Garden In The Barrels – During the creation of your garden you may find that you require an especially big container – perhaps to grow shrubs, small trees, or simply a large planting. Garden centers now have a wide range on sale, including ceramic and terracotta tubs, fiberglass planters, and old beer barrels. There is also scope for improvisation. Bread crocks and various other vessels from the kitchen can be used as container for growing plants, if you drill holes in the base.
Fiberglass. As fiberglass can easily be molded to any shape, and colored in any shade, it is widely used to make simple plant tubs or replicas of wooden Versailles planters, elaborate lead vessels, and other antique containers that are hard to find and extremely expensive.
If done well, fiberglass imitations can look most convincing. They are moderately hard wearing, they are light to move around, and they require little maintenance.
Beer barrels. Originally, the familiar wooden barrel with iron bands was used for maturing and storing beer. Cut in half, it makes an excellent container for plants, and will last outside for several years, until the metal bands rust away. It is important to keep the wood of this type of barrel moist; if allowed to dry out, the wood contracts, the metal bands fall off, and the barrel collapses. Usually, moisture from the soil is adequate to prevent this from happening.
It is always worth checking barrels bought from garden centers because if they have been stored empty for some time, the wood may have dried out. If this is the case, give the barrel a thorough soaking before you plant it up. If you get barrels from a brewery, you may have to drill some 1 cm drainage holes, in the base.
To help preserve the wood of barrels, you can prime and paint them. Choose a color that suits the barrel’s intended site. Whilst white, black, and green fit most situations, the more adventurous colors can work well if they pick up the paint on the exterior woodwork of the house, or enhance the plantings. Yellow sets off golden-leaved plants, and gray goes well with silver foliage.
Plant choice. Because of their size, tubs and barrels are especially useful for growing shrubs and small trees with large root runs. Spring bulbs, especially the taller growing narcissi and tulips, look effective too, their bare upright stems echoing the straight sides of a tub. A group of a single variety of ivy plants looks particularly well, covering and tumbling over a large barrel, and will maintain interest all through the year. In summer, a mass of petunias or low-growing roses look magnificent.
Water garden in the barrel. If the barrel or tub is watertight, you can fill it with water and grow some aquatic plants, perhaps miniature water lilies and some small floating species. Make sure that you support the water lily roots at exactly the correct depth below the water surface. If necessary, prop up the basket in which the roots are held with a couple of bricks. Keep the surface of the water clean, and top up with water whenever it is necessary.