Bringing life to a patio with garden plants is a natural way to integrate your landscape with your outdoor living space. If you have a tiny yard (or no yard at all), a patio garden can also be an easy way to start a vegetable patch, flower garden or herb collection when space is at a premium. By adding color and interest to your outdoor room, you can enjoy the advantages of having a garden without all the kneeling and stooping involved in maintaining garden beds.
Patio gardens employ flower boxes, hanging baskets and flower pots to house plants instead of rooting them directly into the ground. Sometimes patio gardens also use the soil margins around the perimeter of the patio as part of the garden. This may seem limiting, but it doesn't have to be. Containers add height and interest to patio design and can be wonderfully decorative when planted out with a good selection of flowers and shrubs. Life in a pot can be good for the plants, too. Although you'll have to address some basic maintenance issues, pot plants can be as healthy and colorful as their ground growing counterparts.
Let's take a look at five patio gardens that are sure to make the view from your window a welcoming sight. Whether you want to start a vegetable patch or grow tall, screening plants to add some much-needed privacy, we have a few suggestions that will make your patio a great spot for plants and people to enjoy.
Nothing adds interest to a patio like flowers. Even if you have roses in your flowerbeds and a perennial border gracing your driveway, the pop of color and interest flowers bring to almost any patio makes them especially welcome through the summer season.
Although you can grow almost any flower in a pot or flower box that you can grow in the ground, it's important to pay attention to the light conditions on your patio if you want flowers to thrive. Many common patio flowers need at least six hours of sun a day. If your patio has a northern exposure or is bordered by a fence that creates lots of shade, be careful to choose low-light plants like begonias and impatiens. Watch out for plants that require very moist conditions, too. The soil in a garden pot can dry out quickly on a hot day. If it gets very hot on your patio, stick with plants that can go dry between waterings. You can also prepare the soil for your plant pots with water retaining polymer beads or a top dressing of mulch to keep valuable moisture from evaporating. Some favorites you might consider are:
Consider mixing different plant varieties in a single pot. You'll create interest that way and provide some shade for smaller flowering plantsby including taller foliage plants in the mix.
If you've decided that growing flowers on your patio requires too much planning and supervision for your taste, try planting a cactus garden instead. Cactus is a variety of succulent with thick, fleshy leaves that retain moisture. This makes it a perfect choice for sunny, hot, dry locations like a hot patio in August. Cactus plants can have very colorful blooms and are available in lots of interesting shapes and sizes. Because they're an unusual addition to the garden in many locales, almost any cactus can become an interesting focal point.
When growing cactus, be sure to provide pots with excellent drainage. Since cactus plants have evolved to survive with access to very little moisture, they won't handle the bounty well if their roots are exposed to standing water. There are special cactus soil mixes on the market designed for these special plants. If you're new to gardening with cactus, using one of these prepared mixes in tandem with pots that have large or multiple drainage holes is your best bet for creating a healthy cactus patio garden. For added drama, create a grouping of cactus specimens on a table or ledge. You'll have tall and slender, short and squat, and even brain-shaped varieties to choose from.
If you look forward to homegrown tomatoes and other garden produce every summer, you're in good company. In 2009, the National Gardening Association reported that around 43 million households in the United States planned to create edible gardening projects over the summer season. The numbers may be surprising, but the concept isn't. Lean economic times help make the idea of sprouting dinner in your backyard an attractive prospect. Even if you aren't watching your pennies, it doesn't take much research to realize that you can grow many more vegetable varieties in your garden (or patio) than you can find in the market.
If you've grown your share of tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, you probably don't need much encouragement from us to start a vegetable garden, but we do have a couple of fun variations that'll work on your patio just fine. Pulling potatoes out of a bag, box or barrel is one of the latest ways to grow your spuds. If you haven't tried it, potato farming on a patio can be so easy it'll make you love carbs again. There are kits and do-it-yourself instructions for growing potatoes in everything from a mesh enclosure to a stack of old tires. Let your budget and sense of style be your guide.
Another patio option is straw bale gardening. This may not be the best choice if you have a designer patio worthy of Architectural Digest, but if you want to start an edible garden and all you have on hand is concrete and plenty of it, try planting vegetables into a seasoned bale of straw or hay set directly onto your patio. It will save you the cost of dozens of plant pots, and you can dispose of the bale at the end of the season. Because straw bale gardening is becoming more popular every year, you'll probably be able to find fresh bales at your garden center in April or May.
For the dedicated cook or budding herbalist, growing herbs is an inexpensive, organic and effective way to ensure a steady supply of everything from sage for the holiday goose to peppermint for the occasional stomach upset. Most herbs are also very easy to grow. They typically thrive in poor soil and look good doing it. This makes them a great addition to a patio garden.
Whether you want fragrance, flavor or attractive appearance, you'll find a collection of herbs that fit the bill. We love culinary herb gardens that include creeping thyme set into the cracks and crevices in old paving stones. Add some rosemary, a bushy oregano plant, basil, dill and cilantro, and your patio garden will be able to provide seasoning for summer salads, salsa, pesto, kabobs (use the rosemary stems as skewers) and some killer appetizers.
One big complaint about patios, decks and other outdoor spaces is the lack of privacy. If you have a tall fence or hedge, your activities might be shielded from view. If not, an evening outdoors on the patio may feel like being center stage for the amusement of your fascinated neighbors. If your outdoor activities get a little more attention than you'd like, try adding a privacy garden to your patio design.
One popular method is to install a trellis and plant vines that will fill in to create a living curtain. You can invest in a freestanding trellis that looks like a room divider, build one to suit, or purchase a series of trellis inserts for your flower boxes or pots.
Plants aren't picky about what they grow on as long as the structure is sound. These popular vines are available through most garden centers:
- balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum)
- grape ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)
- bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra)
- climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. Petiolaris)
- climbing Rose
- cup-and-Saucer Vine (Cobaea scandens)
- English ivy (Hedera helix)
- star jasmine (Trachelospermum Jasminoides)
- morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea)
- silver lace (Polygomun Aubertii)
- sweet peas
- trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)
- Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
- wisteria (Wisteria sinensis, Wisteria floribunda)
Just be sure to choose a vine that will thrive in the light and moisture conditions on your patio.
You can also plant tall shrubs along your patio border or in strategically placed flower boxes or pots. We like low maintenance varieties like the viburnums, spireas and lilacs, but bamboo also makes a beautiful screening plant if you keep it contained. Some other options are:
- boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
- cleyera (Cleyera japonica)
- dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alatus 'Compacta')
- rose-of-sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)
Another screening choice that can be fun on a patio is a dwarf tree or even a common tree variety that you've given a bonsai treatment with a root bob. Dwarf Japanese maple is a popular scaled-down choice, but there are many more tiny trees to choose from. Dwarf tree varieties look perfectly proportioned for small outdoor rooms. You can even give a dwarf fruit tree like a lemon or lime cultivar a try. These petite citrus trees will produce a seasonal yield. If you like the idea of a mojito or margarita al fresco, a dwarf citrus tree may be a perfect choice to provide the fresh ingredients, shade and seclusion you're after.
Looking for some recipes from your backyard? Check out our From Garden to Table: Recipes from Your Backyard article now!
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