For the dozens of years that Barbara Wise has been gardening for herself and others, and teaching and writing about gardening, she has watched plant lovers make the same mistakes.
They pick sun-loving annuals, then stick them in the shade. They put containers far from a water source. They buy tiny plants destined to become voluminous bushes but stuff them in tiny containers.
So, early in her new book, Container Gardening for All Seasons (Cool Springs Press, $21.99), Wise reminds gardeners: "Plan before you plant." She offers "The Ten Commandments of Container Gardening," including "Thou shalt let the sun guide you in everything you do," and "Thou shalt always loosen the root ball of plants before planting them in a container."
"One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they don't think of how big a plant is going to be," said Wise, who lives in Brentwood, Tenn. "And you really see this in annual plants, because people see this cute little 4-inch pot and they don't realize in three months that plant could get 4 to 6 feet tall.
"Forgo instant gratification. I know it kind of goes counterculture to what our society is today, but wait and let it fill out.
"The reward for that is a summerlong beautiful container that's not overgrown, doesn't need to be watered three times a day and is a much healthier plant."
To help newly minted gardeners and veteran green thumbs steer clear of container calamities, Wise has packed her book with basics, whether the container is a window box or a massive urn.
"Thou shalt know who your plant's friends are," she writes of the importance of matching plants with similar watering and light needs in the same container.
What really sets Wise's book apart are the 101 colorful seasonal container designs she presents, including "fern-tastic combo" (spring), "beat the heat" (summer) and "winter party." She sets each out as a "recipe," including sun preference, container size, difficulty level and a shopping list with alternatives for plants that might not be regionally available.
Wise is a fine coach for the container crowd. When her four sons were grown, she began working at a garden center and became a master gardener. She has written for several publications and has a blog, "365 Days of Container Gardening" at Bwisegardening.blogspot.com. And she's director of garden installations for Southern Land Co., a residential real estate developer.
Her advice? "Don't be afraid to experiment. Everybody always kills a couple plants. Don't give up because you had one container that didn't do well. Have fun with it."