by Flo Whitaker
Failed at hanging baskets? Have another go! Flo Whitaker explains how many plants will cope with high-rise living, just so long as you give them a little TLC
Many people try – then fail spectacularly at hanging baskets, vowing, “never again!” as they assume they’re useless at gardening. This is a great shame as folk don’t realise that they’re setting the horticultural bar very high. Hanging baskets are one of the most difficult disciplines in the gardening world. After all, what you are really trying to do is to grow plants suspended in mid-air, in a colander, with limited access to soil and water. Tricky…
Firstly, ensure your basket fixing is safe and secure! When filled, even the smallest basket will weigh more than you think. Next, consider how you’re going to keep the basket watered. You can purchase a long ‘watering wand’ attachment for a hosepipe which allows you to reach up to the basket. Or there are clever ‘rise and fall’ pulley systems that will lower the basket up and down. That’s great, but if you can’t keep the soil adequately moist you’re back to square one. Leaf mould is brilliant stuff; a handful mixed into potting soil will hold water like a sponge. Speaking of sponges… those square spongy washing-up cloths are perfect in hanging baskets. Place a couple in the bottom layer of soil and they’ll trap water, preventing it from running straight through the bottom. Another good idea is to bury a plant saucer in the compost – it will also hold a reservoir of moisture. If placed in a sunny spot, be prepared to water your hanging basket once a day – or twice in particularly hot weather.
Hanging basket plants need to put on a lot of growth in a short space of time – they require regular feeding. Use a weekly liquid feed diluted in water, or food pellets mixed into the potting compost – the pellets will slowly release nutrients over the growing season. Deadheading is a bore, but is well worth it with hanging baskets as it will encourage plants to keep the display going.
Plastic hanging baskets do a functional job for very little money, but are not terribly attractive. They’re excellent for creating a ‘ball’ of plants where scarcely any trace of the container can be seen. Other baskets are more decorative and are made to be shown off, so choose plants that are not over-exuberant in growth, or be prepared to selectively trim stems. Baskets made from natural materials such as woven wicker or grasses will naturally compliment the scene. Cone-shaped baskets; wide at the top, tapering to a thin point, always look better and more ‘balanced’ if you can still view the lower part of the container, as opposed to an unruly mess cascading down the sides like bad hair extensions. I particularly love those delicate-looking wirework baskets. Made from galvanised metal in quiet shades of silvery-grey, they’re not cheap, but, with care, (empty them and store indoors during winter) will last a good few years. Pre-formed liners are available for standard baskets, but for non-standard shapes you’ll need to make your own. You’ll require damp moss or coir fibre and lots of patience – bah! The secret is to use plenty of material in a thick layer. Build the liner from the bottom upwards, firming against the sides and filling with soil and plants as you go.
Hanging baskets are so ubiquitous that we scarcely give them a second thought, but they can probably trace their origins back to antiquity. In Ancient Italy it was the custom for taverns to advertise themselves by hanging a grapevine wreath on a pole outside their establishments. It is thought that the Romans bought the tradition with them during their occupation of the British Isles, although they must have used other materials – garlands of ivy or sheaves of barley, perhaps? Certainly, some of our oldest- known ale houses bore names such as ‘The Bush’, or ‘The Bird and Bush’ or ‘Ye Old Bull and Bush’. So, if your hanging basket display fails to impress this summer, never mind. Grab a corkscrew, put your feet up, and do what the Ancient Romans did!