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Published: 6/18/2010

Practical Meets Pretty: Container Gardening For Beauty And Bounty

(ARA) - Container gardening is a great alternative for people who don't have the time or space for a full garden or flowerbed. Often, however, container gardeners may feel they have to choose between beauty and practicality. When you can only plant so many containers, what do you fill them with -- flowers or veggies?

"Both," says container gardening guru Pamela Crawford, author of "Easy Container Combos: Vegetables and Flowers." "It's possible to artfully combine flowers and vegetables in single, stunning, beautiful containers," she says. "Practical and pretty can go side-by-side on your patio, deck, balcony, or even interspersed in your landscape."

Author of nine gardening books, Crawford was a seasoned floral container gardener when she decided to tackle the task of figuring out a way to make vegetables look pretty in containers. "Did I ever get a surprise when the first 100 or so vegetable combos looked just awful," she says. By the end of the growing season, she had planted 1,768 vegetables and arrived at some insight into how you can make a container garden both beautiful and bountiful.

Here are her top container garden tips:

1. Less is more - Keep it simple

"My first container attempts included mixing too many different vegetables in the same container. The results looked like a mish-mash," she says. Instead, think simple, like one tall vegetable in the center surrounded by a few flowers. Upright tomatoes with begonias and coleus planted along the edge are quite attractive. Or, plant one tall herb, like rosemary, and surround it with a shorter vegetable, like lettuce.

2. Use pretty pots and hardware

Even tomatoes look good in attractive pots, supported by nice obelisks or attractive trellises. Try planting one crooked-neck squash in the middle of a large, ceramic pot. Or plant a tomato in a Talavera (bright-colored geometric design) pot with an iron obelisk to support it.

3. Pick your pot pleasure

Almost anything can serve as a container for your garden: flower pots, pails, buckets, wire baskets, bushel baskets, washtubs, window planters, even large food cans. Larger veggies, like tomatoes and eggplants, will need a larger container, at least 5 gallons for each plant.

"Use the largest containers you can afford, and that you have space for, especially with warm season vegetables," Crawford advises. "The plants will look better and last longer because the roots will have more room to grow."

4. Don't forget drainage and do consider color

Whatever type container you choose, remember proper drainage is vital. Your container should have holes at the base or in the bottom to permit drainage of excess water. Color is also a consideration. Dark colored containers will absorb heat that could possibly damage the plant roots. If you must use dark colored pots, try painting them a lighter color or shading the container.

5. Flowers look fabulous combined with vegetables

Interesting looking plants like squash, okra or crooked neck squash can stand alone in a pot. But others, like eggplant and spinach, look much better accented with flowers. Beans, lettuce, peppers and spinach are among the easiest veggies to start with in a container. Veggies that require little space, like carrots and radishes, or that bear over a long period of time, like tomatoes, are also great for container gardening.

Steer clear of artichokes, asparagus, corn, pumpkins and potatoes, which don't look good, are too big for a pot or require you to dismantle the whole container garden in order to harvest them.

Flowers that pair well with vegetables in containers include dragon wing or wax begonias, coleus, fountain grass, lantana, lavender, pansies and purple-heart tradescantia.

6. Stabilize with centerpieces surrounded by smaller plants

Floral container gardens usually look best with a large plant in the center and smaller plants around it. The same holds true for combo containers that mix flowers and veggies. The large plant is called the centerpiece. Great vegetable centerpieces include peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. Collard greens, cabbage, kale and mustard greens make good-looking cold-season centerpieces.

7. Don't break the bank

Warm-season vegetables do much better in large containers with at least a 16-inch diameter. Since attractive, large containers can be expensive, look for less expensive alternatives if you don't want to break the bank. Since many warm-season vegetables fall over without support, try wooden trellises painted in contrasting bright colors to help support the plants.

"I used to avoid placing vegetables in planting containers because I thought they were unattractive, but now I know better," Crawford says. "Now I will always have vegetables tucked in amongst my flowers."

Courtesy of ARAcontent



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