Creating uniquely designed container gardens, with vegetables and herbs can be both useful and aesthetically pleasing.
Pots can also put plants just out of the reach of hungry, grazing rabbits. Container gardening also makes the plants more accessible to humans, and allows gardeners to grow plants in limited space, such as balconies. The key to successful container gardening is to make these potted gardens, just as eye appealing as they are useful.
For two summers, I cringed every time I pulled in to my driveway and saw the row of tacky five gallon pails that my neighbor grew her tomato plants in, in her front yard. It was like an obnoxious row of advertisement for every local hardware or paint store, as each bucket boasted a colorful logo from whichever store it had come from. My neighbors were a nice young couple. It was their first home and their adorable first child toddled around in the lawn everyday, as the mother came out and tended to her tomato containers. When they first moved in, they had ripped out the old overgrown landscape and put in a new one. As a landscape designer, I could not help but be bothered by them hiding their beautiful, new landscape behind an ugly, colorful assortment of five gallon buckets.
There are numerous reasons to grow vegetables in containers. It can help prevent soil borne diseases, such as blight, by lifting the plants up away from the ground level and the splash back of water. It is also much easier to change out the soil in pots, if a disease does infect the plant and potting medium. bleach or rubbing alcohol can easily sanitize used pots to keep them disease free between seasons. The distance from plant to the ground in container gardens, also helps make the plant less accessible to insect and animal pests. Rabbits tend to not bother with pots which sit at least 18" high. Nematodes, root borers, voles, moles and other underground enemies are rarely a problem in container grown plants. The exposed surface of plant pots also makes it more difficult for insects that rely on the cover of garden debris to reach the potted plants.
Container gardening is also helpful to gardeners with physical disabilities. The bending, stooping and kneeling of garden chores can be hard on any gardener. Like raised beds, container gardens lift plants up closer to our level, so we do much less of that kneeling nonsense. Container gardens can be placed on plant stands or tables, not only for decorative purposes, but also to make the plants even more accessible to the gardener. I have spent many mornings sipping coffee on my porch or balcony, while pruning and harvesting a container grown tomato plants next to me. Vegetable and herb container gardens can bring an assortment of useful plants right to the gardener. If you live in a region with late frosts, container gardening also allows you to bring your early spring garden indoors, if there is a chance of frost in the forecast.
Five gallon buckets are an inexpensive way to grow vegetables in containers and they are a great size to accommodate the roots of larger plants like tomatoes. However, a potted mixture of useful vegetables and herbs in large decorative pots or whiskey barrels will be much more appealing than buckets or tubs of potted vegetables. Bigger plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and etc will require bigger pots, while some small growing herbs can be grown in small pots or baskets for unique mini herbal gardens. Decorative trellises or bamboo stakes can also be added pots to help support tall or vining vegetables. Every gardener has their favorite plants to grow. Usually herbs or veggies that we grow are our favorites because we frequently use them. We see their usefulness but not always their beauty. Vegetable and herb plants, though, do have many different colors and textures that can be mixed to create lovely containers. What you grow your vegetable and herb container gardens will depend on what you use the most in the kitchen, but have fun and try some interesting new varieties of old fashioned favorites.
I personally cook a lot of pasta dishes, so always grow at least one large container garden, that I call my Spaghetti Pot, filled with tomatoes, garlic, basil and other Italian herbs. LaRoma, Roma or Brandywine tomatoes have a great flavor for sauces and are easy to train and tame in a container garden. Determinate tomatoes can be easier to grown in pots, though, than indeterminate, which would need to be trimmed and trained much more frequently. It's pretty well known amongst gardeners that planting basil next to tomato plants will improve the flavor of the tomatoes, so I grow basil next to the tomatoes. I also use this basil to make pesto sauce, so I plant just the common sweet basil, but many of the purple basils add great color to herbal container gardens. I oftentimes do another similarly designed veggie and herb pot with eggplant instead of tomatoes, for the eggplant parmesan that my kids and I love. Creeping herbs like thyme, oregano, and mints will gracefully spill over the edges of pots, when planted around the edges.
Which plants you'll use the most, as well as their growth habits and companion benefits are all things you need to consider when planning your vegetable and herb container gardens. For example, if you make a lot of salsa, design a container garden with tomatoes, different peppers, onions and cilantro. If you eat a lot of fish, design an herbal mini garden with all your favorite fish complimentary herbs, such as dill, lemon balm or rosemary. If you or a loved one drink a lot of herbal teas, fill a rustic basket with soil and plant your favorite tea herbs in it. Herb and Vegetable container gardens also make excellent gifts for Mother's Day or Birthdays.