Where I was going wrong, was presuming that plants could sit comfortably in any pot rather than realising that a pot has more than one purpose, not only must it hold the plants, its job is to show them off, like a good picture frame it needs to bring your eye towards its art. I began to appreciate that the simple shapes and gentle colours found in old fashioned terracotta pots suited my style best, the Cretan pots from Pots and Pithoi (www.potsandpithoi.com) complement my planting schemes perfectly, they have a wide selection of the most beautiful simple shapes and sized clay pots that with time mellow and cultivate mottled lichens, they lend themselves perfectly to be planted up with profusions of vibrant colour or more tranquil and serine combinations, yet equally stand on their own merit without hosting plants. They are frost hardy, robust and because they are expensive I have never broken one!
Rather than arranging them in groups on a hard standing area such as a patio I like to have them in the actual flower bed, where they give a firm and cooperative structure to the surrounding plants as well as show off their bounty.
A plant is only as good as the hole you put it in! Whatever pots or containers you have chosen make sure they have drainage holes, plenty of them which must be crocked, in other words cover each hole with a concave piece of crock (broken pot) hollow side down so that excess water can pass through and just enough to stop the soil falling through.
What soil you choose to put in your pot depends on its occupant, but as a general rule use John Innes no 2, for shrubby plants try John Innes no 3 as it is richer. Don’t forget to leave enough space at the top of your container to allow for generous watering without it spilling over the sides and having to repeat the watering again. Any compost from garden centres will feed your plants for about six weeks, after that you will need to feed them yourself. You can use slow-release granules or pellets mixed into the soil to provide nutrients for the whole growing season or you can make your own chemical free liquid fertiliser (see my recipe).
Know your plants! Some need copious amounts of watering while others need minimum amounts, some need shade and others crave sun, and some need acid soil and others need alkaline, bear this in mind when planning your plant combinations. Don’t be afraid to ask, you should never leave a nursery without spending time grilling the staff; every nurseryman I have ever met is only too happy to bestow their knowledge on prospective buyers; they cherish their plants and want them to flourish in their new homes. Just ask them: “Can I put these three plants in the same pot?” You will make their day and gain precious knowledge and understanding!
To attract bees, pots should permeate with scented flowers from early spring through summer and right into winter. There are certain colours that bees cannot see, such as red; they will see a red flower as black, pass it by and look towards blues, purples and yellows. Double flowers are rotten hosts as bees cannot climb into their mass of petals to gather nectar, so choose single flowers. On a warm early spring day they will collect nectar and pollen from crocuses and snow drops, so include some spring bulbs, add some Nectaroscordum Siculum; these are tall slender plants with lovely bell shaped cream flowers flushed with mauve and greens, when finished flowering they produce seed heads that bend upwards. Verbena bonariensis will keep both bees and butterflies busy during the summer months and will happily live in pots, while the herb Origanum (Marjoram) forms tight hummocks with small highly scented leaves that emit a delicious sent when you brush pass and will happily flower all summer in poor soil, providing a haven for bees who cannot resist its clusters of tiny mauve flowers.
Tiny little Erigeron Karvinskianus flowers for months and are
proud to stand up to the roses once placed in this large urn
Helianthemum Fire Dragon tumbling out of his pot
towards the outstretched flowers of Geum Borisii!
An old concrete pot holds its own next to the Cretan urn and
keeps the rampant Houttuynia Cordata Chamaeleon contained.
Favourite bee colours! They love to climb
up into Nectaroscordum siculum,