What Is Container Gardening?

Container gardening refers to the growing of plants – often herbs, fruit, and vegetables, although it can include anything up to bushes and small trees – in containers.

From the yoghurt pots you may remember growing cress in for school projects, right up to full size, purpose-designed outdoor pots, urns, and other stylish receptacles.

Container gardening is ideal for those who live in high-rise apartments without access to outside space.

It also suits those with a limited budget, who can’t necessarily afford the equipment required to maintain a regular garden.

And if you do have outside space, time, and cash? A container garden, with planting across the scale, from carpeting herbs to trees and bushes, can be used to create a stylishly simple garden space, which can be as high or as low maintenance as you want it to be.

Container gardening is a good option for those who, whether due to old age or disability, find it difficult to bend down. Large containers set on the ground, rising to two or three feet in height, are easier to reach and less prone to weeds than a large expanse of lawn.

That goes for containers on a windowsill, or hung along a fence, too.

Container gardening allows anyone to easily create an attractive planting scheme. Container planting also fits in well with a hardscaped area, providing attractive areas of natural beauty which contrast well with manufactured materials.

What Vegetables Can I Grow In Containers?

The short answer is, almost anything that doesn't have a large, spreading root system.

Salad cress grows very well in containers, as many a school yoghurt pot project can attest, and tomatoes are a regular feature in container gardens, along with strawberries (technically these are both fruits, not vegetables, but they do do very well in containers!).

Tomatoes, strawberries and salad cress, along with herbs of all varieties, can easily be grown, and will thrive, in small containers, and so are ideal for windowsill planting – if you can offer your tomato plants a slightly larger balcony pot, with the opportunity to climb a wall, they'll appreciate it, but the smaller varieties, such as moneymaker, can be grown indoors.

Chives do very well in containers, as can cucumbers, as long as they are planted in an appropriately sized, heavy weight container, and harvested promptly. 

Also peppers, of both the chilli and bell variety, both look and perform well in pots, whether in a garden or on a windowsill – this is my own personal star performer in my sphere of container edibles, and has provided excellent additions to many a salad and salsa over the year since it came into fruit:

chilli and bell peppers.jpg

What are the Best Plants to Grow in Containers?

The easiest vegetables to grow in containers are salad cress and tomatoes, as both require very little space, and are equally at home in a windowsill yoghurt pot as they are in a terracotta urn on the patio. 

If you are growing tomatoes, do make sure you provide an upright support in the pot if they are indoors, or place them against a wall if they are outside.

Strawberries are also very easy to grow, and look attractive through spring and early summer as they flower, and later fruit, when hung over a dark wood fence, as their flowers, fruits, and foliage all contrast well. If you are growing strawberries outside, make sure that they are are covered with suitable plant mesh – otherwise the birds will enjoy the fruits of your labour before you do!

While sage can be a little tricky in terms of getting the watering correct, other herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, basil, and mint, all grow very easily in containers. Thyme also comes in a variety which grows in a low-lying “carpet”, making it ideal for underplanting other, more striking, plants: why not go for an old metal bathtub with a central planting of rosemary, and an underplanting of thyme?

The two herbs taste wonderful when combined with honey and mustard to create a glaze for parsnips, or a succulent crust for lamb.

In terms of larger container plants, buddleia bushes can be grown in large, heavy weight containers, and make an attractive, and eco-friendly addition to patios and larger balconies (they are a haven for bees and butterflies). 

Lavender, likewise, looks very striking against worn, weather-washed crate planting, and can provide not only food for hungry bees and butterflies, but the ingredients for handicrafts, soaps, and teas.

Tea rose bushes have long been a favourite in patio tubs, while a box of wild flower seed mix, scattered liberally across a well-composted container, will reward you with a cheerful display in its season.

acer tree in container.jpg

I've personally had low-maintenance, high reward success with this Acer tree, planted in the early summer and rapidly asserting itself just outside the back door. In a Zen-themed garden, Acers are a relatively cheap plant which provide a subtle splash of colour to break up what can often be a very monochrome look.

If you're looking to create a container garden across the space of a standard garden, trees such as Acers, bay, and olive trees all do well in large, purpose-designed, heavy weight containers, and can help create either a warm, Mediterranean feel (bay and olive trees), or provide simple yet striking visual elements in a cool, calming, Zen-inspired space.

How Many Seeds Should I Plant?

That depends on your plant, and the size of your container! Because they grow vertically, and produce a lot of fruit from one planting, one tomato seedling per pot is usually sufficient.  Herbs can often stand having up to three seeds planted in a windowsill-sized pot, and up to five in a small outdoor pot.

With bushes and trees, stick to one seedling per pot – buddleia seedlings, for example, may look small, but they will soon take over even the largest of pots.

Wild flower seeds can be sprinkled liberally across the surface of your planter, while bulbs can usually be planted in groups of three to five in most containers.

I Don't Have Any Outside Space – Can I Grow Attractive Displays, Rather Than Just Herbs and Veg?

Absolutely! Throughout my house, I have small, indoor displays – cacti make excellent indoor container plants, and are ideal for those who are frequently away from home, or simply absent-minded, as they are quite literally “set and forget” plants.

set and forget plants.jpg

A group planting of small cacti in an attractive container can add a soothing, natural element to a desk, dressing table, or windowsill – this is my bedroom cacti display, which forms part of a feature display in that room.

Ferns and ornamental lilies also make attractive, if slightly higher-maintenance, indoor container plants, and can be used to create a simple, effective “break” in a larger room, for example an open plant living/dining area, giving the impression of distinct and separate areas, rather than a crowded room with several activities going on at once.

Seasons in Containers

The summer fruiting season for the fruits and vegetables I grow (tomatoes and strawberries) has all but finished, although the memories of their taste will take longer to fade!

In the next couple of weeks, I'll be planting out snowdrops, narcissi, and daffodils – when they blossom they'll be a bit of brightness after the dark days of winter. 

I'll also be planting carrots and beetroot – lettuce, while a firm favourite of mine, sadly needs more space than I have available.

Once the planting is done, it will be time to refresh the hardscaping, which has suffered sun damage from several, mostly uninterrupted weeks of summer – a rare thing in the UK, where our summer allowance is usually a few days snatched between showers!

RELATED ARTICLES