When Sharon and Gene Edwards looked for their retirement home they found just what they wanted in the east Medford hills. The house was on a steep lot, with three quarters of an acre behind fences and gates. Both Sharon and Gene had grown up in the Rogue Valley before moving north early in their married life and there was something very nice about having windows looking out on the oak tree tops with the valley beyond. Still, there wasn't much space available for gardening so Sharon started buying pots for a little color on their broad deck.
"I started very slowly with some pansies and primroses. Then the next year I added some geraniums and petunias," Sharon says. Now she has over 100 pots of varying sizes in clusters on the deck. The deck has both an open and a covered area, and she pulls the perennials under cover and up against the house for warmth in the winter. But it is in the summer that her improvised garden shines.
There are many reasons to turn to container gardening: lack of space for conventional beds, poor soil, or invasive pests. It is also a good choice for disabled or older gardeners who find digging in the earth and bending down difficult. Raised pots make it easy to sit on a small stool or rolling work bench and do all the chores required.
Container gardening can be a very convenient alternative, but it is important to always remember that containers will need more watering and fertilizing than regular beds, and they will also need protection from drying winds and frosts. Mulching will help with this. And use pots with enough room for the plants to grow — even the shallowest rooted plants need pots at least 8 inches deep.
One way to minimize watering is to add absorptive polymer to the potting mix. Only a small amount will increase the holding capacity for water without risking soil disease. Make sure to follow package directions. Standing arrangements can also be placed on an automatic sprinkler. Clay pots can be painted inexpensively with sealer, which also decreases water loss.
Fertilize with a mixture made for containers according to package directions. Organic fertilizers usually need soil microbes to become active, so add mycorrhizal bacteria when you are mixing your soil, especially if it is a sterile mix.
She still sticks mostly to the old standards: marigolds and portulacca, morning glories, poppies and sweet potato vine were added to the original flowers, as well as coleus, sweet alyssum and wax begonias.
"I also use a lot of lobelia," she notes. "I like to put groups of pink and purple together, or purples with orange marigolds." She selects plants for color and scent. "I go mostly for the really vivid colors."
"I always start my seeds in empty pots every spring," Sharon says. "I line the pots up against the south-facing, kitchen wall under cover, where they stay warm."
Sharon and Gene have a lot of house guests, and they do plenty of barbecuing and entertaining on the deck. The bright flowers create a happy environment.
The pots are a mixture of plastic and clay, and a variety of sizes. Sharon discovered it was variation that kept the clusters of pots from looking boring. She also varies their heights, raising some up on blocks. And she mixes in garden ornaments and birdbaths.
"I used to have them all flat, same height, same size, but it really improved them when I started putting risers under some of the pots," she says.
Gardening in containers means you have to pay a lot of attention to watering. The plastic pots stay wet longer than the clay, but both dry out sooner than plants rooted in the earth. And frequent fertilizing is a must. She uses a fertilizer designed to encourage blooms. "I fertilize once a month with a soluble fertilizer," she says. She also uses a quality potting mix.
In a shadier, trellised area of the deck, they invested in two large self-watering pots, 2 feet wide, 4 feet long and 2 feet high, where they've grown honeysuckle vines. The large pots have built-in water wells that only have to be filled every two weeks, making it easier to grow the larger plants. The large pots also help create a separate room on the deck.
Most of the rest of the actual hillside yard is devoted to the oak orchard, but Sharon put in some daffodil beds. It is one of the few plants with a chance to survive the insatiable deer, which couldn't care less about the fencing. She doesn't mind the deer, though. "It was their home first, after all."
"To me," Sharon says, "a perfect day is taking all my gear out on the deck and deadheading with my three dogs with me. We were just delighted to be able to move back to the valley. We lived in Portland with their awful weather for over 20 years. It's good to be home."