The Hippo


Mar 20, 2018








Courtesy photo.

Take it inside
How to create an indoor container garden

By Angie Sykeny

 If outdoor gardening isn’t an option for you, or if you just want to add some life and color to your home, consider starting an indoor container garden — a freestanding miniature garden with multiple types of plants potted in a single container. 

“If you live in New England, it’s a must,” said Kim Thibault from House by the Side of the Road garden center in Wilton. “Business picks up immensely in the winter because it’s like a little getaway. You have a piece of green inside even when it’s white outside.” 
What’s your type? 
Charlie Cole of Cole Gardens in Concord said there are two types of indoor gardens: long-term and short-term. A long-term garden is one that you plan on making a permanent fixture in your home. It features plants that are hardy in an indoor environment and can survive through the winter, which can include flowering plants with a long bloom period like begonias, kalanchoes, African violets, orchids and peace lilies. 
“Think of long-term plants like you would a piece of furniture or a painting on the wall,” Cole said. “Since they will be there long-term, you should focus on getting ones that are the right size and right color, and know where you want to put them.” 
A short term garden has seasonal plants that provide instant color and fragrance but do not last through the year, such as daffodils, tulips and azaleas. Once the flowers have waned, you can reuse your container garden and switch those plants out for new ones. 
“You aren’t stuck with it all year long,” Cole said. “You can do a daffodil in the spring, then, once spring is over, you can do something that requires less sunlight, like a peace lily.” 
Get it contained
To start an indoor container garden, you’ll first need to choose a container. It could be a glass jar, a piece of pottery, a decorative plastic pot, an antique heirloom or any other structure that fits your home decor and is appropriate for the size you want the garden to be. 
According to Cole, there are three main styles of container gardens: fillers, which include regular sized plants; thrillers, which include larger, more showy plants; and spillers, which include plants that cascade over the edge of the container. 
You can also put your plants in separate pots and line them up in a container to look like they are all potted together. That way, if one plant dies, or if you want to replace or reposition a plant, you can easily take it out without having to uproot and replant the whole container. 
When choosing a container, you should also consider any decorative accessories that you want to add to your garden. 
“You could put a unique rock or a shell on top of the soil,” Thibault said. “Or, if you plant the plants loosely enough, you can put [decorative pieces] in the soil and have them stick out.” 
Thibault said terrariums in which you can construct your own miniature landscape have been growing in popularity, and so have fairy gardens, which are designed with tiny, detailed accessories to create a small-scale whimsical world. 
“You can add little gravel walkways and little fairy ponds,” she said. “I know people who even make their own fairy furniture. There’s a ton you can do with it.” 
Pick your plants  
Once you decide whether you want a long-term or short-term garden and you pick out a container, it’s time to select your plants. 
The most important thing, Cole said, is to choose plants that fit your lifestyle. 
“Don’t buy a plant just because you like it. You may like a certain plant, but if it needs light and your house doesn’t get any natural sunlight, [the plant] is not going to do well,” he said. “You’ll have a better chance at succeeding if you think about your location, the plant’s light requirements and if the plant’s watering frequency suits your schedule.” 
After you narrow the selection down to plants that will thrive in your home, look for plant varieties with similar sunlight and watering needs. For example, Cole said, you can combine ephemeral flowers like daffodils and tulips, which won’t require long-term care; cacti and succulents, both of which require little water; and house-hardy plants like peace lilies and African violets, which can survive in a home without a lot of sunlight. 
“People will put a cactus with a regular plant … then say, ‘This didn’t survive,’” Thibault said. “You have to keep plants together that live in the same kind of environment. Otherwise you’ll have one growing plant but you’ll cook the other one.” 
Planting and maintenance
You should do some research on how big your plants will grow. 
“You don’t want to cram too many plants into a container,” Cole said. “Make sure you give them some space, because once they start to grow, it can get overcrowded very quickly.” 
Look for potting soil that is geared toward indoor container plants, as opposed to garden soil, which is used for outdoor gardening. A traditional potting soil will work for most plants, but be aware that there are some plants, such as orchids, that require a soil with more drainage. 
If the container you’ve chosen doesn’t have drainage holes, or if you tend to overwater your plants, put some small rocks in the bottom of the container before adding the soil. 
“It’s never a bad idea to include rocks,” Cole said. “That way the soil isn’t sitting in water and keeping the plant wet longer than necessary.” 
How deep the root ball goes into the soil varies per plant and is usually specified with the plant’s instructions. As a rule of thumb, Cole said, leave a half-inch of space between the top of the soil and the lip of the container so that when you water the plant, there is some space for the water to collect. Finally push the soil in around the plant, not too tightly, but tightly enough so that water won’t immediately drain down to the bottom of the container. 
There are two main ways to tell that your plant needs watering: the soil is dry to the touch, or the container feels lighter than usual. When you go to water the plant, check to see if it’s drooping or leaning to one side, and rotate the container if needed. Plants will always lean in the direction of the sunlight. 
Lastly, if you notice any broken stems or limp leaves or flowers, pull them off. 
“Don’t be scared to prune as necessary,” Cole said. “They’re plants; they will grow back.” 
While outdoor gardens often require less maintenance during peak growing season, the fickleness of New England weather for most of the year can make an indoor garden seem more appealing. 
“Many people find it easier to garden indoors than outdoors because they can control the environment,” Cole said. “You can still make it a true little garden and take care of it like a regular garden inside your home.” 

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