Plants for the Patio
The fact that patios are essentially hard-need place few restrictions on the range of plants you wish to choose to decorate the area. Large shrubs and even trees will grow happily in containers, and climbers can be trained up walls or and along overhead beams. In this section, we look at some of the best plants for different sites on the .
Containers of all kinds – pots, tubs, troughs and home-built raised beds – are the basic furnishings of the patio, your outdoor room. With their help you are able to have colour all year round, arranging it in different ways according to your whim. There is no heavy digging to do; you will not even have to bend down if your containers are sited high enough; there is little or no weeding to worry about; and you are less troubled by weather conditions than in a conventional plot. You can suit yourself as far as soil is concerned, filling some containers with the acid kind for lime-hating plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas, and others with, which such favourites as aster, clematis and lilac love. In short, you have the best of all worlds.
You can also shift your garden around in any way you want, provided that you have made sure that your containers are movable. You can give them each a turn to have their fair share of the sun. You can tuck ones that have finished flowering behind the others, or use planted containers to hide an attractive feature. Plan your containers for bold massed effect. It is more labour-saving to put several plants into one large container rather than have the same number singly in an array of pots. They grow better together, they need watering less frequently, and they make a greater visual impact: one large tub looks more impressive and takes up less space than half a dozen flower pots huddled together.
TUBS, POTS AND TROUGHS
These are made in several different kinds of material and it is important to choose the material that suits both you and your garden. Plastic saves the most labour and it is usually cheapest, too. It is lightweight, colour-fast, and, unless it gets cracked or torn, will last for a long time, although it tends to get brittle after several years in the sunlight. Plants in such containers need watering less often than those in conventional clay pots, from which moisture evaporates through the walls. Plastic containers are now made in some attractive classic shapes; they range in appearance from imitation wood to plain white and some good colours, too. If you do not like the colours, it is easy to repaint plastic pots using acrylic-based paints. Glass-fibre containers are expensive, but should, if handled properly, last for a life-time. If you want a ‘period’ look for your pots, this is your best choice, as glass-fibre can be used to simulate any container material, from wood to lead.
Stone, artificial stone, and concrete containers look very attractive, but they are very heavy, so you should be sure where you want to site them before you plant them up. They are expensive, too, and tend to be fragile: they may crack in a heavy frost or crumble with age, so they should never be moved unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.
Terracotta pots, including the traditional flower pot, look and feel good, but they too are expensive and tend to break easily, and their plants need watering frequently. Plants grown in such containers are also more likely to have their roots affected by frost, so they need more attention, and it is a good idea to protect them in really cold weather. With all these drawbacks, however, terracotta pots are most people’s favourite containers: plants somehow look right in them. Wooden containers are also very attractive, but they will deteriorate over a period of time, however thoroughly you paint them or treat them with preservative. Wood is invaluable for purpose-built-containers – an especially made box to fit an awkwardly shaped window-sill, for instance, or a wooden tub to fit over a manhole cover. Wooden tubs or half barrels are fairly heavy; they also lose water easily – in summer a tub on a hot patio may need watering two or even three times a day.
The containers mentioned so far are placed on the patio floor. Hanging baskets are particularly useful because they create centres of interest at or above eye level. Half baskets can be hung on walls; full baskets can be suspended from wall brackets or from beams. But remember that when large baskets are filled they are heavy, so wall or beam fixings must be suitably strong.
Baskets should be lined with tightly-packed sphagnum moss, a cellulose liner or black polythene. If moss is used, a saucer should be placed on the layer of moss at the bottom to provide a reservoir of water – life-saving in hot weather. Watering can be a problem. Baskets dry out quickly when exposed to sun and wind, and need to be watered daily during the summer. It may be necessary to take the basket down once a week for a good soak; and a syringe with water each evening in hot weather will be appreciated.
CONVERSIONS AND HOME-MADE POTS
If you want to get away from purpose-built containers and look for something interestingly unconventional in which to house your plants, the range is enormous. Anything from a cocoa tin to an old domestic cold-water tank can be used to hold plants. Surprisingly large trees can be grown on the patio in containers too – you could even have a mini-provided you fed the well.
There’s no end to the items you can press into service: old kitchen coppers make very attractive plant containers, as do cisterns which can often be found abandoned on skips. Pots and pans that have outlived their usefulness make good portable containers and you can paint them in vivid colours or decorate them, narrow-boat style, in bright patterns. Canteen-size kettles make good plant holders, and so do outsize teapots. It pays to look around second-hand shops for items that are chipped or cracked and knocked down for a few pence which might make attractive plant holders.
Chimney pots are so well known now in their new guise as plant containers that you may have to pay over the odds for them. But if you are lucky enough to secure one, it is more sensible to sit a large flower-pot in the top of it, rather than fill the entire chimney pot with soil. If you want to mass a number of plants together, a small wooden wheelbarrow makes a good display piece, or an old tin hip bath. Even a dolls’ pram can be used as a plant holder: give it a good coat of paint first and it should last several. On the fun front, discarded wellies or climbing boots make amusing temporary homes for plants, such as spring , that are to sit on a window sill.
Old kitchen sinks make good troughs for small plants such as alpines. Stone sinks can be left as they are, but china ones look better if you give them a rough-cast treatment. Spread them first with an impact-bonding PVA glue (you will need rubber gloves for this job), then pat on a mixture of Portland cement, sand and, in proportions of 1:2-1/2:1-1/2, over the sides and leave it to dry. Do not try to put on too much rough cast at a time. The best way is to build up the thickness of the coating by making several applications, allowing the rough cast to dry between each thickness. The same technique could be used for any ceramic object; an old, large mixing bowl, for instance, could very easily be turned into a rough-cast plant pot.
If cash is limited, you can save your money for the plants, rather than spend it on containers, by copying the French and Italians. Collect together the largest paint cans you can find and spray or paint them all the same colour with lacquer (dazzling turquoise blue looks particularly effective). Before you plant them up, makeholes in the bottom.
You may be lucky enough to lay your hands on a cheap, large tub or a half-barrel to grow plants in.barrels are well known, but there is no reason why you should not plant them up with flowers instead; they look particularly good if you mix with trailers like sweet ( ) or nasturtiums ( ). To plant up a barrel effectively, place a piece of drainpipe down over the centre as you fill it, and fill the pipe with gravel or small stones, pulling it up as you go. This gives the barrel a central draining system.
One of the best ways of getting the kind of container you want is to build a raised bed for your plants. You can then have exactly the right dimensions and, provided the soil is topped up from time to time with, it is a permanent fixture. Small plants like alpines can be viewed more easily when raised above ground level. You can use a number of materials other than brick – stone, baulks of timber, or peat blocks. But if you use wood, it must first be treated with a non-toxic preservative.
The larger and higher the bed, the more secure the foundations will have to be. A low bed can just be constructed on the patio floor. The front wall should have a slight backward slope, to help to contain the earth inside. It must have drainage holes in it; insert pieces of tubing between courses of brick, stone, or timber near the bottom of the bed so that excess water can drip out.