Barbara Wise's knock-out book, Container Gardening for All Seasons: Enjoy Year-Round Color with 101 Designs (Cool Springs Press, 254 pgs, $21.99 US), belongs on every gardener's shelf. Whether you're a newbie or seasoned digger with five years of dirt caked under your nails, there's something to be learned from this handy book. And just to get you started, I'm giving one away, along with a bonus of a 3-pack of Authentic Haven Brand Natural Brew, a great soil conditioner mentioned on page 16. (Find out how to get in the running at the end of this article.) 

I say that Container Gardening is for everyone because beginners will: 

  • Gain confidence in their design abilities; 
  • Learn the fundamentals of horticulture that apply to plants whether they're in pots or in the ground; and, 
  • Get to start their journey with baby steps that have a low entry commitment and are manageable. 

For experienced gardeners, you'll be reminded of some basics you might have filed away, and you'll also discover new plants, and see beautiful design ideas you can apply to your patio, porch, and planter beds. 

The book is logical and simple to follow. Barbara's first order of business is the big picture stuff that applies to any gardening endeavor – analyzing the site with regard to sun/shade, proximity to a source of water, the context of nearby plants and house colors, and the potential impacts of the containers on their surroundings from water damage. 

  Two container design ideas from the book...
  Sweetly Spring container
  Sweetly Spring is perfect for a sunny to partly sunny early-season arrangement.
  Hawaiian Big Hair
  Hawaiian Big Hair screams "Look at me!".

Next, you'll learn about container selection, like picking the right size container so your plants will thrive without their toesies pinching, and matching the style of the pot to the style of garden it will be displayed in (Old World, contemporary, rustic). She even discusses how dark colored pots in sunny locations can cook the roots of your plants.

Moses had his Ten Commandments (or was that Charlton Heston?) and so does Ms. Wise. These start with the importance of good soil, and go on to include observing sun patterns, being realistic about your time commitment and skill level, choosing plants that get along well together, and drainage. Then there's the need to know the mature size of the plants you choose, feeding and monitoring for pests and disease, and watering. My only quibble with this section is that there's not enough discussion of watering methods like drip irrigation on timers, so you can go on vacation without enlisting the help of your neighbor's kid. 

The meat of the book is how it's organized into cookbook-like recipes. 101 design ideas each start with the sun requirement, a shopping list, and level of difficulty. A simple diagram shows you where to place each plant in the container, and each double-page entry discusses – in Barbara's clear and engaging writing style – the particulars of each plant, how to place them in the pot (tipping forward, spilling from the side, etc.) and esoteric tidbits you can impress people with at cocktail parties.

The book's subtitle tells the reader that they'll "Enjoy Year-Round Color" so the book is divided into seasons, with design combinations that will reach their peak at different times of the year. Wanna knock your guests' socks off with an over the top porch pot at Thanksgiving? Try "Bamboozled", a large rectangular box that uses Fargesia rufa 'Sunset Glow' bamboo, and mixes it up with variegated gold dust plant (Acuba), bush honeysuckle (Lonicera) sweet flag grass (Acorus 'Ogon') and coral bells (Heuchera). 

This is Barbara Wise's first book, but she's no stranger to garden writing, displaying her knack for educating while entertaining. She lives just outside of Nashville, having moved there years ago to pursue songwriting, but got sidetracked into a long career in horticulture. Aside from this great book, she shares her deep knowledge and love for plants through her magazine columns and her BWiseGardening blog. If you're a Twitterererer (oops, got carried away) you can follow her @bwisegardens, and she's always got something to share at Facebook.

Post a comment by July 31 for a chance to win a copy of this book
Tell us about your container gardening experiences, perhaps how it opened the door to the world of gardening (avocado pits in a windowsill do count). Early in August, we'll choose one name at random and dispatch a copy and your 3-pack of Authentic Haven Brand soil conditioner to your doorstep. For the rest of you, I hope you'll add this great book to your library. Better yet, it's a great gift idea some someone you'd like to introduce to the world of gardening. 

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