"Clever containers"

Pot plants have much to offer.
Sunday, 15 November 2015     

An old Weber barbecue used for succulents in the garden of Jill Fraumeni in Sydney

Often we (or at least I) treat pots as simply receptacles for the overflow of plants that can't be shoehorned anywhere into the garden itself for the moment. My own collection of pot plants in front of the house is a pretty ragtag bunch of specimens, which doesn't really merit a second glance. However, a large, well-planted and attractive container has the potential to make an impressive statement in a garden.

Pots can add colour by the hue of their glaze, which can contrast or harmonise with the leaves or flowers of the plant put into the pot. A large pot can thus become a feature in itself and act as a focal point for a garden area. I've attempted to do this recently with a large gold-leaved bromeliad placed in a tall blue container (pictured above). A solid object like this can provide an effective foil to the soft and diffuse texture of surrounding small leaves and flowers, just as steps and walls give a contrasting structural edge in a garden, which seems to make the picture complete.

A pair of elegant pots can be a stylish addition to entrances to a garden or front door, or to mark the transition from one part of a garden to another. Alternatively, a pot can have a quirky look, adding a note of whimsy to the garden, as in the exotic zygocactus headpiece of the face-shaped pot shown at left.

Sometimes a pot and its contents can almost look like a piece of sculpture. In the Trahar garden, Woodgreen, at Bilpin NSW, I recently admired a grey urn filled with a silvery-blued succulent flowing over the sides, which truly looked like an organic whole (pictured at left). As in many other aspects of gardening, it seems that less is more: better to have a few big pots than a whole gaggle of little ones that can verge on looking cluttered. In many situations, one pot is enough.

A pot can offer a solution to parts of the garden where the roots of established trees make it almost impossible to grow plants in the ground. Shade-loving plants can be grown in a couple of large pots in such a position, providing interest and colour in what would otherwise be a dreary part of the garden. Hydrangea can do very well in large pots in part-shade, and many semi-tropical foliage plants are also very successful in pots under trees. It's best to raise them off the ground with 'pot feet' so that greedy tree roots don't invade the pots.

Plants with a strong structural form are often the best choice for a container. I think succulents in particular are very successful in pots, as shown in the delightful tiered set of pots in Chinoiserie garden at Mittagong NSW (pictured at left), because of their bold shapes - and also because they don't need too much watering! There are also plants that seem to suit life in a pot more than in the garden because of their distinctive shape, which can be ruined if swamped by nearby plants (such as Phormium, Cordyline, orchids and bromeliads). One good trick from my sister Holly for growing plants such as orchids and large bromeliads in large pots is to have them in three smaller plastic pots placed within the larger pots (elevated if necessary with clay crocks) then cover the top surface with a layer of the planting medium to hide the rims of the smaller pots. This makes it less onerous when repotting.

I always enjoy seeing objects other than conventional pots planted up. An old rustic watering can or wheelbarrow can look effective, very much belonging to the garden scene. I've seen old teapots and teacups used as containers, and even an old Weber barbecue converted into a raised succulent garden (in the garden of Jill Fraumeni in Sydney, pictured at the start of the blog). My sister Holly has used wire lobster pots as unusual features in her garden of courtyards. The pots are filled in situ, using spaghnum moss and potting soil, and planted up progressively from the base. She has used a small orchids and a variety of succulents of different shapes and textures in one of the pots (pictured above) and a collection of colourful annuals in another.

With any container, it is wise to use a good-quality potting mix for planting: choose a type tailor-made for the plant you are putting in, as there are different mixtures available for succulents, orchids and so on. Container plants should be kept well watered (depending on the plant's requirements) and fertilised regularly with a soluble plant food. Every few years, remove the plant from its pot and cut some of roots from the sides of the root ball so that new potting mix can be added to rejuvenate the plant.

 Reader Comments

Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Like pots in the garden, and have quite a few, but I am never quite pleased with the effect. You have given me some new ideas, thank you. I was recently given a collection of terracotta pots, of various sizes, so will see if I can use them effectively! Thanks, Margaret. Hope the new pots will become a feature! Deirdre

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