August 20, 2018

How to create a successful ‘city’ hanging basket

A look into my pass/fail this summer and why we need to try a bigger mixed basket.

So – as we take a quick inventory of which things worked and which did not in the garden this summer – we keep coming back to the ‘big basket’ issue.
Some backstory is that our friend Bob has a great garden – he is good at it – he spends time on his garden and it really show. Bob also ‘cheats’ a bit as he is a greenhouse grower and in addition to his commercial crop of flowers and veggies he sneaks a few plants in for his own garden and gets a ‘heads start’ on spring. 
And this leads back to the ‘big basket’ issue as Bob has some amazing hanging baskets at the front of his house and around his deck and patio. They are truly fabulous with combination of tropical foliage plants, foliage annuals, vines and flowering annuals! Huge baskets – and plants with great rich colours of deep purples and dark green with spots of flower colours. Bob calls these his ‘city baskets’ as they are of the size and quality that we see around many of the nicely landscaped downtowns – think Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ottawa, Barrie and many other cities that are doing a great job adding flowers to city lamp posts. 
We worked pretty hard on our baskets this summer – bumped up the size from the traditional and way too small ‘10” (25 cm) plastic basket’ to larger 12” (30 cm) and 14” (35 cm) lined wire baskets. Used quality potting soil and added loads of plant food. Plus, we had a few nice combos with 2 or 3 plants in each basket. It had nice calibrachoa, lobularia, mini petunias and sweet potato vine.So the conundrum is how a homeowner who does not have access to a greenhouse can get the same effect – what do we need to plan and buy and how do we do we pull of a great looking ‘big basket’?
A few thoughts:
Go big or go home!
In the world of ‘city baskets’ size is really important and the bigger the pot the better the display. Our paltry little 12” and 14” diameter baskets are woefully undersized compared to Bob’s. He searches the world for ‘huge’ plastic baskets that measure 17-20” (40-50 cm) diameter. According to Bob these are both hard to find and pricey (more on that later). Our little baskets did not have enough soil mass to support more than a few plants – plus they dried out too fast – so the idea of a ‘huge’ basket makes sense.
Then punch holes!
Not only were our baskets too small – but then ‘Master Bob’ punches a bunch of 1” diameter holes to allow plants to grow out of the sides of his huge and pricey plastic basket. This gives him room to plant more plants and more quickly fills in the space and hides the now much whined about large plastic pot.
Now widen the selection of plant materials – and yes colours matter!
Another spot we failed at this summer – stayed too conservative with plant choices.  Because these big ‘city baskets’ have room for more plants – Bob may add 6 or 7 different plant types to each basket – and more than one plant of each (that is why he punches those holes).  He also works hard at the colours and textures - so adds nice blends of darker foliage plants to offset the occasional flowering annual – our balance this past summer was too bright – and we lacked those rich, deep colours.  Here is a partial list of some of the plants he used in his planters and baskets

  • Acalypha
  • Althernanthera Purple Knight and Burgundy Threads
  • Angelonia
  • Bracteantha
  • Coleus
  • Cuphea
  • Iresine – bloodleaf and variegated
  • Lamium Red Nancy
  • Lamiastrum Herman’s Pride or Silver Frost
  • Plectanthrus – Green, Golden, Lemon Twist
  • Duranta
  • German Ivy (green and variegated)
  • Helichrysum – different types – Icicles and Silver and variegated
  • Perilla Tricolor
  • Rhoeo Tricolor
  • Tradescantia – Wandering Jew Red Silver
  • Setcreasea Purple and Variegated
  • Strbilanthus
  • Begonia Shadow King and other Rex types

Budget and timing
Since we can’t start these in a greenhouse – we are going to have to do some good planning and shopping to get these big baskets out on the patio mid-May after the frost fears have passed. Given how broad the plant list is it also means that we need to allocate a good sized budget to accommodate the super large plastic pot as well as the eclectic group of nifty plants. Bob has warned us that when local cities buy these huge baskets they typically pay well over $100 each for them – so we are mentally prepared and have a budget planned for next spring.

For next spring, it is ‘game on’ to compete with ’Master Bob’!
In a nutshell… if you want city sized hanging baskets you need to think BIG.

To further assist you with your landscape needs – we recommend hiring a professional

Check out other helpful Landscape Ontario articles:
• Why hire a Landscape Ontario member company
• Patio Secrets from the Master
• Containers: Thriller, Filler, Spiller