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GARDENING : Big Help for Small Lots

August 25, 1990|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | Julie Bawden Davis is a regular contributor to Home Design

When the Williamses look out the window of their Newport Beach home, they like to see green. Like many homeowners, however, they have limited yard space. To satisfy their penchant for plants, they've chosen to garden in containers.

Their property is dotted with white ceramic pots of various shapes and sizes that contain everything from citrus trees to herbs and gardenias. Pots surround their pool, bringing color to an area that is otherwise gray granite and concrete.

"We use pottery for exterior design," says Nancy Williams. "The pottery we chose gives our yard the look we like. The interior of our house is clean and contemporary, and we wanted a uniform look outside as well."

There are reasons to garden with containers other than just aesthetics.

Despite the finite capacities of pots, just about any plant can grow in them, says Charles Crum, president of Flowerdale Nurseries and past president of the California Assn. of Nurserymen. "Everything from azaleas and camellias to fruit trees can flourish in containers."

You can regulate the amount of light exposure that plants in pots receive.

"Depending on the exposure of your house, a spot may be sunny in summer, but shady in winter. Many homes get casting shadows from other close structures such as condominiums," says Kelly Kong-Green, manager of Flowerdale Nurseries in Costa Mesa. "If the plant is in a container and it needs sun, you can move it in the winter to a sunnier location.

"When you garden in pots, you also start with sterilized soil, so you don't have the same soil-borne pest problems that you would if you planted in the ground," says Kong-Green. "Potting soil also already has a balanced soil, so there are no amendments to be made, and you can control watering and drainage, which is not always possible in the ground."

The array of pottery available for outdoor gardening today has grown over the years, allowing homeowners infinite choices to complement the design of their homes and yards.

"Within the last few years, the outdoor pottery industry has really grown," says Kong-Green. "People don't automatically pick out a plant and put it in a half whiskey barrel anymore. Conscious of style and color, many homeowners demand more control over their exterior design.

"There is every color in the rainbow, and more," says Kong-Green. "Gainey Pots is one major manufacturer, and they have every shade of green that you can possibly imagine."

There are plain clay pots, of course, but Laurene Garchow, operations director for the Pottery Shack in Laguna Beach, suggests multicolored pots with designs or raised figures "like lions."

"They come in all shapes, sizes and styles such as Southwestern, French country, Grecian, floral, Oriental and contemporary," says Garchow.

Sandy Irvine credits Kevin Campbell of Roger's Garden in Corona del Mar for recommending cement containers for her Laguna Niguel home. "They complement the atmosphere of our house and I like how he placed cement animals in between the pots," says Irvine. "They don't look like the run-of-the-mill clay pots and because they're made of cement, they won't break. "

Take your time when you select a pot, suggests John Scott, sales manager for David Brooks Company Inc., a Huntington Beach maker of high-fired pottery.

"You want to find the right match. Certain plants look better in certain pots," says Scott. "Examine the shape of your plant and its foliage and the shape of the pot.

"For instance, many palms have graceful, lacy fronds. Don't put such a plant into a pot that is very tublike, because that would eliminate its elegance. You want to choose a more slender, vertical pot," says Scott. "On the other hand, some succulents have very thick, heavy leaves and would need a much fatter tub. A thin pot with a huge succulent just wouldn't look right."

Most people are familiar with the standard red clay pottery made in Italy, Mexico and the United States, mostly in Southern California. Italian and American pottery is more durable because it's fired at higher temperatures for longer periods of time than most Mexican pottery.

"Mexican red clay pottery only has a life of a couple years. It gets discolored, cracks, chips and leaks. High-fired ceramic, on the other hand, will last for hundreds of years," says Scott.

The pot's durability can't be judged just by looking at it. Ask if it's been high fired and expect to pay more for it.

Glazed ceramic pots are high-fired twice, the second time to apply the glaze.

Concrete planters, which are less expensive than large clay pots, are good containers for very large plants but are very heavy. A lightweight alternative is fiber glass pots that look like they are made of terra cotta. And Rubbermaid has a line of plastic pots.

Sizes for pottery range from 2 to 42 inches in diameter. Prices range from a few dollars for small containers and about $70 for a large, 22-inch pot to over $100 for very large pots.

To ensure that your plant thrives in a container:

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