I had a lovely luncheon with a dear friend of my mother’s just this past weekend in Earl’s Court. Our friend gave up her large home years ago after the death of her husband and moved back into the heart of London, which some might say is the reverse of what you are meant to do when retired. I suppose she was lonely. But though in a city flat, she has not lost her love of gardening. As she lives on the ground floor, she has a decent sized space to create a wonderful swath of greenery, all of it, I was surprised to see, in containers!
As my daughter was happily tasked with hefting the watering can, we sat down with our coffee and discussed her city oasis. She has me convinced – containers can make a garden possible almost anywhere!
The first thing you will need, obviously, is the container. Most any container will work, but our friend has found that the decorative urns aren’t her favourite choice – some aren’t sturdy enough, and the ones made of stone have poor drainage and are extremely heavy. Why not be cheap about it, and reuse the kids’ wagon, or ask around for old packing crates, lay down a liner and start there. It must be noted, even plastic pots are going to end up having a substantial weight, so do use caution or get some help if you need to move them about. However, arranged correctly, you won’t be fussing about with them. Carefully read the “instructions” on growing your choice of plants – some, like tomatoes, require deep pots for their large root systems. Some, like geraniums, prefer stout, short pots that keep the water up near their shallow roots. Make sure all have well-drilled drainage holes. If you put a small pebble under the edge of the pot closest to the place where you will be walking, you will keep most of any drainage flowing the other way. Our friend has had no problems with puddling on her patio, and she lives in less-than-sunny London.
Next, you will need potting mix, something combining sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, and if you choose, a finely ground pine bark. Soil-less mixes are a little more expensive than potting soil, but much more durable and add to the drainage. Depending on the soil-less mix, you may want to add extra “soil conditioner” to the mix (more of the pine bark, usually – double check! Soil-less mixes are basically nutrient free, so you will need to add a little fertilizer to the mix. You can buy special organic container mix at many garden centers, or you can make your own by amending dirt from your garden for container gardening; simply mix together one part garden soil, one part compost and one part sand. You may also want to add some peat moss, which will help the mixture hold water.
The rest is up to you and your imagination. There are few things more relaxing that sipping coffee in the middle of the city, surrounded by greenery, flowers, and friends.
Francesca Biddle Weston