Garden Centres are now bursting with a full range of summer bedding plants and of course compost, fertilisers and everything you need to brighten up your house and garden.
The most popular and common baskets available now are brown wicker or ‘rattan’ but some people still prefer the green wire basket. The rattan baskets will have a plastic lining to keep compost in and will also have little slits to let excess water escape and are ready to fill and plant. The wire basket will need a liner and these are available to buy separately. When I worked at Ness Nurseries during the ’90s Stanley and myself would go to the bogs and collect handfuls of Sphagnum Moss and we used that to line our baskets, it actually looked amazing as it was green and pink and white and more natural looking than the factory made ones available today.
Next up our compost mix, a multi-purpose compost is ideal. A useful tip would be to add some topsoil into your mix as compost can dry out on its own, the topsoil will help water retention. Another option is to add water crystals, these look like big grains of sugar and swell up when they get wet and gradually release water as the compost dries out between waterings.
It’s best to mix these crystals well and preferably a couple of inches below the surface. I’ve seen handfuls of these thrown in on top after baskets have been planted and it looks like a messy blob of frogspawn when it’s wet.
Multi-purpose compost will have a bit of food added which will last for 6-8 weeks, so if you want your baskets to keep going well into Autumn you will need to feed them regularly.
When I am filling baskets I would half fill with my compost mix then add a handful of seaweed or chicken manure pellets then cover them over. This stops them stinking the place out because when the pellets get wet they turn into a smelly mush, plus it’s down at the roots where it’s needed.
So on to plants. Everyone has their own preferences and favourites, but I think everyone will agree you need trailing plants in a basket. In Spring there are very few options regarding trailing plants, ivy is really all there is, but in Summer we have loads of choice.
I still like Ivy in a basket, other favourites of mine would be trailing Nepeta and Lysimachia (creeping Jenny). Nepeta gives a classical look and can trail to 5 or 6ft and is also scented. Creeping Jenny has beautiful bright yellow foliage which contrasts and looks great against purple, pink or blue blooms of other basket plants.
Hanging baskets don’t seem complete without Surfinas which are trailing Petunias and really fill out and set off your baskets and can be planted either on their own or with other plants. Trailing Fuchsia and Ivy Leafed Geraniums also give great hanging displays but are less popular these days.
When I’m planting a basket I would usually start with and upright plant in the centre of the basket such as an upright Fuchsia or Geranium, Busy Lizzies, Petunias or Begonia, I then plant my trailing plants at the sides of the basket, my Surfinia, Ivy, or Trailing Non-stop Begonia. I would then fill the gaps with my upright plants and finish off by popping in plugs of trailing Lobelia. The colour scheme is up to the individual, some people like the flowers all the same colour and others prefer a mixture, ‘There’s no accounting for taste’ as Mrs McMinn would always say.
One of the most important things to remember about caring for your baskets is to water them, don’t think because it has rained that they will be watered enough because as your plants grow they can act like an umbrella and the rain actually bounces off the leaves and doesn’t reach the compost.
When I worked for Buncrana Town Council someone actually phoned Highland Radio to tell the gardeners to find something else to do rather than water hanging baskets in the rain, even though the baskets had a reservoir at the bottom which held about a gallon of water and dried out pretty quickly.
The wind can dry out your plants as much as hot sunny weather can. So at the height of the summer you may need to water twice a day. I would suggest feeding your plants at least once a fortnight, a high Potassium feed such as Tomato food is as good as any and Potassium helps promote fruit and flowers.
I hope this was helpful and encourages some readers to fill their own baskets this year and get a sense of pride when you tell people ‘I did those myself’.