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Unconventional containers for plants

Our weather has been very erratic this spring. In the 80s one week and then below freezing the next followed by, well, even more fluctuations. Now that May has arrived, it’s probably safe to make container gardens using all of your favorite tender plants. We all have favorite combinations of plants that we tend to use year after year. Most of us also have traditional containers that we use repeatedly.

Routine and tradition are fine, but there’s a whole new world of containers out there. We gardeners just have to be brave and open-minded enough to consider new options. After all, just about anything that holds soil and drains properly can be used.

Before going on a hunt for a non-traditional container, spend a few moments thinking about the overall design or “look” of your garden. If it’s very formal, for example, then you probably wouldn’t want to use large galvanized cattle watering troughs as planters in your front yard. You might, however, consider using a pair of old boots as whimsical planter by a garden shed. Once you’ve considered the overall “look” of your garden and where you want to use a container garden, then it’s time to start searching for something unique.

What to use and where to look? Just about anything can be used, and treasures can be found in the most unlikely places. Black plastic dish pans are excellent lotus containers for water gardens. They’re the perfect size, light weight, but relatively durable, and the color means that the containers will be nearly invisible once they’re submerged.

Old stumps, especially those that have partially rotted, make interesting containers for whimsical plantings. Just remove a large enough piece of the center to hold soil and plants. Old buckets and milk cans, pots, even mailboxes and fishing tackle boxes can be repurposed as containers. Just be sure to add drainage holes. These metal containers are especially attractive when used in groupings. Birdbaths and old fire pits make interesting containers for shallow rooted plants, such as succulents.

Baskets lined with weed barrier cloth are another option. They can be hung on doors or walls or just grouped near a bench. After several years of use, the baskets will begin to decompose, but they have a certain charm as they age and can still provide many years of use; just add extra layers of weed barrier to the bottom. How about a basket filled with impatiens or some trailing petunias?

And what about those galvanized stock watering tanks? A row of tall ones can be planted with hostas or other relatively large plants and used to disguise an unsightly fence or building. Don’t like the appearance of galvanized metal? Paint horizontal stripes on the troughs and no one will ever know what they are. Partially bury a round watering trough and you have the beginning of a water garden. Arrange several in an interesting design and you have an instant vegetable garden with raised beds. Just be sure to elevate the planters to help with drainage and to prevent invasion by marauding roots.

So many interesting choices. This year, I’ve planted extra tomatoes in trash cans and potatoes in old bags and baskets. And just for fun, I’m considering developing a small pocket garden with a round stock watering tank as the centerpiece. Something with a very Zen look, lots of gravel and just a few very sculptural plants. A low-maintenance place to meditate or read. I may even make a few rustic hypertufa pots.

Gardening should be fun and make you smile. If it’s stressing you, then it’s time to rethink what you’re doing. Happy gardening.

CYNTHIA WOOD is a master gardener who writes two columns for The Herald. Her email address is cynthia.crewe23930@gmail.com.