River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Garden Talk

July 2002

Container gardening

Summer is upon us believe it or not, although the long range forecast is wet but warm. Mildew will be rife, beware, as roses are generally always the first to get it. I love my container pots, however I tend to go for the more exotic. Here are a few ideas for those of you whom want something a little different this year.

Romans first adopted greenhouse cultivation from the Greeks. Exotic plants such as trees and shrubs were placed in terracotta planters and wooden boxes, moved into the greenhouse in the colder months. Rosemary was the first Mediterranean plant introduced into Europe, later to be followed by the citrus fruits. Now container planting has become an established custom throughout Europe. When we go on our Mediterranean holiday, it's always nice to try and recreate that relentless sunshine. Container plants from Mediterranean-type areas demand both adequate feeding and watering, and a frost-free place to over-winter in. Mediterranean plants require a sunny position as possible. Give them really good drainage; avoid using plastic containers due to the risk of water logging. Give them hard water, and let them harden off before you move them indoors. Over-winter citrus in cool but well-lit conditions, keeping them moist but not wet.

Mediterranean style container plants from Southern Europe

Lemon (Citrus limon), Pomelo or shaddock (Citrus maxima), Citron (Citrus medica), Mandarin (Citrus reticulata), and the Hardy citrus plants (Citrus, Fortunella) etc (breed frost-hardy and suitable for growing solely in container).

Lavender (Lavandula), Common myrtle (Myrtus communis), Oleander (Nerium oleander), Pomegranate (Punica granatum), (dwarf var. 'nana'), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus). Two other elements than should be included in a Mediterranean-style patio, are the Box (Buxus) and the Bay laurel, sweet bay (Laurus nobilis).

Tropics and subtropics.

These plants have different requirements, to those mediterranean style plants. There are two categories, the first being plants from tropical mountain range. Secondary plants that flourish in damp or equable areas, such as near major expanses of water or on windward side of a mountain. Both these groups like high humidity and acid soils.

Plants such as: Abutilon, Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla), Cassia (Cassia & Senna), Cestrum, Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata), Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia), (all parts of this plant are poisonous), Scented-leaved pelargoniums, Cockspur coral tree (Erythrina crista-galli), Rose of China (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and Lantana to name but a few. However if you fancy a climber from the tropics the following could be have so us: Bougainvillea, Trumpet creeper/trumpet vine (Campsis), Jasmine (Jasminum), Mandevilla, Wax mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus), Bower vine (Pandorea jasminoides), Passionflower (Passiflora) and Podranea ricasoliana.

Plants for acid soils

Plants form the tropics and subtropics have a high rainfall, the soils tend to be acid and poor in nutrients. They can cope with poor light, but prefer shade to sunlight. Some have a reputation of being difficult to grow. These plants are best grown on a northerly or eastly aspect, or under the shelter of a broad-leaved tree. When you water these plants make sure the water is lime-free (e.g. rain water or very soft tap water).

Azaleas & rhododendrons, Crimson bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus), Camellia, Dogwood (Cornus), Lantern tree (Crinodendron hookerianum), Gardenia, Manuka/New Zealand tea (Leptospermum scoparium), Sacred bamboo (Nandina domestica), Daisy bush (Olearia), and Skimmia.

Flowering perennial & bulbous plants

Herbaceous perennials are ideal for smaller patios or balconies, or even if you want a different focus. Placed next to a foliage plant gives the perennials a good visual presence.

African lily (Agapanthus), Silkweed/milkweed (Asclepias), Canna, Indian shot (Canna), Crinum, Pineapple flower (Eucomis), Garland flower/ginger lily (Hedychium), Swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), Nerine, and Arum lily (Zantedeschia).


When growing shrubs and trees in containers always remember that they need a lot of space. Feed, water and mulch these plants on a regular basis, as the root ball must never be allowed to dry out. And depending upon the plant you may have to re-pot every two or three year.

Buddleia, Ceanothus, Clematis, Daphne, Ivy (Hedera), and Moutan/tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa).


These are fantastic as an evergreen, however be careful when placing them. On small balconies they can become oppressive. Try planting a single specimen in a tub or a pair with different height or textures. False cypress (Chamaecyparis) and Arbor-vitea (Thuja) there are so many different species/cultivars of these to choose from.

There is a great little book called "Container Gardening produced by Aura" which will give you a step-by-step guide.

Ruthe Gray

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