The creation of a container garden should be just like the creation of a work of art. A potted garden easily becomes a living, breathing addition to your home’s outdoor living areas—and can offer a beautiful welcome for your guests.
The simplicity in creating a container garden is an act of beauty in itself: There is no digging in the ground, which can be a daunting task, considering our desert soil. Pots can be moved; plantings can be easily changed; and as we grow older (but never old), pots can give our backs a break—because we can sit in a chair while tending to them.
Here are some tips on how to get started with your own potted desert garden.
Are you a saver or a thrower? Whether you are a seasoned gardener or just getting started, it is important to know (or discover): Are you someone who is going to want to rescue every sick plant and each baby that is born, regardless of how they look? Or will you want to discard weaker plants and start with something fresh? Personally, I quickly discard any plants that cost less than $50. However, a landscape plant that is costly will be tended to as long as possible. Potted plants generally run their course in my garden and then go to the compost heap.
Are you a planner, a doer or an enjoyer? Ask yourself: How do you like to get things done? Do you like to plan things out in advance? Do you want to do the work, or pay someone else to do it for you? Or do you tend to wing it—for example, do you go to the nursery on a whim and bringing things home to figure out where they are going to go? If you enjoy creating your gardens yourself, you will be much more successful if you become a planner—especially regarding your time. However, there are people you can hire to make your plants just so for you. You decide how much you want to be involved
No job is too big. Be careful with this one! If this is your attitude, and you are just starting out, you may find yourself biting off more than you can chew. I have seen people go to the nursery and come away with five pots, soil and 100 plants—only to discover they are already exhausted by the time they get everything home. The plants sit for a day … or two … and when the newbie gardener goes out to finally plant them, the plants are in very poor shape, if they are even alive.
The Joy of Flexibility
I am not talking about our own physical flexibility here, although that does help in any gardening activity! Pots give us a great deal of flexibility in creating our gardens. Except for the largest of pots and concrete planters, pots can be relocated, put away when not needed, or shifted to accommodate the challenging weather conditions of the desert.
Many of us who are baby boomers or younger thrive with change. Potted gardens fit that bill nicely. Tired of the look? Move pots in or out. Need something freshened up? Bring a pot to that location. Having a party? Shift your pots around to accommodate your space needs. When a plant needs to be regrown, that pot can be put on the side of the house while it recuperates. (Just don’t forget to water it!)
Pots also allow you to capitalize on your home’s microclimates. In desert climates—more so than in regions of the country with the traditional four seasons—we experience greater fluctuations in conditions around our own property. Homes on a wash are going to be colder on the wash side. If you have a solid canopy of foliage from trees and shrubs, that part of your yard (as well as those areas near a structure) will be more protected from heat, cold and wind.
You will need to discover how different areas of your home vary in temperature and exposure. The sun shifts through the year—what is in the sun in the winter may be in the shade in the summer, or vice versa.
Have Realistic Expectations
Before you plan your container gardens, evaluate how you live: Do you travel a lot during the summer? If so, invest in a dedicated pot-irrigation line; enlist some help to keep your plants healthy and alive while you’re gone; or get plants that don’t need a lot of water.
Also, garden how you live. Are you casual or formal? I like big, overflowing containers with riotous colors and luxuriant blossoms. Some people like neat, well-planned, formal containers.
Remember, this isn’t brain surgery; there’s lots of room for error. Have fun and experiment. Whatever your lifestyle or personality, you can make container gardens that will give you joy and bring beauty to your surroundings.
Marylee is the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Email her with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.