gardeningBy Clodagh and Dick Handscombe practical gardeners authors and broadcasters living in Spain for almost twenty five years.


‘The growing of flowering plants, fruit trees bushes and plants, herbs and vegetables in any receptacle that can contain a rich earth/compost mix’.

Naturally containers include plant pots, window boxes, wooden tubs, wooden or metal growing tables, the large tubs up to a metre in diameter which are used to store palm trees in nurseries and many more. Indeed we have found the following planted with a wide range of plants; five and seven litre water bottles, old baths, lifeboat covers, abandoned open roofed cars, dentist chairs , boxes knocked up from heavy old doors, large paint drums, cut back plastic and metal drums/barrels of all sizes large paint drums, lengths of large diameter concrete and plastic water tubing.

The advantages are that you can grow anything in places where you have little or poor soil, such as apartment terraces and balconies, roof tops, patios, terraces, along the drive, under large mature trees, in the north facing front porch, on soil that is 50% builders rubble, solid rock and indeed any unused space or corner . Containers can be placed as individual containers or in groups including ten-tub vegetable and fruit gardens as described in our books ‘Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain’ and ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’.

Some ideas to start with

  • A collection of succulents in small and medium sized pots on a south facing terrace.
  • A collection of geraniums in larger pots in the semi shade of a pergola.
  • A collection of fast-spreading mint herbs in large containers to prevent them smothering each other in the open ground.
  • A collection of mixed plants in a variety of containers to brighten up our south-facing semi- shaded covered terrace where we have many meals through out the year.
  • Glazed pots hanging on the house walls on upper terraces where there is little space for containers on the floor.
  • Window boxes of geraniums petunias and portulacas on window sills and hanging on terrace railings.
  • A window box with tomatoes planted and hanging through holes in the base with petunias growing normally on the soil surface…a convenient way of improving the productivity of small spaces.
  • A plastic base of a dog kennel left at the tip, used as a mini-raised bed for salad vegetables.
  • A three square metre first floor terrace. Ours has yielded twenty varieties of vegetables and is illustrated in ‘Apartment gardening Mediterranean Style’.

Some advantages of container gardening:

  1. Can be done by anyone from the learner child gardener to the frustrated enthusiastic gardener now living in an apartment, and to the infirm unable to cope with normal gardening activities.
  2. Reduced volumes of good soil and or compost mixes required.
  3. Controlled and economic use of water.
  4. Make use of any space.
  5. A convenient solution for areas of solid rock, shallow soil, uninteresting concrete and chipping areas, terraces, balconies and roof tops.
  6. Brightens up the coastal wall of high rise apartment blocks. The best blocks looking like a perpetual ‘Hanging Garden of Babylon’.
  7. Low maintenance time required.
  8. You can move them into a temporary shelter during the coldest winter months. We line a round metal gazebo with plastic to over-winter our most tender plants.

Some success factors:

  1. Impervious containers that minimise water loss by evaporation. Terracotta containers are best internally painted with an impermeable water-proof paint or plastic bag with a drainage hole.
  2. Drainage holes to prevent water logging.
  3. Containers filled with a rich mix of peat or turf-based composts into which is mixed twenty to thirty percent of a rich kitchen/garden rubbish-based compost, dried animal manure or a worm compost now often available in garden centres.
  4. Regular watering to keep root balls damp. Drip irrigation systems with timers are best for groups or lines of containers and enables absentee owners to maintain container gardens and collections.
  5. Top up the nutrient content of the soil by a monthly watering with a dilute liquid feed and an annual thin mulching with worm compost. We know of one ‘pot and potty garden’ that has some hundred plants planted in glazed and lined terracotta pots and old potties and all are fertilised once a week with a ten to one dilution of collected night waters otherwise referred to as pee. What can be more ecological or economic than that than that!
  6. Plant up with plants suitable for the amount of sun and wind exposure in their planned position. For many plants a semi-shaded position or a situation that is shaded from the four hours of hottest sun is best.

gardening-booksYou will find many other ideas for container gardening in our books ‘Apartment Gardening Mediterranean Style’ and ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’.

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe