Containing the Garden Published on June 21, 2018



Container gardens are ideal for small spaces like balcony and patio areas, or for cottage planting, thanks to low maintenance to enhance the enjoyment of laid-back days sipping cocktails on the deck or dock.

Outdoor living expert Carson Arthur offered up the following advice for creating the perfect cottage container gardens.

Why are container gardens a good option for cottage gardeners? They are perfect little ecosystems that allow plants to thrive without competition from trees and shrubs. I love using containers around my patios, decks and even by the front door. Containers offer the opportunity to raise plants upwards, creating focal points and directing the lines of sight.

How many plant varieties should go into a container garden? The bigger the container, the more plants can go into it. The adult size of the plants is also a factor. Some dwarf varieties take up a fraction of the space their bigger cousins need. I tend to use more annuals than perennials simply because annuals will only last for one season where the perennials can keep growing for years in a container.

What steps should be taken to prepare the container? If you are planning to build your own container, consider the materials you choose as plants will absorb contaminants from the soil and from the planter. New technology in treated woods has come a long way in allowing the DIYer to safely build containers.

A personal favourite building material is MicroPro Sienna, treated with copper that becomes inert when exposed to soil. Using the right kind of soil and drainage is also important. I use soil mixes specifically designed for pots because they include lightweight additives like Perlite and Vermiculite which allows you to fill pots without extra weight.

Containers also need to have drainage holes. If the fancy glazed pot you bought doesn’t have holes, put a smaller pot inside it, raising it off the bottom with stones so water can drain away from the roots of the plants.

What can be done to prevent pests from getting into containers? There will always be pests wherever there are plants. However, taller containers are harder for small rodents to get into. Rabbits and chipmunks prefer to stay close to the ground as opposed to climbing into a planter where they feel exposed.

Can you offer up a plant combination for sun? Think tropicals! Plants that you would find indoors or even in the Caribbean make excellent container plants for sunny locations. I love using bright-leaved crotons mixed with figs and palms in my summer planters around the pool.

What about shade? The best plants for shade are traditionally the ones that have big green leaves. If you think of the leaves of a plant like a solar panel, the bigger the better because they can convert the available light into more food and energy for the roots.

Ideally how often do you water a container garden? Full sun containers may need to be checked daily, especially if made of terra cotta which dries out the quickest. Shade planters need less watering because the sun isn’t evaporating moisture out of the soil as quickly. For full-sun situations, consider self-watering planters with a reservoir below, allowing the plants to draw water when they need it.

How many months of enjoyment can you expect? As Canadians, especially as cottagers, we try to extend summer as long as possible; the same is true for our planters. Sadly, they only last in the period between frosts so don’t put them outside before the last frost and plan on emptying them after the first below-freezing fall evening.

Carson Arthur is an outdoor design and lifestyle expert and TV personality. Visit him at

Mary Taggart

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