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Cheap Containers for Small Spaces

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Smal Spaces by Richard Fern

The following is an excerpt from Small-Space Container Gardens by Fern Richardson (Timber Press, 2012). The book walks you through beautifying a small space, such as a balcony, porch, patio or small yard, even on a tight budget.

Sometimes finding extra money for containers can be a bit like trying to squeeze blood out of a rock. But by letting your creative and resourceful juices flow, you'll find plenty of homes for your plants that aren't crazy expensive. In fact, if you re-purpose ordinary household items, abandoned children's toys or recycling bin inhabitants, the container might even be free. Remember to drill drainage holes in the bottom of your container if they don't already exist.

Birdbaths look really awesome planted with succulents or other rock garden plants like California poppies, sweet alyssum and forget-me-nots. I've seen used ones listed in the classifieds for less than $20. Avian aficionados could also add garden character with a vintage birdcage: just lock in a potted plant instead of a feathery friend.

Colanders and flour sifters are just dying to become containers; after all, these kitchen stalwarts already have built-in drainage. Seek out vintage colanders in interesting colors—or spray paint one to suit your color scheme. Flour sifters planted with succulents or small herbs like thyme are truly charming.

Large salad bowls from the homewares section of your favorite department store are often a much more economical purchase than virtually identical pots. Just drill a hole in the bottom and treat yourself to some special plants with all that money you saved.

Red wagons, like the one your kids haven't used in years, are fun, moveable containers—especially for succulents, whose shallow roots don't mind the lack of growing space. Use a hammer and nail or awl to punch drainage holes every six inches and pot that bad boy up. I've also seen a rusty old wheelbarrow planted with edibles; same idea and it looked fantastic.

Soda cans were not part of my potting repertoire until I attended a class on frugal gardening during which the presenter described a street vendor in Mexico growing the succulent "string of pearls" in soda and beer cans. Coffee tins provide a bigger pot. The trick to achieving this cool, retro look is finding interesting cans or painting them a brighter color.

Trash cans that are about half the size of the curbside kind will add an urban or industrial aesthetic to any space. Peruse local hardware store aisles for these galvanized goods and give your dwarf tree a first-rate home.

Wine boxes make delightful containers for low-growing flowers, or shallow-rooted edibles like lettuces. If you buy wine in bulk—or have a friend at a wine shop—you'll have easy access to these wooden display boxes. Save your corks and use them as topdressing to reinforce the theme.

Project: Mini BBQ Herb Garden
1 portable barbecue or hibachi
1 coffee filter
1 small bag high-quality potting mix
3 to 5 herb plants, depending on the size of the BBQ

1. Clean the BBQ, removing as much of the blackened grime as possible.
2. Place a coffee filter flat over the holes in the bottom of the grill. This will allow water to drain out but prevent the potting soil from falling through.
3. Fill up the BBQ with enough potting soil so that when the herbs are planted they will be approximately one inch below the top edge.
4. Arrange your plants until you have a pleasing combination. Fill in around the plants with potting soil, gently tamping down as you go to make sure you get soil in all the nooks and crannies. Double-check the middle of the pot—I usually miss at least one spot there.
5. Place your BBQ in full to partial sun, depending on the needs of your herbs.


Learn which plants are best suited for container gardening in The Encyclopedia of Container Plants.

Grow a verdant container herb garden in your small space with Easy to Grow Container Herb Garden.

Succulent Container Gardens provides advice for beginning to seasoned gardeners about creating eye-catching, unique container displays.

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