such a container at the far edge of a patio and the patio will seem to be larger. Again, if you put a garden container full of blue flowers at the end wall of a small town garden, it will make the garden seem longer.
Bright red and orange flowers will have the opposite effect and appear to shorten the distance between the garden container and the viewer. If you place blue flowers behind red flowers in the same container, they will contrast and make the red flowers clearly stand out. If you put the red flowers behind the blue flowers they will appear to clash horribly. Remember though, that there are no hard and fast rules in art and garden design, but you cannot break the rules unless you know them. Experiment for yourself, after all rules are made to be broken!
So, to use these secrets of container gardening practically, you can fill a space, like a patio, with garden containers full of red plants to the front and garden containers full of blue, mauve and lilac towards the back. When viewed from the front, say framed by a window, the space will appear more grand and bigger than it really is.
For the general planting design of a classical garden container, you should make sure that the tallest growing plants are placed towards the back. Next, you should select a pair of the same or similar looking plants. One of these should be planted at both ends of the tall row, slightly forward of it. In front of the tall row and in the middle of the container, you should plant your special feature plant. This is the central feature of the container, the one that gives the wow! factor.
Either side of this, you should place a pair of complementary plants as fillers. You must make sure that they do not detract from your feature plant. Remember if you have more than one feature plant, you are blessed, and rather than place them all together in one container, make up some more containers. Lastly in front of all the plants in the garden container, plant some small flowers that hang over slightly and flow over the edges of the container to soften it’s edges.
If you are unsure of what color blooms and foliage to use, then take a leaf out of the artists book and find out about “color wheels”. Basically, you should think of a rainbow and the way the that the colors are placed. The colors that are next to each other are called “complimentary” colors. The colors from either side of the rainbow are called “contrasting” colors. Use complimentary colors to make the eye gently flow over the container. Using contrasting colors to distract and make the eye stop and stare.
There are no hard and fast rules in designing a container. Try looking at as many of them as you can in books or flower shows. Decide which ones you think work and which ones do not. Take a camera with you to visit gardens and make notes. Do not be scared to talk to the gardeners, if you can. Most will be only to willing to share with you their container gardening secrets and tell you about the flowers they have used. Do not slavishly follow others though. Use this information only as a starting point and learn to express yourself, your ideas, your sense of beauty. Eventually, you will develop your own style and vision.
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