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Wine Barrel Gardens

Half wine barrels are now easily accessible in garden outlets and are fantastic for those that are keen on using recyclable materials or who are after that rustic look. Their size makes them perfect for gardens that fit into the corner of a courtyard or balcony. If you have the room, they can be grouped or layered to become a real garden feature.

Barrels bought from a garden centre are generally ready to use straight away but those that are purchased directly from a winery will have a very strong smell and lots of residue within the wood. To thoroughly clean the barrel, scrub the inside with non-iodonised table salt. Fill the barrel with water, add some potash and allow it to soak for a week. Tip the water out and repeat this four more times.

Given their size and depth, half wine barrels are perfect for small fruit and citrus trees, olive trees, feature shrubs or even as a mini vegetable or herb garden. On their own or amongst other garden features, these add a rustic element to a patio or sunny courtyard.

Since wine barrels are intended to hold liquid, the base will need to have several drainage holes drilled through to be suitable for planting. Before filling with soil, position the barrel exactly where it is to stay as once it is filled, it will be almost impossible to move. Use small pavers or concrete feet to raise the barrel off the ground and prevent rotting of the base. Place a piece of shade cloth or flywire over the drainage holes on the inside to prevent the soil from falling out and to make it difficult for insects to get in underneath. If available, put a layer of gravel or blue metal over the base to improve drainage as well.

Half barrels need about 100 litres of potting mix which, depending on the brand, is about four bags. Choosing a premium potting mix is more important than any other step when planting in containers. The plants within the barrel will only get the nutrients and moisture that is in that potting mix and because the roots are contained, they are not able to spread further afield in search of more food and water. Premium potting mix contains slow release fertiliser that will feed the plant for up to eight months and the wetting agent that it contains will ensure that the mix holds moisture for longer. Look for the white and red Australian Standard symbol on the bag of potting mix to show that it is a premium grade.

If planting a single tree in the middle, only fill to the height at which the plant will sit. The top of the plants’ root ball should sit about 3 centimetres from the top of the pot. If the root ball is tight, loosen the soil gently at the bottom to encourage the roots to grow into the new potting mix. Since many large plants tend to have a front and a back, take some time to position it so that it looks balanced and attractive when finished.

If a stake is required to keep a tall plant firm whilst settling in, put it into position whilst planting and before back filling. This will prevent any damage to the roots from hammering the stake in later.

Add about two tablespoons of water crystals before back filling to ensure that the soil holds as much water as possible. To give the plant an extra boost, soak the crystals in a seaweed extract for about ten minutes first. When the barrel has been filled with potting mix, the new soil should sit at about the same height as that of the existing root ball. When finished, water the barrel well with a seaweed extract.

Depending on the tree, smaller seedlings such as herbs, pelargoniums and annuals can be planted around the base. Even bulbs can be used to add a splash of colour in spring. The trick is to ensure that they all have the same water and sun requirements as the main plant in the middle.

Barrels are terrific for vegies and herbs as they are very deep and have plenty of room for the plants to spread out. They allow edible plants to be grown in a small area and can even be used for root vegetables such as carrots and beetroot.

Simply choose a combination of plants that have similar requirements. For example, a wonderful herb mix for near the kitchen would include parsley, basil, coriander, perpetual spinach, marjoram and thyme. Or, plant up a salad bowl with a mix of lettuces, spinach, rocket and mizuna. A BBQ barrel could have prostrate rosemary, lemon grass, thyme, oregano and sage and an Italian blend could include tomatoes, sweet basil and chillies.

Prepare and plant in a similar way to described above but since edible plants are very heavy feeders give them an additional application of controlled release fertiliser after about 6 weeks. Alternatively, apply liquid fertiliser every two weeks. A fortnightly application of seaweed extract will make the plants very strong and healthy.

Harvest the herbs and vegies often to encourage new growth and be careful not to allow the soil to dry out. Add stakes or climbing frames for vegies such as beans and tomatoes and keep an eye out for snails and slugs.

Consider planting edible water plants to make great use of the space. Set the garden up as described above and choose plants that grow in bogs or water.

Plant the larger plants in the middle first and smaller ones around the edges. These will usually be purchased in cages that are ready to be placed straight into the container but be guided by the label in the height that they should be positioned as this will change for each. Use bricks to adjust the height.

Watercress, Lebanese cress, Vietnamese mint, Pickerel, Taro, Water mint and Asian water spinach are all suitable for growing in an aquatic garden.

• Grow potatoes using the layering method described in our “Growing Potatoes” fact sheet.
• Fill the barrel with ice and use it as a drinks cooler for outdoor barbecues.
• Grow mint in the barrel to stop it from invading the rest of the garden. The mint will adore all the extra space.
• Cut down the front of the barrel to turn it into a rustic dog bed. Just make sure it is cleaned well first.
• Use it as the base for a wishing well. Just add a roof and a bucket on a rope.
• Drill holes in the side to plant strawberry seedlings in. Plant herbs in the top as well.
• Plant a pot of seasonal colour. Choose petunias for summer colour or mix the annuals like an artists’ palette.
• Turn the barrel over and use it as a rustic outdoor occasional table.

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