Wine Barrel Container Garden Plants: Grow Herbs & Flowers
Wine Barrel Herb and Flower Garden
A wine barrel garden creates an easy-care color spot on the patio or deck, and serves as a convenient kitchen garden for herbs, tomatoes, salad greens and peppers. Using organic planting mix and six-packs of organic starter plants gives you a quick garden for fresh, organic herbs, salsa and salad. Container gardens provide a comfortable to maintain alternative to planting in the soil -- busy gardeners, seniors and people with mobility limitations or injuries enjoy the pleasures of gardening without all the bending and kneeling and with minimal weeding. Container gardens also allow you to create a controlled environment, sparing your plants from contaminants and pests that affect yard soil.
Combining different plants in a wine barrel creates an attractive garden
Mini Container Gardens
This year I added bulbs, geraniums and snap dragons in cobalt blue pots along one fence for splashes of color. The mini container gardens solved the problem of a bare area bordering the property that can't be planted due to a long gravel bed. The bright pots of orange, scarlet and deep red flowers bring that side of the yard to life. I added mulch around the plants after potting them to protect the roots from the direct sunlight in that area. By planting three to five different kinds of plant per pot, they give the effect of miniature gardens.
Wine Barrel Garden
Wine barrels, planters or large pots will work for this project. Ideally, choose a container made from a natural material, not plastic. If the barrel has drainage holes, you're all set, otherwise it's simple to drill three of them in a triangle shape in the bottom.
Pour organic potting mix into the container to within two inches of the rim. Because I eat most of what I grow in my wine barrel gardens, I stick to organic soil and keep my gardens free of chemicals.
Make holes for the plants with a trowel, spacing them evenly according to the planting directions on the nursery stakes. It's often possible to space the plants closer than the suggested distances and maintain a small, compact garden. For example, I center a tomato in the wine barrel and then add parsley, Thai basil, and oregano. I plant snapdragon near the wine barrel's rim, on the side that faces the French doors so I can see them from my writing desk. I grow snap dragons in deep scarlet, sunny yellow, white, rosy pink and sunset orange -- they create a blast of color visible from the front walk. Here in California they bloom continuously from spring through late fall and require little care.
You can prune tomatoes and herbs once they're established to control their size. For example, put an established tomato plant in the center of the wine barrel, such as one from a half-gallon pot. Plant a variety of herbs around the tomato plant, spacing them four to six inches apart.
Add two or three flowering perennials if desired. Perennial plants are a good value for the money -- if your winters are temperate, they'll survive year round. My snap dragons thrive all year. Marigolds make a good companion plant for food plants because they repel certain bugs.
Press the soil down firmly around each plant and water them immediately. They may wilt a bit at first, especially if you plant them in warm weather. Water them gently each day or two for the first week or so, depending on your weather. The plants need more water when it's hot. Once they're established, you may only need to water about twice a week. That's my usual schedule. When the temperature reaches mid-seventies I water more often.
The container-garden snap dragons, sage, parsley, Thai basil and oregano survive the winters here. Although often listed as an annual, snap dragons are perrennial in mild climates. The oregano spreads like a creeper and drapes over one edge of the barrel.
A squirrel uses the wine barrel gardens for nut storage, but he doesn't harm the plants. I enjoy watching him harvesting his meals -- his industriusness all winter inspires me.
Updated October 2011
Container Garden Supplies
Container: A planter, wine barrel, large pot, galvanized tub or other large container with drainage will work for a container garden. Old sinks, troughs and bathtubs also serve as planters.
Soil: Use sterile potting soil. Garden soil can expose your plants to pests and diseases.
Plants: Select plants with similar light and water needs in your wine barrel. For example, group herbs, vegetables and flowers that prefer full sun and moderate watering in one barrel and shade plants in a different barrel.
Trowel: A trowel makes neat holes for planting starter plants in a wine barrel.
Watering can with shower style head or garden hose with variable spray: Controlling the spray helps to prevent uncovering seeds or damaging seedlings, young plants and budding plants.
I'm fond of container gardening. This year I planted a combination of container plants and a traditional -- planted right in the soil -- vegetable and flower garden. The basic ingredients for this project include good soil, some fertilizer -- compost, chicken manure, etc -- a hoe, a rake, a trowel, a long-handled trowel, a garden hose with a variable spray attachment, or a watering can.
Containers can be anything from your classic clay pots to anything non-toxic and interesting-looking that can be adapted to have drainage and hold dirt. I'm partial to wine barrels, which are easily available where I live and can host multiple plants attractively in one half-barrel.
I buy a few established plants in 1-gallon containers and some 6-packs. If you're new to this, reading the labels on the plants can be a big help to see if their needs for sun, etc. match the conditions of your site.
At the most basic level, you pick your garden site: best to find a sunny spot, not under trees that drop a lot of leaves, if possible. Yank out any weeds by the roots. Break up your soil a bit in the area where you are putting in a directly-into-the-earth garden, mix in a bit of fertilizer, dig a few holes a tad larger that the size of the container the plants came in; plant them, fill the soil in around them, tamp it down so there isn't too much air around the roots, water them a little to help them settle in and be at home, and voila, you are now a gardener, (meaning you now have living beings you are responsible to feed and water)!
The advantage to container gardening is there's no initial weeding, soil breaking-up, and dealing with rocks, various worms and other inhabitants... you just pick some good spots for the containers (before you fill them), put in your good soil, dig (super easy in your cushy potting mix), plant, water -- there you go. Just bear in mind the plants will grow, so leave plenty of room.
Time-Saving Container Garden Care
Select low-to-medium care plants to start with. Your local nursery folks will be able to direct you to ideal candidates for your location. I'm in Northern California, near the coast. I'm partial to drought-resistant items, including bamboo and succulents and plants that can tolerate freezing. I tend to have some easy-care shade plants, due to having many trees. These include coleus, which has dramatic, colorful foliage, and impatiens which bloom profusely. Ask your neighbors what works well for them. Look into companion planting -- such as interspersing marigolds with vegetables to ward off some types of plant-eating insects -- and organic, cruelty-free pest control methods. One of the best bits of gardening advice ever was to just plant plenty for the deer and rabbits and birds and all to eat some, too, then don't sweat it. The whole idea is to enjoy this.
Cooperation -- Here's where any other members of the household come in handy. Weeding, Watering, pest removal, and eventually, harvesting your very own food! Rotating chores with neighbors can work, too. Just about every place I've lived it's been possible to get someone nearby to take care of the plants when I'm away and vice versa. Growing plants from seeds is a great learning activity for children, and being in on the project from the beginning can help them take an interest in every part of it. If you see this as fun instead of a chore, they'll learn to enjoy it, too. There is something profoundly settling about being out in the dirt and the plants. I often go out in the evening and sit in the garden under the stars. A neighbor referred to gardening as creating islands of tranquility. This place I create is my conversation with the earth.
Maintenance -- A few minutes of care here and there is my whole gardening style. I water in the evening or early morning to save water. Avoid watering in the sun both to conserve water and to avoid harming the plants. Be gentle when you water. Be careful not to wet the flowers of vegetables as this can cause rot and prevent the blossom from developing into the items you look forward to eating. Some plants will develop mold if their leaves get wet (roses, for example). A safe bet is to water at the base of the plant. There are some great books available for more information.
So, master gardener, I'm not. I'm an ordinary human being who has enjoyed growing plants inside and out since I was a child, largely because I grew up with people who enjoyed tending plants. I rent, and I've moved many times over the years, so I've developed strategies to do easy gardening wherever I go, and for however long I may be there.
The concept of stewardship has resonance for me - that our connection with the land is not ownership, it's a care-taking responsibility. In that spirit, I like to leave every place I visit in better shape than how I found it -- from removing litter from campsites to caring for unhappy plants in neglected yards where I stay for whatever little time.
May your garden, of whatever size and duration, be a place of peace and joy for you and those you share it with.
Spring 2012 Update
The snap dragons, thyme, parsley, Thai basil, oregano and Angel Face rose lasted through the winter. The Angel Face rose is a cutting from one of a pair of rose bushes I've been growing for several years. The cutting surprised me by producing perfect, fragrant lavender rose its first year. I added a shelf between the two wine barrels and put a cobalt blue and white salad bowl on it for the birds. They ignored it for a few weeks, and now they splash around in it regularly. I wrote a few articles about herbs and antioxidants last year. That gave me even more incentive to use fresh herbs in salads, sauces, main dishes, stews, soups -- and as garnishes.
Aside from watering them during the warm months, these wine barrel herb gardens require no care. I snip the herbs with a garden shears and walk the few steps to my kitchen to rinse them and then use them raw or cooked. Easy, healthy, and so gratifying for the small amount of effort it took to set them up. These are the same plants I put in four years ago. The whole container garden project was an inexpensive solution to having a steady supply of home-grown organic herbs.
Stay limber to enjoy gardening. Explore a yoga practice that takes only a few minutes a day, the Tibetan Five Rites from Peter Kelder's "The Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth." This is my favorite yoga practice: Fountain of Youth -- Exercises for Looking Young & Long Life
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