In theory, containers overflowing with flowers, herbs, grasses and vegetables can transform balconies and porches into green and leafy garden retreats.
In reality, the effect is often closer to “Patio dotted with random plants.”
We asked Fern Richardson, author of the new book, “Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform Your Balcony, Porch or Patio With Fruits, Flowers, Foliage & Herbs” (Timber Press), how to bridge the gap. Her book offers suggestions ranging from upcycling and plant repetitions to spray-painting mismatched containers.
“It seems like it would be hard or it would look tacky, but spray paint and a stencil kit is a really cool way to add continuity,” Richardson says.
Among your other options:
Try plant patterns. Add unity to your collection by putting the same plant in a series of pots.
“It doesn’t even have to be one of the main plants,” Richardson says. “It can just be one of the small annuals that you change out every season. Putting the same little violas through the whole grouping can make them look like they belong together and you planned it — even if you didn’t.”
Zinnias would also work for this purpose, or marigolds.
Upcycle. Ransack the recycling bin, garage and kitchen for cool containers that will add interest and novelty to your collection. Richardson’s book includes a charming mini-barbecue project — but she also sees potential in red wagons, colanders, birdbaths and soda cans — “especially if the barbecue has been used, you probably want to clean it pretty thoroughly. There could be charcoal glued on,” she says. “But you know, a lot of times metal is a pretty nonreactive material as far as leaching stuff into the soil. If you’re worried about it, you can always put in a plastic nursery pot and hide it down in the soil and plant all your plants directly in the nursery pot, so that way you get the fun look of upcycling something without the concern of ‘What the heck is in this thing?’”
Match materials. A matched set of pots can look stagy, but a set of mismatched pots, all in one material, will look coherent and interesting.
“It’s just like in bedroom sets, sometimes it looks too matchy-matchy to have everything all the same,” she says. Consider wooden containers, concrete containers or green containers in a fresh mix of shapes and sizes. “If there’s some sort of continuity in the collection, that often helps it look like you planned it, even though a lot of times it’s not really affordable to buy eight pots for your patio all at once because pots can be pretty expensive,” Richardson says.
Stick to odd numbers. “Interior designers always say that groups of three look good together and I’ve found that too,” Richardson says. “Three pots that are all the same size can look not-dynamic, but if you have a tall one and a short one and a medium-sized one, a lot of the time that looks like a nice collection. If you have three that are all the same height, lining them up in a straight line can look really modern and chic, but I think the trick is grouping them together in odd numbers.”
HOW TO SPRAY PAINT AND STENCIL A POT
Adapted from “Small-Space Container Gardens”
What you need: plastic pot, spray paint, stencil, stencil glue or adhesive, smooth paint roller, outdoor paint
• Apply spray paint to the pot in short, even strokes. Allow to dry completely.
• Lightly mark the placement of the stencil on the pot with a pencil.
• Apply the stencil glue according to the package instructions. Use the paint roller to apply a coat of outdoor paint to the stencil. Skip a spot (so the stencil won’t smudge wet paint) and repeat all the way around the pot. Allow the paint to dry overnight before using.