I love filling the garden with colour but I have some very mixed feelings about how pretentious gardening is becoming. I love the beautiful, professionally designed flower baskets and pots. The convenience and exotic varieties are appealing, but the price is usually ridiculous. People can now order custom designed hanging baskets which seem to start around $50 (Canadian dollars, Alberta prices). Off the shelf baskets at a greenhouse are $30-$50. It’s true you can get them cheaper at big box stores and during sales, but I’m going to make the argument that you should not buy them at all.
This will divide into categories of environmental, local business and personal benefits. Let’s start with the personal. There is emerging scientific evidence that working with soil and coming into contact with soil micro-organisms is beneficial to our health (I should do a whole blog about the micro-flora science; not today, today I’m talking about flowers). The creative process of choosing plants to grow, arranging them in a container and then watching your project develop over the season is a relaxing and mindful activity. You will also save money. Lots of money.
Which leads into the environmental argument against pre-made baskets. If you buy new pots from a greenhouse each year, chances are both the soil and the plastic pots end up in a landfill or recycled. Environmentally, it’s better to buy your own containers (clay pots and coco fiber hanging baskets) and save your soil from year to year (yes, you will need to add slow-release fertilizer and maybe some compost before you plant). Also, you may end up with mass-produced baskets from far away that have been transported long distances (in Alberta many things come from BC). More garbage, more greenhouse gas emissions — I won’t rant on about this. (Musings not rants…)
If you buy your own plants, you can get them from local greenhouses, support a local business and lessen the environmental impact of your annual garden baskets/containers. This brings us back to personal benefits: plants that grow on in your yard are more likely to thrive and succeed. Hothouse raised baskets need more water and fertilizer and sometimes they just die from shock (yes, this has happened to me).
Let’s come back to money: take hanging baskets and I’ll use 3 baskets as an example because the math is simple. Let’s use $40 each for pre-made, totaling $120. For DIY, in 6-packs (unfortunately plastic), basic flowering annuals will be $1 each or less. Say 6 per container, which is lots: 18 plants, $18. The first time you do this there is also the cost of baskets ($15 each, total $45), soil ($10) and fertilizer ($10). In year one it will cost you $83 or less (I picked nice baskets and organic soil and fertilizer for the example, and a high estimate per plant). However, for the next few years, it will just be the plants you need so it will cost you $18 or less. The more baskets, the more you save as the fertilizer and soil go a long way.
Just to try and impress my accountant friends, if we amortize the cost over the life of basket liners and a container of fertilizer, which I estimate at 3 years, your cost per year comes in at $40 per year or 1/3 the cost of pre-made baskets.
In closing, I’ll offer suggestions of super easy plants for containers: petunias and marigolds for sunny spots, pansies, and lobelia for shade. All but the lobelia will need to be dead-headed to continue flowering all season, but this is a mindful, relaxing chore that brings you back into connection with nature.