“It can be a hard life being a planter plant, surviving on the streets of Lambeth with minimal care and supervision.”
Here are some tips for neighbourhoods on setting up and maintaining street planters.
When adding planters to the street, try to put them outside homes of people willing to water. Sadly, experience shows that neighbours who aren’t much interested in gardening may stand back and watch a planter full of plants slowly dying of thirst!
Most planters are close to a wall or fence so they may not catch much rain. Drought makes the problem worse. Mulching the planter with bark chips or gravel can help to prevent water loss through evaporation. The Royal Horticultural Society has useful advice on drought-tolerant plants. The Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex has a famous dry garden. They too have suggestions for plants for dry areas.
However, be aware that drought-tolerant plants like lavender may suffer in a wet winter if the compost in the planter becomes water-logged. Good drainage, soil structure and mulching can all help here.
Where possible, use plants that are unfussy and low-maintenance. It’s good to get neighbours together every so often to spruce up the planters. But assume that nobody will have the time or inclination for lots of pruning, feeding and tweaking. Things that have worked well in Lambeth street planters include grasses, verbascum, salvia, sedum (now called hylotelephium) and verbena bonariensis.
Ideally, include small shrubs (such as hebe) to provide some year-round shape and interest. Seasonal bulbs and plants can also add colour and zing. Most bulbs are happy in containers. Although tulips tend to dwindle from year to year, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari and others should thrive.
Beware of relying too much on bedding plants. It becomes expensive and time-consuming. It’s not great for the environment, although you can, of course, compost old bedding plants via Lambeth’s garden waste scheme. Some bedding plants, such as pansies and violas in spring or marigolds in the summer, will, though, add a burst of colour – pastel or bold, as you choose!
Plants need to be tough to withstand a certain amount of neglect, being dug up by foxes and other indignities. Worst case scenario – they can be stolen. For all these reasons, avoid splashing the cash on expensive plants. Grow your own from seed or cuttings, ask neighbours to donate spares Look for bargains in garden centres. There’s often a shelf of bargains that just need a bit of TLC. Plant stalls at summer fetes are also places to check. We run two Bring and Buy plant sales a year, spring and autumn. Check the website for dates.
Street planters are in public spaces. Not everybody walking nearby will know whether a plant is friend or foe. Avoid anything sharp or spiky such as thorny roses or agaves, anything with sap which can cause a rash such as euphorbia or rue, and anything poisonous. The RHS has a list of potentially harmful garden plants.
Attract bees & butterflies
When choosing plants for street planters, or for your own garden or balcony, look for those attractive to pollinating insects. Often these are plants, such as daisies, which have flat, open flowers. The RHS provides advice and lists of plants for pollinators.
Grow plants which are edible for a further bonus. Some fruit and vegetables won’t be suitable for growing in a street planter but, with enough watering, herbs and salad leaves should grow well. (Plant any mint in a submerged pot or it will swamp its neighbours.) Here too the RHS provides advice on fruit and vegetables to grow in containers.
Based on an article originally written by Gabrielle Garton Grimwood for Lambeth’s ‘Neighbourhood Champions Handbook’.