Container gardens can be an outstanding landscaping addition in their own right, and they are also a great help to those with limited space or unfavorable yard soil. They are commonly used for flowers, but are just as easily used to grow trees, vegetables, and herbs. They are more convenient in many ways than working with plants connected to the earth. If it's too hot or too cold, too sunny or too shady, you have the option of simply moving your plants elsewhere. Did you get wait-listed at the community garden? So start growing some cherry tomatoes on your porch! But what options are there besides the traditional terra-cotta, half-barrel, and plastic containers?
Traditional Strawberry Jar
This is a planter with multiple openings around its sides in addition to its top. Not only are they beautiful, but they enable efficient growing of strawberries or flowers or herbs. If you do grow strawberries, keep in mind that they are perennials, which means they will keep growing year after year if you take proper care of them. Along with tomatoes, strawberries are one of those crops that, when home grown and freshly picked, has no comparison to what you find in the supermarket.
Hanging baskets are an easy way to enhance the atmosphere of your yard and are excellent for flowers. They should be lined in order to prevent the soil from running out. Moss is traditional, but shade cloth and other matted materials work very well. Choose plant varieties that will hang down the sides of the basket.
Half Round Baskets
These cousins of the hanging basket are also great space savers and add an attractive break to an otherwise visually boring wall or door. They are also best used for flowers.
Trellises take advantage of vertical space and can be used to break up the monotony of a blank wall. Use them to grow climbing plants in containers, like pole beans or bougainvillea. You can buy prefabricated trellises or make your own from wood scraps or bamboo. For heavy fruit-bearing plants like tomatoes and squash, use a “tomato cage” or attach a demicage to your container for the vine to climb up.
With some ingenuity and not too much effort, you can have your own water garden. Use a watertight container (you can simply seal the bottom of a terra-cotta pot if you wish). Water lilies and other aquatic plants do well in still water. With more effort and investment, you can install a pump and filtration system and create your own private wetland with accompanying fish and salamanders.
When I was in college in Santa Cruz, CA, I had a friend who lived in a communal house where they filtered their greywater through a living filtration system—a bathtub-turned-micro-wetland—and then used this water for watering the yard. It was a beautifully constructed micro-wetland with cattails and other plants, and was “super green” too.
Re-purposed Household Items
In re-purposing old household items, there is the strictly functional and the visionary-and-functional. Minimally, you can save money by purchasing used containers at a thrift store or on Craigslist (where garden supplies are often given away for free) instead of new ones at your local garden center. And think twice before you throw out that old bathtub. Yes, there is a fine line between art and trash, but if done right you can create a masterpiece. Like the most famous work of Marcel Duchamp, I've seen toilets turned into planters quite tastefully (search Google for images of “toilet planter”). I even once grew a mint plant in the hollow part of a cinder block. Get creative!
Not recommended: Upside-Down Garden
While I have not personally attempted it, I've never met anyone who had good results from growing vegetables upside down. It sounds good in theory, but then again so does an ant farm. The results are going to be disappointing in both scenarios.