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Container Gardening for Versatility and Variety

By: Mike Darcy

Container Garden with Pots Not Visible - Photo by Rich Baer

Container Garden with Pots Not Visible. (Photo by Rich Baer)

Of all the many gardens I have visited with plants in containers, the most unique one that stands out in my mind is a garden in NE Portland. In this garden, the front of the house overlooks the roof of a garage. However, this did not stop the owner from creating a space completely filled with plants in containers. There are all sizes and colors of containers and by mid-summer the foliage and flowers have almost completely covered the pots they are planted in. Without prior knowledge, a visitor would never believe this is the roof top of a garage and that every single plant is in a container.

Bare Garage Roof - Photo by Rich Baer

Bare Garage Roof – Photo by Rich Baer

I was in awe as I walked around this garden and viewed the huge variety of plants as well as the sheer number of pots. It was the most intensive container garden I had ever seen and I found myself looking under foliage just to be sure everything was actually in a pot. However, I would then come back to the reality that I was on the roof of a garage!

While this is not a garden for everyone, seeing what this gardener did made me realize the versatility of container gardening and the ingenuity of gardeners. Here was a case where the gardener was living in an urban area and space was very limited. Rather than leave it bare, he made a decision to create a beautiful summer garden with flowers and foliage.

Blue Pot with Bamboo & Japanese Forest Grass - Photo by Rich Baer

Bamboo & Japanese Forest Grass
Photo by Rich Baer

Potting Container Gardens

With a garden having so many pots, and with some sections of the garage roof top in almost full sun all day, the right potting soil would be essential. And for me, it would need to be something that had good water-holding capabilities such as Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Soil which is OMRI Listed. The coconut fibers (coir) in this product provide excellent water retaining capabilities and the addition of earthworm castings and pumice, make it ideal to use straight from the bag. I believe this product would be especially useful for small pots that have a tendency to dry out quickly.

While I have many potted plants in containers in my own garden, I do not even come close to the number of pots of this garage roof top garden. I have gradually upgraded the size of many of my containers as I find it easier to manage water and sun/shade issues with larger pots. My personal preference is Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil which is also OMRI Listed. Pots do not always have to be grouped and sometimes they can be ‘stand alone’ pieces in the garden. A good example is the large blue pot with the bamboo and Japanese Forest Grass that we have along our driveway. We have three of these and the shiny blue of the pot is a sharp contrast to the yellow/green of the Japanese Forest Grass. This particular area is fairly shady and the large pots tend to not dry out quickly.

New Plants for Container Gardens

I enjoy trying new plants and it is especially fun to get a plant that few people are aware of. Once such plant in my garden is Pseudopanax ferox (I do not know a common name) which was given to me by a friend. I think it is a rather uninteresting plant with narrow stiff bronze foliage, but it does attract attention. Last spring I attended a lecture by noted horticulturist Dan Hinkley and much to my surprise he showed a photograph of this plant and told a story about it. It seems this New Zealand native dates back to prehistoric times and was a favorite food of an ostrich-like bird called the Moa. It is believed that this plant evolved to shoot out of distance of the tallest of these species before changing into a more edible leaf. Hence the growth on my plant will (I hope) change when the plant reaches a certain height. I do not know if this story is completely true, but it is a fun story to tell.

Pseudopanax - Photo by Rich Baer

Pseudopanax – Photo by Rich Baer

Another idea and a benefit of container gardening is that it gives the gardener the ability to move pots and plants around with the seasons. I have a Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ which has a unique ability for the needles to turn golden yellow in the winter and back to green in the summer. The yellow winter color of the needles is outstanding and so I have my plant in a nursery pot which I then placed in a colorful Terracotta pot which is visible looking out a large window onto our deck. I put potting soil around the nursery pot so it is not visible. Then when the pine begins to turn green, I simply lift the nursery pot out and replace it with something that will bloom all summer. Then in the fall, I put the ‘Chief Joseph’ pine back in the pot to enjoy the winter color.

Container gardening offers so many options; I encourage gardeners to take advantage of the sheer variety. The essential ingredients are to select one you personally like and make certain it has adequate drainage.

Enjoy the spring!

Island With Pots - Photo by Rich Baer

Island With Pots – Photo by Rich Baer

About Mike Darcy


Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

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