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Garden in a Pot

Source: Martha Stewart Living, March 2003


In place of the usual top-heavy hanging plant, put together a luxuriant garden in a pot using a wire basket that is planted completely, instead of merely crowned with green. The fuller look is more in the spirit of a perennial bed, but one that you can admire up close, noting the subtle richness of textures and tones that you might miss from afar.

Use the largest possible basket for the scale and strength of the structure from which you will hang it. Filled with soil, plants, and water, a big basket can weigh one hundred pounds. Go too small, and you'll lose some of the impact of your eye-level garden and endanger plants with root competition.

Coarse, unmilled sphagnum -- sold at nurseries and garden centers -- works well as a liner. The moss holds in potting soil but is easily pierced for planting. To minimize weight, use potting mix with bark or leaf mold as a primary ingredient.

Garden-in-a-Pot Tips 
Create a coherent composition by planning patterns of a few specimens and a limited color scheme. A mix of flowering plants and foliage varieties in a ratio of about 1 to 2 helps to structure a design and keep it interesting from spring to fall.

Choose the right plants for your lighting condition, keeping in mind that the ones on the top and around the rim will shade those below. To ensure all-around lushness, assemble a medley of upright, mounding, and trailing types with a range of leaf shapes, textures, and tones that complement one another.

Use small plants (those that come in 4-inch pots are readily popped between the wires); figure on one plant every four inches, from the basket's crown to about three-quarters of the way down the sides.

Planting Guide
1. Start early -- just after your area's first frost-free date --  to have a basket teeming by July.

2. For comparison, lay plants on a work surface, roughly in the order of your basket's composition. It's best to proceed from one or more upright elements at the center to more mounding and trailing examples as you edge the top and continue down, removing plants from their pots and poking their root balls through the moss.

3. You might position plants in staggered triangles around the center to create a pattern of foliage you can repeat lower to unify your sphere. Smaller baskets look better with simple, orderly plantings; larger containers can handle a looser, more improvisational approach.

4. Line the hanging basket with a 1-inch-deep layer of sphagnum. To prevent water runoff, fill the basket with potting soil to an inch or so below the rim. Position each plant so its crown is level with the soil; no roots should extend into the moss, which dries out more quickly than the potting mix does.

Garden-in-a-Pot Maintenance
Given their airiness, hanging baskets don't retain water as well as other containers do; they need frequent drenchings, sometimes twice daily during the summer. Generally, a touch of droopiness means that they're thirsty. But since copious watering also washes out nutrients, baskets need regular feedings, beginning, ideally, with a slow-release fertilizer at planting time.

When growth becomes visible, start feeding weekly with a full-strength application of a balanced, water-soluble plant food. Every couple of weeks, use the tips of your thumb and index finger to pinch leggy stems in half in order to encourage fullness, and regularly deadhead to promote reblooming.

Plant Suggestions
Limiting your palette highlights silhouette and texture. Try this violet- to blue-toned basket.

1. Angelonia's delicate, flowering spikes create a high point in this basket. As with any pot that has a shaded side, periodic rotation is required to keep growth even.

2. To establish a round silhouette, mounding Brachyscome and Heliotrope go in next, with a single Passiflora positioned to climb up the pot's chains.

3. On the outer rim, trailing Ipomoea and Petunia flow over the edge, meeting more of the mounders as the pattern repeats around the sides.

4. Planting stops about two-thirds of the way down, to preserve the arrangement's round shape: Trailing plants would hang straight down if tucked too close to the bottom.

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