Thinking Outside the Planter Box

Where else but a gardener's yard would you find an old bathtub brimming with lettuce or a boot full of pansies? Common items often considered castoffs are treasures to gardeners, who add charm to the landscape by converting old pails, wheelbarrows, ladders and bed frames into planters and trellises.

"You name it and I've planted in it," said Gregg Davila, co-owner with his wife, Kathy, of Organic Art Plants, which is based in Orange and has a location in Long Beach. "You'd be surprised at the interesting things you can find in the back of your garage that make really nice planters." Many ordinary objects--chairs, benches, watering cans and paint pails--can be used as extraordinary accents in the garden, agreed Richelle Rowland, co-owner with Susan Burks, of the Elegant Garden in North Tustin, which carries a variety of garden accessories and unconventional planters such as tricycles and wheelbarrows.

"You're really only limited by your imagination," Rowland said. "Using unusual objects allows people to make their gardens more individualistic and a better reflection of their personality." A wheelbarrow overflowing with herbs or a purse full of pansies turns heads in the garden and elicits a reaction. "Unusual items make great focal points and conversation pieces," Rowland said. "Some visitors even giggle." People find unconventional garden planters and trellises entertaining, said Norm Yoder, owner of Friday House Gardens, a nursery in Orange located in the rear of Country Roads Antiques. "Items like chairs and benches planted with flowers add a whimsical dimension to the garden that appeals to the kid in all of us." Yoder has also added a new twist to the concept of a bed of flowers.

"I take an old bed frame, make a plant box that fits where the mattress goes and then fill it with soil and plant," he said. He also uses bed frames as trellises for climbing plants such as roses and vines.

Not everyone wants a bed of flowers in their frontyard, but many find there's something for everyone when it comes to unconventional planters and trellises.

"We find that just about every gardener wants something fun and different, from funky items like planted boots and purses, to more elegant items like our ladyform trellis, which is a bustier with a full skirt," Rowland said.

Keep the following tips in mind when installing unconventional planters and trellises in your garden:

* Let your imagination run wild. Just about anything can be altered and used for growing plants. Consider using sinks, toilets and bikes. Clean out your garage or attic or visit yard sales.

* Create drainage holes in the containers. Without them, plants will rot and die.

To create a hole in most objects, such as metal, plastic and leather, Davila suggests using a sharp, sturdy puncturing tool such as a screwdriver or a roof nail.

To make holes in pottery, use a masonry drill and water. Set the pot upside down and spray with water. Then drill for about 60 seconds until the pottery is hot; respray and repeat the procedure.

"Spraying every minute or so with water will prevent the pottery from heating up too much and cracking," Davila said. "This procedure takes a very long time, but you will eventually have holes. Make three to six holes, depending on the size of the container." To plant in chairs and benches, remove the seating area and insert a pot, or staple or nail shade cloth, chicken wire or window screen to the bottom of the chair. Fill with soil and plant.

When planting a chair or bench, maximize the visual effect by using cascading plants--bacopa, baby's breath, million bells or lobelia--in the front, with medium growers--begonia, impatiens, pansy, dwarf stock, snapdragons--in the middle, and climbers--sweet peas or the annual morning glory cardinal climber (Ipomoea quamoclit)--on the back of the chair.

* Line with sphagnum moss. Davila likes to line containers--wood, porcelain, metal or wicker--with this.

"Sphagnum acts as an organic barrier between the container and plants, which promotes healthier growth," he said.

This moss can be found at various nurseries.

* Use well-draining potting soil. "Most potting soils don't have sufficient drainage," Davila said. "It's best to add some peat moss and perlite or pumice to potting soil before using it. How much you add will depend on the type of plants you are planting." * Consider plant needs before you start. You'll want shallow-rooted plants that thrive growing in small spaces. Some good choices include temari verbena, salvia, lobelia, penstemon, geranium, bacopa, million bells, coleus, impatiens, various ground covers, sweet pea, pansy, dwarf stock, dianthus, diascia and dwarf snapdragon.

* Plant close together to give a full, lush look.

* Take good care of your planter. Once plants establish, which takes about a week, start feeding with an all-purpose fertilizer about once a month, or use a time-released fertilizer when planting.

Remember that many of these planters are shallow or small, and can dry out quickly, especially in warm weather. Keep them well watered, but not soggy.

RESOURCES * Friday House Gardens is at the rear of Country Roads Antiques in the Orange Plaza, 204 W. Chapman Ave. (714) 953-1421.

* The Elegant Garden is open by appointment only. Call (714) 734-6534 or (714) 838-7310.

* Organic Art Plants offers plant basket-making classes in Orange and has a plant stand at 6577 E. Pacific Coast Highway., Long Beach. (562) 598-3838.

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