5 Great Containers, Part 2–Trees

A few days ago I blogged about the client who wanted to surprise his wife with a beautiful balcony. And I showed you the first of 5 great containers.

Here is the first:


Click on the image to get a close up of the under plantings.

The Tree

The main plant is of course the Japanese Maple–Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’. This is one of the more sun-tolerant Japanese Maples, which being understory trees prefer a little shade. But our West Coast heat isn’t very intense, nor is our sun, so as long as these lovely trees are given adequate water, they should be fine. This specimen was probably staked to about 4′ then allowed to begin its “droop”. Next year as the canopy flufffs out, the lower limbs can be pruned off (“limbed up”) so that the growing underplantings can be more visible. (I did prune off a few branches already so there was room for the other plants.)

Underplanted With

The underplantings all had to be happy with moderately damp soil, so I chose:

The sweet little Chamaecyparis pisifera–Golden Threadleaf Cypress. It doesn’t have a variety name, but I’m guessing “Sungold’ or ‘Golden Mop’. The tag says it can grow to 10′, but maybe in 20 years or so! It can also be pruned to stay within it’s container limits, and still be an underplanting.

Next is Sisynchrium ‘sapphire’–Blue-eyed grass. Being a cousin to Iris, this will also want a good amount of water. It’s supposed to be a spring bloomer, but there are actually buds on these little guys.

Then one of my all-time-favourite plants, a Heuchera, in this case H. ‘Stormy Seas’. I was hoping to buy one of the purple ones that I knew would be sun-tolerant for this south-facing balcony (‘Obsidian’, ‘Purple Palace’, ‘Georgia Plum’) none of which were at the nursery that day. So I risked ‘Stormy Seas’. Now I find it on a list of “shade tolerant heucheras. But you can see it’s positioned at the back of the planter, slightly shaded by the plant in front, under the overhang of the balcony above it, and in the shadow of the wall to the west of it. So should be OK.

And finally another favourite, Sedum telephium ‘Xenox’–one of the tall sedums, in this can a real plum colour with just-about-to-bloom pink flowers.

There’s one tiny red Sempervivum (“Hens and Chicks”) in the front, rescued from the succulent pot. They multiply like rabbits (or chicks), so one will be many by next summer.

The Design

The design then is as follows:

one tree,

one smaller shrub,

one fluffy perennial,

one taller perennial,

one grass.

Sort of.

This is a formula you can take to the bank, I guarantee it.

And to give you the preview of the next instalment, and following the same formula:

DSCN2020Details to come, so stay tuned…

And of course, as always, would love to get your comments, questions, concerns, even rants–nicely please.

Top 5 Plants

I’m supposed to be posting about 5 Great Container Gardens, but I just found this website: Mike’s Garden Top 5 Plants. It’s an absolute Treasure Trove of information and advice about choosing plants for garden or container. Oh, and BC specific!

Have a look–you won’t be disappointed!

5 Great Containers, Part 1–The Plan

The Site

A client has a small trapezoid-shaped balcony that he wants to beautify with containers for little cost. Specifically he wants to beautify it before his wife returns from visiting family, as a surprise! What’s more, he wasn’t exactly sure what she would like or not like.

The balcony occupies the whole side of the apartment, open to the full height glass walls of the living room and dining room. The sliding glass door is left of centre, leaving more room to the right and less room to the left.

The Designs

Here’s a very simple design for this small space.

balcony 2

Option 1, eating area to the left, containers to the right.

Room for a bistro table (24″ square) and three chairs (altho’ bistro sets only ever come with two!), and several large containers that would give a feeling of enclosure without overwhelming the space.

Here’s the second suggestion I made to the client:

balcony 1

Option 2–comfy seating to the larger right side, containers to the left.

Instead of eating on the balcony, I’ve suggested a nice comfy love seat filling the front-to-back dimension. In this case there’s more sense of being in an intimate setting, with the railing to the outside providing one wall, the big dining room window the opposite wall, a tall shrub/tree container behind, and looking east (from this 7th floor site) and toward the other containers.

This is where it got a bit tricky: the client liked both suggestions but didn’t know which one his wife would prefer. In the end we chose the second for a simple reason: there was already a table on the balcony that had never been assembled. Clearly, eating on the balcony hasn’t been a priority for them.

Designing is as much a matter of identifying what fits your lifestyle as it is coming up with clever ways to fill a space.

The Containers

Now, since I’ve totally teased you by calling this post “5 Great Containers” and not showing any containers, I’ll give you a preview of the next posts:


As always, look forward to your comments, questions, suggestions. Click on Follow to get details of the 5 Great Containers–you won’t want to miss these!

Excellent Raspberry Video!


While I was researching various raspberries for a client, found this video from University of Maine Extension. Probably the clearest explanation of pruning fruits I’ve seen. You’ll see in the video that the instructor recommends growing your raspberries in a “V” shape, whereas in my 5 Effortless Edibles post (yesterday) I said you could grow your raspberries against a sunny fence. Just modify the instructions so your “V” is just angling in one direction. That’s what I’m doing.

If you’d like to try them in a pot, why not use one of the larger tomato cages as your trellis? tomato-cage-015Or a wooden lattice trellis that’s used for climbing plants:trellis

Enjoy your raspberries, and let us all know how you’re doing!

5 Effortless Edibles

Every garden design should include some fruits and vegetables. Here’s 5 “effortless” (OK, maybe a little effort) fruits and vegetables that will stimulate your appetite for more. This isn’t an exhaustive tutorial on growing these 5, you can find out more details online. But it is enough to actually succeed!

1. Garlic.

Garlic--wish I know what variety.

Garlic–wish I know what variety.

Who doesn’t love garlic? (Well, I do know a few people who REALLY don’t love garlic…) You can plant garlic in the container that held your summer geraniums. Or in the ground underneath your creeping thyme ground cover. Or of course in a bed all its own. It’s planted in the fall and harvested next summer. Best to use garlic that comes from a farmer’s market, or from the garden retailer, not what you bought at the supermarket, which if what I heard on a Youtube video that is too tedious to link is correct, is 73% likely to have come from China.

Use the larger cloves for planting, keep the smallest for the kitchen. They go 3″ deep, cover over, then mark them somehow so you’ll remember where, and what they are.

2. How ’bout Strawberries.

Strawberry basket

Strawberry basket

Making a nice sunny area ground cover, everbearing or day-neutral strawberries will last a few years. Let just a few of the runners “run”–cut off the rest– and your patch will be almost self-sustaining. And they’re evergreen here in coastal BC.

If you’re growing in pots/hanging baskets (nothing growing in pots is really “effortless”, because they’ll need more watering and feeding than ground-based growing) feed with a balanced fertilizer (same first, middle and last number) to start the season, then a high last number to get fruit going. In the ground, your strawberries will be happy with just your yearly compost layer.

3. Kale.

Kale is a love-hate kind of plant. It’s a Brassica, like cabbage and brussels sprouts, so it does have a cabbage-y-ish flavour. But it’s SO GREEN!, has an abundance of all the heath-benefiting antioxidant vitamins and minerals, almost no calories, and is very versatile. I’ve been trying kale smoothies! You can start winter kale now, and it will be harvestable all winter long.DSCN1922

Choose as sunny a spot as possible, because of course even in the best spot, there won’t be much sun come October. A little compost added to the spot is all kale needs. In the spring when it warms up, the kale will begin to put out flowers; the older leaves may get a bit bitter, but the flowers are lovely, like really mild broccoli.

Container growing is very practical, just remember the feeding/watering rule–more of both than in ground-based growing.

4. Lettuce.

Everyone should be growing lettuce, because it’s so easy, so many different varieties available, overwinters like it loves the cold, and is pretty to boot. Especially if you  plant a combinations of reds and greens. Add a little compost to your planting spot now, wait a few weeks for the weather to drop a couple degrees, then direct sow a few seeds every week or so until the temperature is consistently below 10 (C).

5. Raspberries.raspberry

I can hardly call raspberries “effortless”, but for the joy of picking your own, the little work is truly worth it. Raspberries. can be grown against a sunny fence, taking up little space if you carefully cut out 2-yr old canes and keep the fresh ones wired up against the fence–like espalier, but less work. The fruits grow in the second year of an individual cane’s growth, so don’t expect fruits the first year you plant. After fruiting (“everbearing” raspberries fruit in summer and fall, so wait until second harvest) the cane should be cut down to the ground, making room for more canes next spring. Some varieties to look for: Autumn Bliss, Autumn Britten, Caroline.

And Surprise! Surprise! There’s no reason not to try growing raspberries in a container–the bigger, the better.

There you have 5 “easy-care” (if not strictly speaking “effortless”) edibles that you can enjoy with minimal input. Are you growing any of these? Would you like to? Don’t wait, now’s the best time to try some of these.

If you find it a bit intimidating getting started with such “serious” gardening, just post a note in the comments, let me help you with it. After all, I’m your Garden Coach!