Potting up a hot urban garden with panache
Frankie Flowers likes to joke that the whole world is going to pot—and he’s got a point. With real-estate prices rising and property sizes declining, homeowners have smaller and smaller patches of outside space to call their own. In Vancouver proper, that often means a condo balcony is about the only place to put plants, and with no terra firma, container gardening is the only way to go.
“People just want to soften the concrete jungle, and it can be a mind booster and a mood booster,” says Flowers, better known as Frank Ferragine, author of a new book called Pot It Up (HarperCollins, $26.99), a follow-up to his wildly successful Get Growing. “We often think so much about the pot itself, but the plants are the pizzazz of the container. I wanted to do something simple but basically build people’s confidence in container gardening based on seasonal plants.”
In other words, if standard petunias, geraniums, or impatiens are about your only repertoire for the planters on your patio, Ferragine has 150 evocatively named combinations to help you put a little unexpected panache into your pots. Arranged by season, his combos are simple but sexy, from the Nevada Sun’s spiky yucca, sedum, and hens-and-chicks succulents to the Rusty red mix of begonias and maroon canna. Each mixture features what he calls fillers, thrillers, and spillers.
“In general, I say no more than three interesting colours in a container,” advises Ferragine, who also features some magnificent monotone planters, including the Pretoria Lime combination of chartreuse canna, coleus, begonia, and sweet potato.
Ferragine, who stresses the need to have fewer, bigger pots over a mess of small ones, also wants you to think about when and how you use your outdoor space. “If you’re someone who enjoys the terrace at night, think of colours that reflect light—white is good. And you won’t want plants that are daylight-sensitive, that close at night.” Custom-made for the evening patio is his Night Light, complete with white geranium, trailing helichrysum (licorice plant), white calibrachoa, white lobelia, black-velvet petunia, and white New Guinea impatiens.
And if, like Ferragine, you love to cook, consider containers as a way to bring the edible to your doorstep. Check out his Simply Salad pot, an aesthetically pleasing frenzy of multihued mesclun mix and trailing sweet pea, or his Saucy! summer pot with Better Bush tomatoes, Greek oregano, and a mix of red and green basils.
Ferragine, who grew up in a family of greenhouse owners (“I joke that my family believed in child labour and that’s how I got interested”), says the number-one challenge with containers is keeping them watered. Fortunately, he recommends a few with plants (like ornamental grasses and sedum) that can tolerate the odd drought. One of the keys, he stresses, is using proper potting soil—with its spongelike properties—for your planters and never regular garden dirt.
But he warns that overwatering can be just as big a problem. Make sure you have proper drainage, he says. “And watering in the morning is the best time to water,” he stresses. “I say, ‘You don’t put your kids to bed at night wet; don’t do that with your plants.’ ”
That said, the gregarious green thumb emphasizes that he wants container gardening to be unthreatening. “It’s simple: make sure it’s suited to your light; make sure you have the right pot; and then just have fun,” he says. “No matter what anybody says, we’ve all killed a plant, so if you’re a first-time gardener, don’t worry.”
Later, he adds that experimenting with 200 container varieties to create his new book did have its failures. “There were some plants that did die in the making of this book,” he admits with a laugh.