Can I garden in containers?

Award winning garden designer Geoff Stonebanks explains why he uses over 250 containers at his Driftwood garden in Sussex and the key benefits of using containers

Neatly clipped box in planters add a formal feel to this seating area Image: Geoff Stonebanks

One of the most important things for me, when I first tried my hand at gardening some 10 years or more ago, was to have the ability to be able to cover any mistakes I might make. That’s because I was starting out and didn’t think I knew anything about plants, design or gardening in general to be honest. It seemed practical to me, to use containers to help me achieve this goal. My trial and error approach to creating a nice garden meant their flexibility and more importantly, their mobility, provided me the perfect opportunity to put things where I thought they would look good (not where the rule books suggested). Then, when they grew bigger than I realised or were positioned among the wrong colour palette, I could very easily change the look and place them somewhere more appropriate.

Neatly clipped box in planters add a formal feel to this seating area
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Adaptable assets

Now, 1o years on, I am a little bit more knowledgeable but in the intervening years I have accepted that these amazing assets have many more attributes I had ever even thought off at the onset. Containers range from simple plastic pots, teacups to complex automatic-watering irrigation systems. This flexibility in design is another reason container gardening has become popular with me and many other gardeners. Containers can be found on porches, front steps, and in urban locations, on rooftops, quite frankly anywhere you like. 

Planters can be made from a variety of everyday objects
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Many types of plants are suitable for containers, including decorative flowers, herbs, cacti, vegetable and many more. There are many distinct advantages to growing plants in containers too, some of which are, less risk of soil-borne disease, virtual elimination of weeds and the plant’s mobility actually gives you more control over its moisture, sunlight & temperature requirements.

Assorted containers adorn the folly door at Driftwood by sea
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Terracotta or unglazed clay pots are made of a particular clay and fired in kilns during the manufacturing process. If you have a heavy hand when watering then your plants will probably benefit from this option. If you are one of those gardeners who wait for the wilting signal from your plants before you water, then you might better off with plastic. In my case, there is definitely no choice, it’s always terracotta or in recent years, due to my age and their weight, I started using the lightweight alternative of fibrecotta.

Driftwood is a mere 100 feet by 40 feet at the rear and my vast assortment of containers allows me the opportunity of creating a much bigger plot, by virtue of the nooks and crannies and screening I can create.

Watering needs

OK, I hear you all say, but what about the watering? There can be no doubt that lots of containers require lots of watering, especially if we have another summer like 2018. The question you have to ask yourself at the onset is whether you have the time, energy and inclination to commit to a garden designed or created in this way.

Grouping pots together can create a stunning impact in the garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

In my case, in my sheer ignorance 10 years ago I certainly gave it no thought at all, but in hindsight I have absolutely no regrets, even if those close to me might get fed up with my complaints during a hot summer at the need for constant watering. The impact is well worth the effort in my book and containers definitely add versatility to gardens large and small. Plants in containers lend instant colour, provide a focal point in the garden, or tie in the architecture of the house to the garden. Place them on the ground or on a pedestal, mount them on a windowsill, or hang them from your porch. A pair of matching containers serves as a welcoming decoration, while container gardening on decking or patio can add colour and ambience to such outdoor sitting areas. So, what’s not to like? Get planning what new ideas you will bring to your garden this year with containers.

Geoff Stonebanks

About Geoff Stonebanks

Geoff Stonebanks lives in Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden - Driftwood - he has raised over £131,000 for various charities in 9 years, £80,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners' World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex.
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