Beauty in the Air: Hanging Basket Gardens
Suspended pots not only free up valuable ground or floor space, they can soften harsh angles of buildings, delineate paths, sidewalks, and driveways or living areas. Outside a window, hanging plants frame structural elements, provide a natural privacy screen, and are attractive viewed from inside the house. Displays hanging on the porch greet your guests, frame the entry, or counterbalance shrubs and foundation plantings.
Obvious choices always include Boston Ferns, begonias, ivies, fuchsias, and petunias but consider also perennials, succulents, tropicals and fruiting plants, as well as readily available annuals. In fact, you can suspend almost any plant that isn't too large or very upright. Bedding plants can be packed into the sides of a wire basket to produce a cascade of color all summer. Try combining house plants with like-minded outdoor varieties for a stunning conversation piece. Swedish Ivy likes low light, so could be paired up with the neon hues of orange or dark pink Impatiens for that shady corner of the porch or deck, or even under a large shade tree.
One of my favorite combinations is a small specimen of Purple Fountain Grass combined with chartreuse Creeping Jennie. The grass does not over-winter here in Zone 6, so I treat it as an annual. Both plants love the sun, and the Creeping Jennie cascades over the sides of the pot. Beautiful!
As with choosing the perfect spot in the garden for each species, one must consider the following before hanging an aerial garden.
- Strength of the supporting structure
- Exposure to sun, shade, and wind
- Convenience and accessibility for watering and maintenance
Supporting Structures: A container of soil and plants can weight quite a bit, depending on size - up to 30 pounds even before watering! Be sure to suspend your container only from supporting structures - not from places that aren't actually part of the structural framework. Use beams underneath a roof overhang, the supporting structures of a gazebo or pergola, or the beams of a porch. When using a tree limb for support, be sure it's thick enough to bear the weight of the watered pot without breaking the limb or damaging the bark. (If using wire or metal hangers, wrap them with foam or cloth to help protect the bark.) Also remember that plants hung in locations with no overhead protection will get the full brunt of rain and become extremely heavy.
Exposure: Next item on the checklist is the location's exposure to damaging elements or extreme conditions that can stress the plants. Check the spot every few hours to ascertain the amount of sun or shade it will receive. From which direction does the wind normally blow? Hot weather and windy conditions will "fry" fragile plants. Strong winds can quickly dehydrate a plant, and possibly break off any pendant stems. As noted above, if you're using specimens that need less water, be aware that heavy rain can drown them. Another thing to note is whether the location has reflected heat from light-colored walls or fences. Even specimens that enjoy direct sunlight will burn or wilt under these cauldron conditions.
Convenience: Obviously, you want to be able to water and care for your hanging garden, so see that the location you choose is easily accessible. You certainly don't want to be walking in the flower beds to reach the pots, and if the plant is hung too high, you'll need a means for reaching it. In addition to being convenient to you, see that the location is one that is not inconvenient to normal traffic, or blocks a view.
Remember that baskets will drip after watering, so see that they either have drip baskets attached, or take them down to water and allow them to drain. Drip baskets also help prevent rapid drying out, as the water will wick back into the pot as needed. Inexpensive plastic drip baskets are available in most garden centers.
What Shall I Plant?
Before you start, one important consideration is culture. Be sure to group plants that will tolerate the same conditions: water needs, light needs, and temperature requirements.
As noted above, almost anything can be used creatively to produce hanging garden baskets--your imagination is your only boundary. Plants with long, trailing stems are obvious choices, but it is interesting to watch a plant adapt to whatever you ask it to do! Smaller varieties of Coreopsis will "fall over" the edge of the basket as the season progresses. Growing cherry and grape tomatoes in hanging baskets is all the rage, and easy to do. Add some colorful annuals to the center and you have an edible conversation piece!
How about a hanging herb garden outside your kitchen door? Most herbs like full sun and well-drained soil, so pick out some favorites and give them an aerial home. Good choices include:
- Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata)
- Calceolaria integrifolia
- Crete dittany (Amaracus dictamnus)
- Ground Morning Glory (Convolvulus mauritanicus)
- Ice Plant (Oscularia deltoides)
- Italian Bellflower (Campanula isophylla)
- Mexican flame vine (Senecio confusus)
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
- Trailing African Daisy (Osteospermum fruticosum)
A Few Choices for Shade
- Ferns: Davallia, Pellaea, Polypodium, Pyrrosia
- Grape Ivy (Cissus rhombifolia)
- Kenilworth Ivy (Cymbalaria muralis)
- Monkey Flower (Mimulus tigrinus)
- Moses in the Cradle (Rhoeo spathacea)
- Nemesia strumosa
- Orchid Cactus (Epiphyllum)
- Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
- Strawberry Geranium (Saxifraga stolonifera)
If you take the time to choose locations, plants, and containers, you'll have an aerial garden that will bring you a season of enjoyment, and be the talk of the neighborhood!