Patience Atkinson-Gregory offers advice on what planting containers to choose, and how best to maintain them.
02 July 2018 | Patience Atkinson-Gregory
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of transforming a site or venue is by using flowers. So what are the considerations required when choosing your display?
Flower beds vs planters
Beds crammed with colourful florals have a great impact, but they do have disadvantages compared with floral planters. Flower beds are static and you can't easily change their size or shape - meaning they may look the same year in and year out.
Containers offer more versatility with different shapes and sizes - and they can be moved and arranged to create different themes and displays. These include hanging baskets, up-the-pole planters, and large tiered planters that create cascades of flowers during the summer. Smaller containers brighten up uninspiring corners and larger planters can create an attractive centrepiece.
How to choose the right container
- Glazed ceramic and terracotta: These are the style of containers that most people think of first. They look attractive, but are prone to cracking when exposed to severe frost, so select frost-proof pots. Positioning pots on feet can help to reduce the risk of frost damage.
- Wood: This looks good when new and is a great choice if you are looking to enhance or integrate with the natural environment. However, wood will rot over time. Treating the wood and lining containers with punctured plastic sheeting can help extend longevity.
- Metal: Contemporary and attractive, metal containers have become increasingly popular. They are practical, as they don't crack in the cold or rot. However, they are susceptible to external temperatures, so don't create good growth conditions when temperatures are more extreme.
- Plastic: Flexible and hardy, plastic is a robust choice. It doesn't dry out as much as clay or terracotta, and strides in manufacturing processes mean that the appearance of plastic containers has drastically improved. Some planters are even designed to look like wood, stone or terracotta, but have the increased durability that plastic offers.
One disadvantage often cited for using containers over flower beds is the amount of maintenance involved.
Traditional planters tend to dry out quicker and require frequent watering, which has implications for the maintenance budget.
However, using self-watering planters can help to address this, as few need watering more than once a week. These planters have a sub-soil water reservoir to minimise evaporation and, because the roots absorb only what they need when they need it, they create ideal conditions for growth. For these reasons self-watering planters are often popular with councils and professional ground staff as a way of creating displays in public spaces.
Case study 1: Ripon Racecourse in North Yorkshire
This is known as Yorkshire's Garden Racecourse. Head groundsman Carl Tonks says: "We spend a lot of time and effort planting up self-watering containers, which help us create the 'Wow' factor. They use around a seventh of the water that we previously used. Watering less frequently has also reduced our labour and associated costs."
Case study 2: The Sixth Form College, Farnborough
The college, which has a reputation for academic excellence, also invests in the development of its grounds and buildings as part of the mission to create a positive learning environment.
Head groundsman Trevor Hopkins and his team have received several awards in the Best Commercial Display and Landscaping categories in regional In Bloom awards.
They create attractive floral displays around the site using teacup-and-saucer hanging baskets, as well as tiered fountain and wall-mounted containers, all of which are self-watering to reduce maintenance.
Hopkins explains: "The planters improve the aesthetics by adding colour and drawing the eye away from the brickwork. The floral displays also help promote a sense of pride in our college.
"We feel that they help create a calmer and happier ethos as well as demonstrating that we value our environment. In fact, the displays are often a talking point for visitors."
Patience Atkinson-Gregory is managing director of horticultural supplier Amberol