Now is the time for making your summer hanging baskets. Although they have their detractors, hanging baskets have some amazing qualities in their favour. Not only do they brighten up your walls, they add a new dimension which draws the eye and are only restricted by the extent of your creative impulses. If you only have a small outdoor space, they are essential for providing a pageant of riotous colour which will dazzle for months. So, come on Monty Don, no need to dismiss hanging baskets out of hand – for many people they deliver a perfect gardening solution!
Making a hanging basket can be as easy or complicated as you like. The simplest baskets are the woven rattan types, made in different sizes and shapes. They can be round, square or coned – the choice is yours. Remember to check there are holes in the polythene liner to enable good drainage. Fill with some good quality damp compost, adding a proprietary slow-release granular fertiliser and some gel crystals which will expand when wet and create a reservoir of moisture for the growing plants. A rough guide is a handful of each, which should be thoroughly mixed through the medium. Fill to the top and level to flat surface.
Now for the planting: the simple rule is to have a single upright plant in the centre, and surround it with trailers. The number of plants you use depends on the size of the basket; my own suggestion is to use something like 6 plants around the outside of a 12in diameter basket, and 8 for a 14in basket. With these quantities, the baskets will completely fill out and create a superb spectacle without overcrowding. Ideal bushy plants to use in the centre are Fuchsias or Zonal Geraniums. There are dozens of trailers to choose from: Bacopa, Bidens, Brachycome, Centradenia, Diascia, Ivy Leaf Geraniums, trailing Petunias and Calibrochoa (Petunias with tiny flowers), trailing Fuchsias, Lobelia, trailing Begonias, Lysimachia, Nemesia and so on. Some people like to create matching colour combinations, but don’t be restricted by convention – allow your imagination to take charge!
Maintaining a hanging basket requires some golden rules: never, ever let them dry out (and if they do get too dry, soak them by submerging in a large container of water). This means watering virtually every day when they’re fully grown. A good idea is to cut off the end of a plastic bottle and insert the pointed end into the soil – this can be hidden among the foliage but allows a large reservoir of water to get directly to the roots.
Later in the season, when the slow-release fertiliser is almost exhausted, give a weekly feed of liquid seaweed or tomato food. And finally, remember to dead head or your plants will stop flowering. Five minutes at the end of the day to attend to your basket needs is not too much to ask and is surprisingly therapeutic!
Wire baskets are more difficult, requiring a liner – traditionally moss but there are synthetic versions available – and cutting holes in the sides first in which to insert plants at measured intervals. These plants can be wrapped in paper to prevent them getting crushed when being pushed through. Once the first level is complete, add a layer of soil and do the next level. Once all the side plants have been inserted, fill with soil to the top and plant as you would a normal basket. Then sit back and enjoy!