What you grow is second only to what you grow it in

THE REAL DIRT

July 06, 1991|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

A gardener on Northern Parkway raises petunias inside an unusual planter: the bowl of an old commode filled with dirt in her front yard.

In West Virginia, plants flourish inside a rusty old Ford convertible that was put out to pasture. Summer squash grows in the back seat, and ivy cascades from the headlights.

Sweet alyssum trails out of a bowling ball on a porch in the Bronx. And a Berlin, Md., woman grows flowers in a favorite wall planter -- a bleached cow skull hanging outside her house.

When it comes to container planting, the ingenuity of American gardeners knows no bounds. We grow flowers and vegetables in containers of all shapes and sizes, from simple terra-cotta clay pots to more creative planters. Where but in California would you find a coffin pushing up daisies on the front lawn of a retired undertaker? The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out . . .

Interest in container planting is booming. Yard size is shrinking, as is the time most folks have to devote to gardening. For some people, dropping a houseplant into a white plastic pot satisfies their horticultural urge.

Others are wildly creative. A Bel Air man grows begonias in an old wooden plow. A Kentucky woman raises flowers in hollowed-out gourds. In Indiana, someone cut the top off an old basketball, jack-o'-lantern style, filled it with soil and planted geraniums. Question is, how does one keep the "pot" from rolling?

Garden supply stores have picked up on the container craze. The market is glutted with ceramic planters in the shapes of various animals, all of which have been lobotomized to allow for easy planting.

I've seen expensive containers for sale in the shape of mailboxes and bird cages. But I've also seen inventive home-made containers produced from conch shells and tennis shoes.

For his birthday, a volatile Midwestern football coach received an old helmet planted with impatiens. It didn't cost his wife a thing.

Are your plants growing in an unusual container? Why not enter The Real Dirt's "Weird Planter Contest"? Send a photograph of your pot, and the story behind it, to: The Real Dirt, c/o The Evening Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278.

All entries must be postmarked by July 31. The grand prize winner will receive a container guaranteed to be even stranger than his own.

Perhaps the grand prize will be a claw-footed bathtub for the garden. Bathtubs make great outdoor planters. I saw one in a back yard in Towson. If you have one, be sure to leave the plug open for drainage.

There are few secrets to successful container planting. Common sense should prevail. Choose a receptacle that is both weatherproof and non-toxic to plants. Also, select a vessel that will be large enough for mature plants. Tiny pots stunt growth.

Provide adequate soil moisture for plants in containers, the smallest of which tend to dry out quickly. Some pots must be watered twice daily. Allow sufficient drainage; if necessary, poke holes in the bottom of the planter. Fertilize the plants regularly.

Europeans have tried to raise container planting to an art form. In the middle of the Salvador Dali Museum in Figueras, Spain, stands a Model-T Ford filled with plants. Drop a coin in the slot and an automatic sprinkler starts to water the flora.

And where would container gardening be without automobile tires, turned inside-out and painted white? On a trip through Missouri, a friend says she saw the ultimate tire garden. There were tires of all sizes, from huge tractor-trailer tires to bicycle-sized ones, all painted different shades of pink and yellow. Moreover, the edges of the tires had been cut so they all curled up in ragged points. It must have been quite a sight.

There were plants growing inside each of the tires, my friend says, but she drove past much too fast to notice them.

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