"IT'S OUR GARDEN" By Elizabeth and Crow Miller

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Planters And Container Gardening - Imagination Plus Organics

Confidentially, I've always been a window box fan. I love to see bright boxes of gaily colored geraniums and ivy gracing the fronts of houses I pass. But until recently, I never realized the vast, practically unlimited possibilities of organic gardening in containers.

In container gardening, I must stress, must be strictly organic.

Your soil must be rich, and it must not pack. Equal parts of soil, sand and humus material; compost, leaf mold, peat moss or the like, plus generous amounts of composted horse manure and bone meal, make a wonderfully fertile, porous soil. I work on the theory that the more tightly crowded a container is with plants, the better they thrive and bloom, provided the soil is right.

I recommend mulching all plants grown in containers, using semi-finished compost, peat moss or coco shells for most plants, pine needles or oak leaf mold for acid lovers. Once the organic end of my project is taken care of,

I give my imagination free rein in thinking up decorative uses for planters. Window boxes don't have to be restricted to just windows! A front porch, for example, instead of having a wooden railing, can have a continuous row of plant boxes.

In choosing plants, I like to have at least two colors in each planter, preferably in varying tints. Light and dark blue or red with white is very attractive. Or I contrast brilliant yellow and red with bright blue and white.

In a box or container that is viewed from one side only, I put the taller plants in the rear, lower ones in front of these, and let trailing plants cascade over the rim. Boxes that are seen from two or more sides should have the tallest plants in the center. In large boxes, it's best to intermix tall and medium-height plants so you don't get a step effect.

Selecting the plants themselves is easy. In consulting your flower seed catalogs, there are 4-things to consider- color, season of bloom, height and exposure. In shady northern exposures, I favor tuberous begonias, browallia, fuchsias, gloxinias, impatiens, caladiums, crotons, ferns, torenias, balsam, forget-me-nots and abutilon. Partly shaded or east or west locations that miss the hot midday sun are planted to lobelias, wax begonias, fancy-leaved caladiums and impatiens.

Hundreds of plants will thrive in containers receiving full sun. I often combine pansies and geraniums, blue ageratums and white petunias, or for a red and gold blend, marigolds and lantanas. Miniature roses, dwarf zinnias, pompon dahlias, primroses, snapdragon, sweet alyssum and calendulas are some of my other favorites.

Careful study of your seed catalogs will enable you to map out a plan for 3-season beauty. In spring, you can have bulbs, cineraria, pansies, primroses, English daisies and azaleas. For summer, the annuals offer unlimited choices. Fall inspires a combination like coleus, and mums.

Don't forget you can grow many of your organic vegetables in containers and planters, chard, lettuce, beets, spinach and many greens do well in containers. Herbs are very easy to grow in planters. Strawberries do fine in tubs, barrels, boxes or pyramids. And of course there window box tomatoes and other miniatures especially suited to container growth.

The biggest trick is to keep a supply of plants growing to blooming size in a suitable spot in your backyard. This takes careful planning, but it will give you spectacular color from crocus time until frost. Many plants may be grown in pots and set in soil, damp peat, or sphagnum moss.

Planter and container gardening, is truly an art. But it is an art well worth learning. The range of plant material is endless, indeed. Many plants seem to show up to much better advantage growing in containers than they do in the garden.

This method of organic gardening can be practiced anywhere, on a porch, window sill, terrace or city roof top. And best of all, with planter and container gardening, you don't have to spend a fortune on your home to make it a beautiful and happy place.

Copyright o 1996/ Crow Miller, Syndication . / The Garden / On-Line