A wide diversity of design is to be found in plant containers, ranging from the humble and familiar flower pot to the sophisticated, automatically watered plant trough. Materials range in age and type from the old stone trough to the very latest plastic. They include asbestos, cement, clay, metal, plastics and fibreglass and wood. They may be adapted for indoor or outdoor use depending on appearance and strength.
Plastics and fibreglass Extruded polystyrene is used by some manufacturers to produce plant containers which are very light and attractive with their troughs. They are ideal containers for the woman gardener as they are light and pleasant to handle. They must be used with care, however, as they are fairly fragile when filled. For example, it is not wise to pull a large trough, when filled, by its rim, as this can break off easily. A long trough must be supported underneath with a piece of timber if it has to be moved when filled. Usually, however, containers should be placed in their correct positions first and then filled and planted.
Some window-box or plant trough designs are manufactured from strong plastic materials which result in lightweight, rot-proof articles. They also have particular appeal to the woman gardener as they are attractively decorated by relief designs. Suitable plastic and fibreglass shallow plant troughs can be obtained for indoor use. These are ideal for placing pot plants in, especially on the window ledge. A few small pebbles in the bottom plus a regular supply of small amounts of water will provide the ideal moist atmosphere for growing many plants. There are several fibreglass plant tubs on the market. These are made from special high-quality fibreglass in various color, such as red, yellow and green. The material used in their construction is light, so the containers are easy to handle. As their coloring is permanent, there is no need to paint them and they will not rot or warp.
Fibreglass is also used for troughs, window-boxes, urns and other types of plant container. One range consists of facsimile reproductions of antique originals with exquisite motifs accurately copied. Of typical design in the style of these reproductions is a substantial square plant container dating back to an original made about 1550. Its size makes it suitable for a tree or large shrub. Another example is an attractive window-box of narrow proportions with a lead finish from an original of the same period. A King George II period tub, dated 1757, with high reliefs of a ship in full sail, shells, starfish and mermaids and a Queen Anne style urn, dated 1710, with griffon handles and cherubs reliefs, are other examples of originals reproduced in this series. The facsimiles are so good that it is virtually impossible to detect that they are made of fibreglass, except that they are very much lighter in weight than the lead originals. An attractive container of this kind can be bought for a reasonable price, some are very fine and the choice is wide enough to cater for most tastes.
Wood Elm, oak, teak and cedarwood are natural materials which are used by the manufacturers of many types of attractive container. They may take the form of square or long troughs, and several have been specially designed for indoor use. Sizes of troughs vary considerably. Some plant troughs can be purchased in 'do-it-yourself' kits, and are very easy to assemble. There are also matching sets of tubs and troughs, especially useful where these containers are to be used on a patio. For indoor use, containers should be as attractive as possible and many manufacturers have paid particular attention to finish. One range of Burma-teak tubs has tapered screw-in legs and a beautiful high gloss, tarnish-proof finish of three coats of a special lacquer.
Cement A particularly useful plant container range is manufactured from a mixture of asbestos and cement. This process results in containers which are extremely durable and not liable to damage by even the severest of frosts. They are a little heavy to handle but their other qualities more than make up for this. Some are made in very unusual shapes. They may have hour-glass-like outlines, others are similar to ice-cream cones. These new shapes add considerably to their attractiveness. They may be particularly useful as water containers for small fountain or waterfall effects. They can be used for plant displays indoors and for outdoor work; it is a simple matter to drill holes in their bases.
There is much to commend the use of concrete containers and there are several attractive designs available. Some specialist stone craftsmen produce quite ornate examples, some of which are very expensive. For the average small garden, the smaller designs should be selected. Tudor or Italian style vases which are about 50cm (20in) high and 40cm (16in) in diameter are quite suitable. For the larger garden and where an informal design is required, pieces such as a large fluted vase, or one in the manner of design developed in the Regency period, about 1m (3ft) high, would blend better with the more spacious surroundings. They can be obtained fairly easily.
Hand-made pots This type of pot for garden decoration is increasing in popularity and some very beautiful designs are available. Shapes and sizes are diverse. Some take the form of 'Ali-Baba' jars, others are quite squat with a diameter of some 45-60cm (18-24in) and a depth of 20-25cm (7-10in). For larger plants such as trees and shrubs there are much deeper designs. Several specialists in this type of wheel-thrown pottery will make pots to customer's special order or design. Among the choices available there are some very charming wall pots which have holes for fixing to walls. All these pots have ample drainage and, provided they are well crocked and filled with a good, well-drained or open compost, they are frost-proof.
Holders or supports For indoor use there are several types of metal pedestals which provide very attractive supports for plant containers. The use of wrought iron for garden display work seems to be increasing in popularity too, especially for patios, paved areas, etc. These pedestals have a plant container or a platform top for alternative displays. In one or two designs the height is adjustable. Wall units and table pieces are also available, the latter are very useful as they are only about 20cm (8in) high and enable the flower arranger to produce small arrangements most effectively. Various wrought iron bases or stands are made for automatically watered pots and troughs and there is also a special wall support.
The metal stand supporting the plant containers, which may be pots or a trough, sometimes takes the form of scroll-work, or it may consist of short or long legs, perhaps with a magazine or newspaper rack between or an encircling metal 'cage' for pot or trough or a hanging basket. Some of the scroll-work may be covered in white polythene, both to make it more attractive and weatherproof. Some fibreglass plant tubs are provided with a supporting metal tripod as an optional extra.
Hanging baskets An attractive way of displaying plants outdoors is by the use of hanging baskets. These are available in the form of simple wire baskets which, when lines with a piece of perforated plastic sheet or moss, hold soil and plants neatly. More modern wire baskets are coated with plastic. The usual sizes are 25cm (10in), 30cm (12in), 35cm (14in) and 40cm (16in) in diameter. A special half-basket for walls is available in sizes of 35cm (14in) and 40cm (16in).
Inventive ideas If you cannot afford to spend a great deal on ornamental vase
or urns, a wide range of other objects, not originally intended as plant containers, may be pressed into service. Old wine barrels are often obtainable from wine merchants or other sources and the barrels, when sawn in half carefully, make two excellent plant tubs. A number of holes should be drilled in the bottoms for drainage purposes. A poker is possibly the most useful tool for this purpose. It will be easy to drive holes through the wood when the tip is red hot. The tubs should be treated with a copper-based wood preservative before they are used.
Builders' yards can provide many unusual containers, particularly for the imaginative gardener. Old chimney-pots, plain or decorated may often be picked up quite cheaply. They can easily be provided with concrete bases and allowance may be made for drainage holes by putting in wooden plugs before the concrete has set. These may be knocked out afterwards. Old domestic water tanks of various shapes and sizes make perfectly acceptable containers, particularly if they are painted on the outside and holes are knocked in their bases. Old wash coppers are not difficult to find. Many have rounded bases, which tend to make them a little unstable, but this can be overcome by beating the base more or less flat with a hammer or mallet. Drainage holes are easily provided. The range of sizes is quite considerable; some from old country houses may be 1m (3ft) in diameter and as much in depth. Exposed to the elements they take on a pleasant greenish-bronze patina. Some are made of cast-iron and this is more difficult to drill for drainage purposes, though it can be done. On no account try to knock holes in the base of a cast-iron wash 'copper', as the material is brittle and you may ruin the container.
From the greengrocer, in spring, it is sometimes possible to obtain tall split-cane baskets in which new potatoes are imported. At best these must be considered as temporary containers, with a life of one or two seasons, although they will last a little longer if they are lined with polythene sheeting before they are filled with drainage material and soil.
Farm sales are worth attending by the gardener in search of less usual containers. It is often possible to pick up quite cheaply such things as feeding troughs, which make suitable long low containers. It does not matter if their bases are corroded; it merely makes it easier to provide the necessary drainage holes. A coat of paint helps to make them more acceptable in the garden. Disused hay-racks may also be found and, when fixed against a wall, as they were originally, make unusual features. Before they are filled with soil they should be lined with fine-mesh wire-netting or perforated plastic sheeting, both of which will retain the soil yet allow surplus water to escape freely.
The day of the heavy wooden wheelbarrow is almost over as modern barrows are made of metal or heavy-duty plastic. If you have an old wooden barrow or can obtain one, do not consign it to the bonfire, for after holes have been drilled in the bottom it makes an unusual and well-adapted container for all sorts of plants. You can either leave it in its natural state and treat it with a wood preservative, or paint it with a good quality lead paint, to give it a new lease of life.
It is occasionally possible to find examples of the large earthenware pots used for forcing rhubarb, when they were inverted over the crowns to exclude most of the light. These already have a hole in the 'base' (actually the top when they are used for forcing) and this will act as a drainage hole when they are used as plant containers.
There is practically no limit to what may be used for growing plants in. Old baths, including hip baths, have been used in town gardens, while it is not at all unusual to see, in country gardens, hollowed-out tree-stumps used as informal plant containers.
A point to remember, particularly as far as deep containers are concerned, is that ample provision should be made for drainage. To prevent the drainage holes from being blocked and to prevent worms and slugs from entering through them, it is wise to stand the containers on bricks or pieces of wood, so that their bases are clear of the ground.