We are stepping outside for today’s post + talking about planting inspiration for small space gardening. This is the first instalment of a 2-part blogpost, in which I’ll be focusing on pots + planters. Next week in Part 2, I will be sharing my initial sketches for planting ideas if square footage is a little lacking + also go into what’s on my personal planting wish list of plants. Said list has been accumulating for some time + is an ever-evolving, sprawling beast that appears on my computer, my phone notes + plant names quite often also adorn many a notebook margin, completely out of context! But before we think about plants, I wanted to share my thoughts on the ‘container’ aspect of container gardening as I’ve been growing this way for almost 15 years now. Let’s get into it…
Choosing pots + planters
The question of pots + planters is one of my most asked here on the blog — namely, which ones are good + where to find affordable planters. Particularly in smaller areas, your choice of planters can have a big impact on the overall look of your space + the pot/plant combination is one I particularly enjoy playing around with from a styling perspective. Finding good-looking pots can feel like an elusive task because there seems to be a distinct lack of variety + the choice in this area can feel uninspiring. As an indoor plant grower, I’m well aware of the price of decent quality planters, which can sometimes be an unexpected cost you might not have considered as your houseplant collection grows! Coupled with this, if you also garden outdoors, this cost will appear here too + can soon mount up — and that’s before we’ve even thought about the expense of the plants! I’ve got a post coming up soon about my houseplant planters, but here I’m focusing on outdoor pots that meet the following four criteria:
- They need to suit the types of plants I’m growing, in the conditions I’m growing them in
- They don’t cost the earth
- They are okay/good to look at
- They stand the test of time
Whilst growing any kind of plant collection, I’d recommend a slow but steady approach to planter purchasing that incorporates a selection of pots that suit your planting needs. Put practicality first + choose things with longevity that will keep your plants happy. If things don’t have drainage holes, I’ll always drill them in but if this isn’t an option, I’ll usually steer clear. Think about your location — what is the orientation of your outside space? Is it in an exposed spot? Do you require something temporary (are you planning on moving with your plants) or are you more settled? Do you have any height or weight restrictions? Can you fix things to walls or is freestanding planting the preferred choice?
If your planting area occupies a sunny position, be aware of using dark planters with heat sensitive plants as these coloured pots will warm up the temperature of the soil + can sometimes cause root damage — lighter coloured planters will reflect the light so are a better choice if this is a potential concern. Metal planters will also conduct temperature fluctuations, so bear in mind the position of the pots + your climate. In a slightly shaded location in the North of the UK, I find metal planters to work fine in my temperatures with my hardy plants. It’s a good idea to add drainage holes + a liner, or to coat the inside with rust-resistant paint and/or a layer of waterproof foam if you are wanting to use these long-term. An alternative is to use the planter as a cache pot or retain a nursery pot inside when planting — this has worked well for me in the past.
In an exposed position, be prepared to witness lightweight plastic pots getting whipped up in blustery weather… I nestle mine together on the patio at the cottage yet they still sometimes take flight + end up rolling around the path. In my defence, my heaviest of planters are still in Wales because they are not easy to move, so I have been making do this year with the old nursery pots I always have a stash of! If frosts are a concern, check that your planters are frost proof or at least frost resistant before investing. This ties in with your location + drainage because waterlogged compost will expand as it freezes + contract as it melts, eventually breaking the pot. If you are in a very wet location, this is something to consider. Classic terracotta in a frost-friendly treatment is more readily available now too + a great budget option. You can give these plants a helping hand during the colder months by moving them to a more sheltered position if possible, but raising them off the floor on feet or a stand can help prevent breakage as the pot is not left in direct contact with the ground in cold temperatures.
My most recent planter find…
Here I wanted to include my most recent planter purchases from ALDI —not sponsored by the way, I just think the price point is brilliant so wanted to mention — these were just £16.99 each (I bought 3) a few weekends ago! I’ve seen almost identical planters in garden centres for more than double this. They are seriously heavy so won’t get blown away + I am really impressed by the quality. I haven’t even planted them up yet (I’m thinking a lovely Hydrangea Annabelle), but popped some of my current pots inside last night to give an idea how they will look:
Side note… I love the shadows that dance across darker planters like this:
Some photos taken in-store, in case you wanted to see how they are packaged if you wanted to keep a look out for them, along with some metal alternatives that look perfect for more petite patios. If you are a design lover, these metal ones are really similar to the more £££ Ferm Living/ Scandi-style planters:
Whilst new planters can really elevate a small space garden + add finesse, I tend to prefer the old + slightly battered of containers in combination — I think the juxtaposition of older pieces with newer ones can really work in any space. An overly coordinated or polished look is not really my personal style + my love of vintage most certainly extends outside + onto my little patio garden. In my vintage homewares for houseplants blogpost I chatted through some pieces I love to use indoors, but for outside I thought I’d share some ideas that might inspire your container choices here.
Rummaging around architectural salvage sites (physical + virtual) is my absolute favourite thing to do + the question that is always at the forefront of my mind during these sourcing missions is always ‘can I put a plant in that?’ Things with histories + a lived-in patina can add a personal expression to an outdoor space that new planters will struggle to compete with. A mixture of both can look brilliant + will to enable you to choose where to spend + where to save.
Scale is important + it’s why I generally prefer looking at preloved ‘stuff’ because you can often get more (volume) for your money. Fewer, but larger pots generally tend to look more considered + can also cut down on your patio maintenance whilst you aren’t trying to water loads of different pots! It also pays to think outside of the idea of ‘conventional planters’ + let your imagination roam — see items as vessels for plants so look at shapes that might be visually similar to planters, albeit with a different previous or intended use. If you find this hard to visualise, it also works to think through the process in reverse, starting with the plants. What plants do you have/do you want to grow? What material suits them? How do you think they will look in a variety of pots? What style speaks to you?
Here are some old things that I like to put outdoor plants in:
This is a great starting point if you have a corner to occupy with pots because you can consider using things like feeding troughs, water tanks + industrial-looking metalware. These can sometimes be larger in scale but there are lots of options for smaller spaces. Dolly tubs + bins are readily available too + are a nice size to work with in the corner of a restricted site (see below). These types of containers are generally not too heavy but remember they will weigh considerably more when planted up + watered, so be mindful of this if you are on a balcony space! Equally, if space is limited, a run of troughs or tanks to create the look of a raised bed can look great. These are a savvy choice for small spaces + for those that need their setup to be flexible + moveable. For a vertical planting idea, smaller metal containers can be drilled to the wall or used with suitable fixings to create a window box situation.
An old feeding trough as in my relatives garden below is usually home to a couple of courgette plants in the summer months + is a good small raised bed option for a garden that’s more miniature in scale. The salt-glazed horse trough below right is also a lovely relic that looks right at home:
Things from old house exteriors
These items are quite easy to find if you know where to look. If you have vertical space, old water hoppers (used with guttering + downpipes) are a lovely vessel that when grouped together can be really striking. Here I’m thinking of conjuring up an alternative, more Victorian/industrial aesthetic, of those magical Spanish planting displays where terracotta pots are strapped to walls, often dotted with cheerful red + pink planting. With the hopper setup, they’d look great against old brickwork. For something closer to the traditional Spanish iteration, you can also source lots of vintage terracotta for decent prices to re-create this look too. In Southern Spain, there are whole festivals dedicated to this + people open up their private patios as a celebration of this type of planting, showcasing how they make the most of their vertical space. Plants adorn the often whitewashed walls in the most creative of ways + I’d love to see these in person one day — it’s certainly an inspiring idea for small space gardening! My friend Catrin visited Cordoba a few years ago + brought back a little plant pot magnet that lives on my fridge:
More things from old house exteriors
I have a few well-loved chimneys that add height to my space (around 60cm) which I like to use for herbs or seasonal planting. I simply nestle the pots in so that the lip overhangs the top of the planter + I can switch things around as I feel like it. My relatives won a prize for inventive planting in their local open garden competition a few years ago after they planted up an old chiminea with a fire-coloured ornamental grass that looked like it was erupting out of the top! So chimneys always remind me of that. From gutters, to chimneys we are now talking drains because (bear with me) old drains themselves are a great way to plant up alpine plants such as sedums that suit a more shallow planting arrangement. They are also really affordable + can be moved around or stacked to create a little rockery nook in your small space.
This is another of my favourite categories to search out because old sinks make excellent doorstep planters. Salt-glazed or ceramic, they come in all shapes + sizes, from Belfast sinks that would have been an integral part of our ancestors kitchens to lab sinks that have probably been part of an experiment or two. I’m planning on making a herb garden in one in my new place to keep a steady supply growing. Alternatively, If your small space will allow, an old bath is a statement planting option that would require little else to create a particularly eye-catching design. Layer up the planting to get multiple seasons of blooms in one ‘container’ so that the bath planter works hard for your garden. Below is a fern-planted bath to give an idea of what could be something really playful in the right place. Small spaces often mean lack of storage is a potential issue, so by making your pots as multi-use as possible it will negate the headache of where to store spare planters when not in use + in this case… a bath!
Raised bed options
Following on from the lack of storage point above, raised beds are not only for large gardens, but can actually work well in smaller spaces too, as in the little feeding trough from earlier. My parents have just built their first little raised bed for veggie growing in their garden — it’s 1.5m x 1m x 0.45m for reference (nice work Dad if you see this — built with engineering precision of course!). Whether you use a kit like theirs, or reclaimed railway sleepers, a small raised bed can create a streamlined look + will contain the planting in one place.
If I can, I’m planning on building a narrow-ish raised bed for my grasses etc. to raise them up from ground level so that I can appreciate their wafting nature from a better position. Because right now, my horsetail grass looks best when I sit on the floor of the patio! So don’t be afraid to elevate your planting, even if space in limited — it adds dynamism + depth which can make a space feel bigger! If height allows, another option that I really like is incorporating seating into a raised planter — such as building a bench fixed to the wall with a stepped up back that is planted with pampas grass etc.
I hope you enjoyed this gardening post + that it gave you some ideas for sourcing pots + planters for your outdoor space. As this post has probably shown, planting design is an aspect I particularly love + even in the smallest of spaces, a few choice containers can be transformational!
The planters used in a compact garden/patio/balcony can often be more important than in a larger space so it’s worth thinking about the feeling you want to create + how it reflects your personal sense of style. Designs that appeal to me are ones that have a connection between the interior + the exterior — whether that be in the styling, the colours or materials used. For example, in both my outdoor + indoor plants (of which there are many!) I quite like to use darker planters, or aged terracotta that creates a lived-in look. Coupled with that, some plants look their best in a lighter, neutral pot + I really don’t tend to use a lot of bright colour en masse unless I’m making a statement with a particular plant. Having both sets of planting potted up in the same way creates a coherence between the interior + the exterior. Furthermore, I opt for green-hued plants in both spaces the majority of the time too, which helps to create a harmonious flow.
In the next part of this post, we will be addressing what goes inside these containers + will focus on the plants I have on my garden wish list that you might enjoy growing too. If you know someone who loves outdoor gardening, please share or save this post. Part 2 will be up next weekend, but for now, happy growing!