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Master gardener offers advice on how to choose the right plants for the right container.

Many areas of Alexandria are known for being quaint and charming. They are also known for their very limited yard space, something that makes gardening a challenge.

Last weekend, Ten Thousand Villages of Alexandria offered a solution to that conundrum — "How to Plant a Container Garden."

Judy High, Alexandria resident and master gardener, was on hand from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. to offer advice and demonstrate the art of container gardening.

Complementing her advice and expertise were a myriad exquisite ceramic planters created by southeast Asian artisans. Their products are purchased and sold by Ten Thousand Villages, assuring the artisans a fair wage and consistent reliable purchases.

"I've been interested in gardening for years. I used to grow organic vegetables. Then I saw an ad for a master gardening course and have been an active gardener ever since," High said.

The emphasis last Saturday was how to combine certain plants with containers so that they complement each other. She also explained how certain soils and fertilizers work together. "The trick is putting the right plants together that require similar light and moisture," she said.

In the shop, located at 915 King Street, were a varied assortment of ceramic containers in all shapes, sizes and designs. They are created by Vietnamese artisans and purchased by the binational Ten Thousand Villages corporation. Income received by the artisans helps to pay for their food, education, healthcare and housing.

As one of the largest alternative trade organizations in the North America, Ten Thousand Villages connects consumers throughout this continent as well as in Europe, Japan, and Australia to Third World artisans and farmers through fair trade relationships. They are a member of the International Federation for Alternative Trade.

ACCORDING TO HIGH there are six steps to successful container gardening. They are:

1. Choose the right container. It should be large enough for soil and roots to keep one to two inches of space at the top. It should also have drainage holes so that the plants never stand in wet soil.

2. Use the proper soil. Soils need to be porous for root

aeration and drainage but able to retain water and nutrients. Use a commercially-prepared potting mix and a little slow- release fertilizer.

3. Select the right plants. Most vegetables, herbs, flowers and shrubs will grow in containers. Adhere to the proper light and moisture instructions. Choose plants that are right for the site and combine those that have the same requirements.

4. Planting the container. Fill the container halfway with damp potting soil mixed with time-release fertilizer. Position the primary plant and add more soil and time-release fertilizer to within eight inches of the container top. Arrange filler and trailing plants around the core plant, placing them as close together as possible, adding soil to secure each plant. Water until it comes through the drainage holes.

5. Be creative. Choose a dramatic, tall core plant and surround it with smaller ones, such as trailing vines or flowers. Or, plant a single dramatic plant in a container that complements it.

6. Taking care of container plants. The most common mistake is too little or too much moisture. Water only when the soil surface dries. It should come through the drainage holes. Feed plants weekly or bi-weekly with a liquid fertilizer. Remove dead flowers and foliage. If a plant is not doing well, replace it.

Container gardening can be enjoyed indoors or outdoors. The proper container can be as much of a show piece as the garden within it.

Ten Thousand Villages offers all shapes, sizes, colors and designs of handcrafted containers in a wide range of prices.