Having failed to persuade someone more adept to drill a hole in the floor above my old balcony, and yet to work out where to place one in the new garden, my hanging basket remains shed-bound. So I asked a couple of gardeners who have mastered the form for advice.
Isabelle Palmer is the woman who helped ignite my love of balcony gardening, with her brilliant book The Balcony Gardener. More recently, she released Modern Container Gardening, which is equally galvanizing.
In there, she writes about “suspended spheres”, a canny hack where two hanging baskets have been joined together to make a globe – not unlike a chocolate orange, albeit with garden wire.
Her planting is unexpected and contemporary as a result: salmon-coloured salvia and Dahlietta Emily. The collision of the smooth lines of the basket with the profusion of cottagey flowers is striking.
“Keep to one color or use different tones of one color – so, for example, three different pinks in one pot,” Palmer advises when I tap her up for more details. If you have a shadier spot, you can’t go wrong with all-green, she says. “It looks stylish; you could do different ferns, ivy or hostas.”
Arguably, the key takeaway from Palmer’s approach is the baskets themselves – and how they are hung. Immaculate uniformity will always look contrived.
“Try and keep away from the normal black or green wire,” she warns, “or find lovely terracotta pot-filled hanging baskets which use macramé as their hanging.” Palmer recommends searching on Etsy, where independent makers share their wares, to find more unusual options, as well as spray-painting the more bog-standard baskets. “I use Montana spray paint as it comes in a plethora of colours.”
Finally, hang them at different heights and in odd numbers, Palmer says. “It makes them more interesting.”
I’ve long admired Laetitia Maklouf’s easy-breezy approach to gardening. The author of The Five Minute Garden, she shares just as many hacks through her Instagram.
Hanging baskets are a regular seasonal feature in her garden. “I love that they’re up and out of my way!,” Maklouf tells me. “They give an extra storey of interest in any space, but they’re particularly brilliant in small spaces because they can be the only way to get that precious feeling of romantic, enclosed secrecy that comes from having something vineyard, or tendril-tastic coming down from above.”
She’s big on the practicalities: hanging baskets can get heavy, especially when watered, so make sure whoever’s putting them up knows what they’re doing – but be insistent on checking where it hangs. “Hanging baskets are like art – they look awfully lonely and odd if they’re hung too high,” says Maklouf. “Head height is good – you should be able to see the plants before they start spilling over.”
As for watering, Maklouf relies on a terracotta water-dispenser in the middle of the basket with an upturned milk bottle filled with water to prevent drought. Older baskets can be rejuvenated with Hessian and a circle of old compost bag, with holes pierced through. Beyond walls, Maklouf suggests we turn our attentions to trees: “If you have one with a suitable branch you should always hang a basket from it. Always!”
What to plant in a modern hanging basket
What, then, to plant? For the traditionalists, petunias, begonias and pelargoniums will lend plentiful flowers provided that they’re fed well (tomato feed, weekly) and deadheaded.
But less obvious choices include myosotis, erigeron, herb robert (far more of a hardy geranium than a weed) and nasturtiums. Maklouf echoes Palmer’s recommendation of ferns – evergreen ones will extend your basket’s appearance longer.
There are, of course, plenty of edibles that can be grown in hanging baskets. Cherry tomatoes are a good option – look for dwarf and trailing varieties – but strawberries have the triple-threat of shapely foliage, sweet flowers and even sweeter fruit. Worth standing on tips for, I’d say.
Isotoma axillaris ‘Gemini Blue’