For seven years or so I gardened pretty much solely in containers. Renting meant we couldn’t do a great deal to any of the gardens that came with each new house other than mow lawns and trim hedges. In other words, the boring bits. Container growing was the only way to get my growing fix. Our pots mainly consisted of edibles. We had good crops of courgettes, French beans, tomatoes, spuds and salad leaves. To be honest though by the time we had our own patch of soil my interest in pots had rather waned. Growing in the ground was a bit of a revelation. For about 5 years I had hardly any pots and I think I found it quite liberating. Pots, particularly small ones are demanding on time with all that watering and feeding.
However, over the last few years my love of containers has been rekindled. It has taken a while, but pots have slowly started to creep back into the garden, partly because I’m running out of soil and partly because I’m learning to appreciate them all over again. There are pots by the front door, pots with succulents, and planters with herbs. But what to use as a container?
I was lucky enough the other day to receive a wooden planter for a project I’m working on. Made in Herefordshire by The Posh Shed Company it’s rather lovely – good and solid, and in a very fetching shade of blue (they’re available in a selection of other delicious colours too). You could plant directly into the planter if you lined the slatted wooden base line with an old compost bag or some plastic sheeting with holes punctured into it. I rummaged in the shed for a pot that fitted snugly inside instead. It was as I was planting this wooden container that I caught myself thinking about how the choice of pot can make such a difference to a particular display and your garden as a whole.
In the past I was rather limited in my choice of pots. Moving constantly meant I didn’t want anything too heavy and my gardening budget was quite small. If I’m honest though it was more my imagination as to what to use as a pot that was the limiting factor. Plastic was my first choice. It was cheap, practical and lightweight, but let’s face it plastic pots aren’t particularly attractive. However, as they tended to be home to courgettes and potatoes I wasn’t too bothered at the time.
Terracotta is probably the most widely used material for containers. Most of my pots were clay but I’m less fond of it now. For me, the colour seems to jar in my garden and I’m not sure it’s the best foil for many plants. I find the orange tones don’t work with pastels which dominate my planting. It’s all a bit fake tan-like for me. I still have a collection but it dwindles every year as I lose some pots to frost. I do like the older-style terracotta which tends to be less orange – more of a pale, creamy colour, and most of my succulents are at home in these terracotta pots picked up from flea markets and second-hand shops. They’re easy enough to find and generally inexpensive. I’ll often find them hidden under a table in a box covered in cobwebs and the fragile skeletons of spiders. Larger terracotta pots, especially the older ones are pricey, and one of the lessons I have learnt is that if you are growing in pots the larger the better. One of the biggest mistakes I made as a rookie gardener was to buy small pots which a plant would fill all too quickly. Often I hadn’t given much thought to proportions either. By the time the plant had reached maturity it would more often than not look like it had out grown it’s home, rather like the teenager who has had a growth spurt and is sporting half-mast trousers.
Gradually I’m moving away from terracotta in favour of other materials. Vintage finds are some of my favourites. Zinc baths are fabulous. If you’re after a large planter they can be excellent value for money. Flea markets and shops are the best places to find them and the cheapest. You can also find them online and in shops which specialise in gardenalia. This rectangular metal box was £10 from Malvern Flea Market. A trader had bought a job lot of them from an old garage which had closed down. They were a bit on the greasy side when we got them home but nothing a good clean couldn’t shift, and they’ve looked beautiful this spring planted up with tulips.
I’m a bit obsessed by vintage enamel. I’m a bit like a bloodhound who has the scent when I go to one of my favourite flea markets. These were great value – £15 for the 3 from Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival.
I discovered this bonsai pot on a recent shed clear out and thought it would be perfect for a few succulents.
Then there is this vintage urn – it’s part of a pair. Crikey, they’re heavy – hence me moving only one out of the shed for this picture – but they look amazing. Sadly they aren’t mine, I’m just looking after them until I can deliver them to a friend.
The problem with vintage stuff is that if you’re not careful your garden can start to resemble a scrap yard or flea market and that’s generally not the look you’re trying to achieve. Balancing out the use of vintage pots with other containers is one way around this.
Wood makes an excellent material for containers. Old wooden fruit crates are one of my favourites. I line them with old compost bags to stop any compost falling out and it also helps the wood to last as long as possible. They’re a particular good depth for tomato plants with some basil planted around them. Then there are the more substantial wooden planters like the one from the Posh Shed Company. Containers like this make a statement in a garden and can be a focal point in themselves. Choosing containers in colours that blend with your garden and planting scheme is another way of tying a garden together. You don’t need to spend a small fortune on having a garden specially designed. Simply using containers in complimentary colours to your house, garden and planting combinations will give your garden a harmonious feel.
For more details about wooden planters from The Posh Shed Company.