Certainly, having a profusion of blooms close to eye level helps, as does the spherical shape of the hanging garden, as these baskets are often situated near the firm, linear lines of buildings.
For home gardeners, one of the attractions of the hanging basket is it allows us to utilize vertical space while also adding an extra element to the landscape. For those responsible for beautifying our urban areas, the hanging basket, with its instant impact, is a major part of the greenscape in many of our cities and towns. New Westminster, at the geographic centre of the Lower Mainland, is well known for its lovely municipal gardens, and the hundreds of hanging baskets that enhance the city every summer – most notably in Queen’s Park and along the waterfront.
Each March, New West’s Parks & Recreation Department staff start planting up the 400 baskets that will add flowers, foliage and fragrance to the Royal City. The municipality’s horticultural team grow and plant over 100,000 plants every year, and many of those used in the hanging baskets are “homegrown,” says Parks horticulture manager Claude LeDoux. At around this time last year GardenWise asked Claude to share his hanging basket secrets, and he graciously agreed to plant up three containers and tend them in his home garden for several months so that we could photograph the baskets in their prime. Claude says the wick system that he has developed over more than 20 years of planting baskets is key, as it allows the basket to absorb moisture as needed. For a 45-centimetre wire basket Claude recommends a 60-centimetre double-braid polyester wick.
The wick is threaded through the bottom of the basket, with half running up the middle of the basket, through the soil to the top plant, while the other half curls into the attached drainage basin. When designing your hanging basket consider several things: choice of plants – including the colours – and their required care, secure hanging and appropriate location. Select plants that have similar water and light requirements. Consider colours that offer good contrast – such as yellow and blue – or plants with analogous colours – such as silver and white. Plants with interesting foliage contribute their own tones, as well as complementing the flowering varieties. The size of the plants when fully grown is also key to the proportion of the basket: generally, the mature plants should be at least twice as big as the container. Choose a suitable location and take special care to secure the hanging basket – remember that when watered it can weigh from 13.5 kg to 36 kg, depending on its size, its soil type and how much moisture the basket retains. Claude advises those who attend his annual Hanging Basket Course to hang the basket on a swivel hook to make watering easier and to allow the basket to be rotated so that all the plants get their fair share of sun. Make sure that the hook is sturdy. “Get an industrial-grade hook; a flimsy hook with a couple of little screws is not going to hold the basket. Bearing in mind the weight and size, if the basket falls, it can be a serious situation,” advises Claude. He also suggests hanging a drip basin below the basket (essential if you use Claude’s wick system). Use gardening twine to tie the basin to the second-last rung on the basket.
The basin should be positioned so that when filled with water, the bottom of the basket will rest at the top level of the water with the wick curled at the bottom of the basin. Soil in hanging baskets dries out more quickly than soil in the garden so prepare to water frequently, often daily at the height of summer. “Monitor the moisture level in the soil and basin. As the temperature and hours of sunlight increase into summer, you will probably have to water every day,” says Claude. The baskets prepared by the New West team are watered via drip irrigation or daily by the watering truck. Fertilizing is also important. When you plant the basket include a controlled-release fertilizer (Claude suggests a 14-14-14) augmented with a liquid one (20-20-20) or a kelp or fish fertilizer. While the plant combinations for these eye-catching containers are limitless – flowering baskets are the most popular – Claude also urges consideration for less conventional groupings. “You don’t need to stick to flowers. A collection of grasses is interesting, and consider a whole basket of succulents for an unusual look. Then there are the themes to think about, like a basket of herbs, or a basket filled with vegetables.
A whole basket planted with one type of plant – such as impatiens – is also attractive. If you have a shady spot, consider a basket planted with silver-foliage plants, it will reflect the available light and draw the eye to that part of the garden,” says Claude. He claims to have no “favourite” plants for hanging baskets, pointing out that he is always trying out new varieties. However, Claude does admit to liking Heliotropium ‘Fragrant Blue,’ with its vanilla-scented flowers, more than most, and last year he had great results from a plant he was testing, the Mexican flame vine (Senecio confusus). This vine is best placed in the lower part of a basket so that it trails, explains Claude. In addition to the beauty of the fragrant orange daisy-like blooms with mounded yellow centres, the blooms attract butterflies. Related stories: Step-by-step guide to creating a hanging basket Anatomy of a Hanging Basket Claude LeDoux shares his hanging basket expertise with hundreds of people every year through courses hosted by the New Westminster Parks Department. The two-hour courses are held in April/May at the city’s greenhouses in Queen’s Park. For new registrants or further information call 604-777-5111.