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Go potty to add garden colour and style

Words Deb Tapp  | DomPost 2019

Done right, container gardens can change a space.


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Plants in pots, troughs or hanging baskets are a good way to extend gardens and dress up outdoor areas 

That’s according to Rachael Mathews, garden design expert and owner of Wellington-based Hedge Garden Design and Nursery.

She believes plants in pots, troughs or hanging baskets, either on their own or in clusters, are a good way to extend gardens and dress up outdoor areas.

“Containers are like ornaments in a way, it’s all about how you arrange everything in a space, it’s a bit like decorating the inside of your house, but outside.”

Having pots either side of a front door, main entrance or gate, for example, will create drama.

“It doesn’t just look good but it’s a bit more formal and directs people to the entrance of the property or house.”

To achieve that look, pots must be large “statement” pots, says Rachael.

“Often I see a beautiful house for sale and they have these small terracotta pots on the doorstep, and I think they could do so much better!

“Find a couple of beautiful big pots at the front door for your hero shot, it really dresses a house.”


Statement pots can come in a varietyy of styles and colours

Statement pots can come in a variety of styles and colours, but it’s what goes in it that matters most.

The plant must be striking, and in proportion to the pot.

“I grow topiary in mine, but you could have other kinds of plants that are big-ish and not so expensive.


“Flaxes are really good in pots, agapanthus are too – you want indestructible plants in pots, otherwise they’re quite hard to keep going.”


Generally, the bigger the pot, the better the plant’s chance of survival.

“If you’ve got a big plant, you need a big pot, you can’t put a big plant in a little pot because it will outgrow it too quickly and is more likely to die.”


Main entrances aside, container plants in the form of herbs on an outdoor table or clusters of colourful flowers or striking shrubs on decks add interest too.


Succulents work well in pots, as do flaxes, native grasses and evergreens.

“Succulents can be done in a tasteful way, flaxes, native grasses, especially a new variety called Lomandra, looks absolutely amazing in a pot, the foliage looks really good.”

Always opt for evergreen varieties, plants that don’t lose their leaves, suggests Rachael.

“Buxus is really good because it’s slow growing, but other faster, taller growing hedging doesn’t grow so well in pots because it outgrows the pot too quickly.


Even hydrangeas are well-suited to container gardens.

“I think they are really beautiful, but they do look really manky in winter!

“What I do is change them out for something that looks better in winter – I put plastic pots inside nice, ceramic outside pots, that way you can lift the plastic pots [with the hydrangeas] out and change it with the seasons.”

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Generally, the bigger the pot, the better the plants chances of survival.

Groups of pots together can make statements.


“They can be different sizes and shapes and levels, you might have them outside a window you often look through, or along a path you often walk by, which adds colour and ambience.”


Or if privacy is needed from neighbours, line up a group of pots or troughs to create a screen.


 “It might be in a spot where you can’t plant, where there’s no garden, so you might put in rows of pots around the edge of, say, a balcony or along the side of a balcony.”


But make sure the plants are big.


“If you want to grow a tall plant or a hedge, then you will need a tall plant to accommodate the roots – roots are the mains of plants, and generally speaking , the taller the plant, the bigger the rootball needed to keep it going, so the bigger the pot needs to be.”


Grow herbs, flowers or even vegetables in hanging baskets that can be situated in porches, verandas, pergolas or even suspended from trees.

“They add living colour to an area, they are great space-savers, they can be very practical, and they can look amazing!”

Troughs or planters are ideal for vegetable or herb gardens.

Herbs can happily grow in pots which can be set in a convenient spot right outside the kitchen.

Ensure vegetable gardens are raised and have an open support system, says Rachael.

“You want them to be raised because you’ll be bending over them looking after the vegetables and harvesting them.”

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By open system she means not having a bottom on them.


“The plants will last longer with an open system, which means the worms can go up into the pot from the ground and the roots can go down into the ground as well.”


Container plants often strike problems simply because they usually don’t have an open support system and are totally reliant on their owners for food, explains Rachael.


“Plants usually die for one of three reasons – they haven’t been fed, they haven’t been watered or the pot’s too small and they’ve outgrown it.”


Food isn’t that hard to administer, once every three months will suffice, but it has to be the right kind of food, says Rachael.


“There’s a really basic rule that most people don’t know… when you feed plants in the garden you use organic fertiliser, that means a carbon-based fertiliser that worms can eat.


“That way you feed the worms, like compost, then the worms feed your plants and you get a system going.


“But with plants in pots, there are no worms in potting mix, so you have to feed the plants a synthetic fertiliser that the plants can take up directly.


Often people add “food” in the form of garden fertiliser, compost or liquid seaweed to their container plants and are stumped when they still die.


“Without worms there’s nothing that will take that seaweed and turn it into food for plants, you’re not feeding them, you need a synthetic fertiliser.Often people add “food” in the form of garden fertiliser, compost or liquid seaweed to their container plants and are stumped when they die.


“Without worms there’s nothing that will take that seaweed and turn it into food for plants, you’re not feeding them, you need a synthetic fertiliser.”

“One of The best ones out there is nitrophoska, which you sprinkle on top of the plant, water it in and it will last three months, it’s really easy care”.”




Having been in the garden design and nursery industry for almost two decades, Rachael has seen container gardening bloom.

“Container gardening is great for people who don’t have or don’t want a big garden, or they live in an apartment or home with little or no section.


“It is more flexible than traditional gardening, and you can get year-round satisfaction from the plants,” says Rachael.

“To be successful, just remember to abide by the two golden rules of container gardening – bigger is better when it comes to pot size, and don’t forget to feed them!”



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