Monday, July 16

Clever containers

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Display plants in pots for a look that can be refreshed as often as you like and allows for colour combinations not in the garden.

If your garden is full, planting in containers is the answer. If you have water restrictions, selective planting in pots placed
near the house or patio for ease of watering is the solution. Planting in pots gives gardeners the chance to put together colour
combinations they may not wish to incorporate in the garden. It is also a way of growing plants requiring different amounts of sun and shade, or a particular type of soil.

The right pot 
Pots come in many shapes, sizes, designs and materials, from simple clay and plastic pots to glazed pottery, classical urns and metal containers. Think outside the box by recycling a Victorian bathtub, a wheelbarrow, a bicycle or wooden barrels and crates, and make sure they have drainage holes. A tiered pot stand is perfect for displaying pots of flowers and herbs on the patio; kitchen colanders and old bird cages make great hanging baskets; metal containers are striking in modern landscapes. Large pots are better than small because they need less frequent watering. Position pots in groups for maximum impact. Some pots are so large and heavy they are permanent features, while others can be moved around, providing an everchanging display. Make sure all pots are secured to prevent accidents, especially where there are small children. 

Backdrop 
A blank wall becomes a backdrop for a large pot or cluster of pots. Think of maroon plants on a grey wall, grey foliage on a maroon wall, or tawny grasses on a red wall. Grey-leafed Helichrysum petiolare spilling from an elegant urn becomes a focal point where paths meet; a flight of steps becomes more interesting when lined with pots of pansies and lobelia. Place pots of scented plants near entrances and windows and group pots of bright flowers to provide interest on patios. A kitchen courtyard becomes an attractive space with pots of edible nasturtiums, violas and calendulas mixed with culinary herbs. Stand pots of parsley, chives, thyme, basil and coriander near braai areas. 
A blank wall is a backdrop for a cluster of pots on floating shelves. Picture: Jason Ingram/RHS

Shady places 
Foliage plants of coleus, hosta, heuchera, Rex begonia and ferns in light shade; flowering impatiens,
hellebore, clivia, fuchsia, tuberous begonia and streptocarpus in light or filtered shade. 

Hot spots 
Where there are water restrictions, grow plants with hairy leaves that reflect heat, needle-like leaves that reduce the surface area, or plants with succulent leaves that store water and have adapted to survive heat and low rainfall. Plants will still need occasional watering to prevent them drying out completely. Waterwise plants for pots include the jade plant (Portulacaria afra),
small aloes, Phormium tenax, mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), lavenders, rosemary, ivy geranium, verbena and succulents. Not all succulents like all day sun, and others may rot in continuous rainy weather. 

Think colour for plants and pots 
Draw attention to a patio or entrance with a grouping of cobalt blue pots with orange gazanias and
deep blue petunias, or red pots with nasturtiums and Swiss chard “Ruby”. Plant sunshine yellow pots with violet-blue pansies, lime-green
lettuce or lime-green heuchera; orange pots with bronze and apricot chrysanthemums and Carex “Frosty Curls”, or purple verbena with
orange cosmos. Place forest-green pots and white hydrangeas in shade, maroon Phormium tenax in contemporary metal containers in sun, and white flowers in charcoal pots on a contemporary patio. 

Plant tulips now in groups of 10 for a bright display in early spring. Picture: Louise Jenner-Clarke

Potting tips 
● Use a commercial potting mix rather than garden soil which may contain weeds or toxins
● Before adding potting soil, rinse the pot with clean water
● All pots must have drainage holes at the base. Pop these out of plastic pots or drill through the base of ceramic, metal or clay pots
● Plants that share pots should
have similar requirements of sun, shade and moisture. Pots are perfect for containing invasive plants, such as mints and bamboos 
● For a good balance use tall upright plants for height, mounded plants in the middle, trailing plants to soften edges and fillers for any spaces 
● More container-grown plants die from over watering than from too little water. To test the moisture content of the soil, insert the tip of your finger. If the soil feels damp, don’t water
● Give a diluted liquid fertiliser such as Multifeed P once a fortnight when plants are actively growing 
● Pot-bound container plants look tired and don’t set out new growth or flower as they should. If roots are protruding from the drainage holes, it’s time to pot-on 
● Choose a pot in the next size up, not a much larger pot. Water the plant several hours before repotting. When you repot, gently break up clumps of soil around the roots and tease out before placing in
the new pot. Plant at the same soil depth as the old container. Water well after potting.
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