Lots of us grow plants in pot on the patio or in other parts of the garden. There are lots of reasons. It can be to bring colour to areas where there is no soil; it can be to grow plants that are not appropriate for the natural soil; it could be to grow tender plants that can then be moved into protection over winter; it can be to combine plants that would not grow happily beside each other in the garden, and it can be to really give plants the best life possible and grow them better than in the soil. The reasons are endless and if you want more then you could buy my book on containers (no – I am not on royalties).
I think pots are a great way to show off. French Kings and English Lords would get whole swathes of countryside landscaped to show how rich they were, and what good taste they had and we can do the same with pots, especially in front gardens. I don’t have a front garden that can be seen by passers-by but I still look to my pots as a way to have fun. I hate to see pots with half-dead plants, either because they are starved or not fed or just neglected. More cordylines are killed by neglect in pots of multipurpose compost than by cold. Of course, there are issues with growing in pots. You need to water a lot, you have to use compost, and it is a rather unnatural process. Many multipurpose composts are pretty awful, so for most of my pots I mix in some loam-based compost, add controlled-release fertiliser at planting time and then liquid feed throughout summer.
Anyway, this particular pot was planted for a photoshoot, in May, and was a bit ‘over-planted’ because it had to look rather full straight away. As a consequence some of the plants are getting crowded out. This is to be expected unless you put in plants with all the same habits and sizes. A hardy, yellow gerbera is barely to be seen now and the golden-leaved plectranthus is being forced to trail, which is no problem.
Pelargonium ‘A Happy Thought’ is being forced to find light among the other plants, which is fine, and a yellow osteospermum is just about holding its own at the base. It seems to wilt at the slightest hint of dry compost, probably because the roots are at the front of the pot and get hot in sunny weather, which is actually useful. It picks up as soon as I water it and tolerates slight drought very well.
But I don’t let this pot go short and it is watered twice a day in warm weather, in the morning and evening, with a full 8l can of water or fertiliser. I tend to mix approximately half strength fertiliser and this is given every other day. The fertiliser varies but, for no real reason, it has been MiracleGro for the past month or so. Anything is better than nothing.
The back of the pot is planted with three plants that have done very well and which will be a problem to excise at the end of the season. The most exciting is Begonia luxurians. I obtained this 18 months ago and it lived in the house for the majority of this time. It proved a bit slow to grow mainly because it was so much thirstier than neighbouring plants and kept wilting. Begonias are prone to mildew but they can withstand dry compost far better than they can cope with soggy compost. Of course there are hundreds of begonia species so any generalisation is foolish. This begonia was moved to the greenhouse in spring and, although I love this plant, I did not really care for it as I should have done. I bought a Schefflera for this pot for the photoshoot but I knew that in autumn I would have to cause severe damage to the plants as I pulled it apart so decided to swap this for the begonia immediately, for my amusement. I can easily take cuttings of the begonia and cut back the main plant to compensate for root damage when I dissemble the pot.
As it turns out, the begonia has loved its, sunny new home and exploded into growth. Begonia luxurians is native to S E Brazil and is a cane begonia with upright stems, forming a shrub 2m or more high. In late summer it produces large clusters of small, white flowers that are supposedly fragrant but I have not noticed that – I have picked them off because, in the home, they drop everywhere, making a mess. I will let it bloom outside. As begonias go, this is quite ‘unbegonia- looking’ with its fingered leaves. It is easily propagated by cuttings and I will need to prune it back soon and take cuttings. It is supposed to be ‘almost’ hardy but I will not risk it outside and a winter minimum of 5c is a more sensible guide and it will look better at higher temperatures – it will have to be kept quite dry at 5c to survive.
There is also a canna ‘Tropicana’ at the back which is starting to bloom. Cannas need to be treated with love, and lots of water and feed, to fulfill their potential. And, growing really well and squashing out everything else is zantedeschia ‘White Giant’. This is supposed to be a monster, growing to 1.5m with flowers to scale. My plant started last spring with just a few leaves and I potted it and looked after it and it did quite well last year. Then, this spring I divided it and put three divisions in three, separate pots. Two are in their own, large pots and the other was put in here. With good living it has really taken off. It is a form of Z. aethiopica so should be hardy. This plant will be removed from the pot in autumn, potted and then put in the garden in spring. I need to find somewhere sheltered and constantly moist for it to reach its potential. Apart from the large size, the point of ‘White Giant’ is that the leaves are spotted, like some tender species. I was very impressed with this but it has proved somewhat controversial because every one of my few visitors recently has asked ‘what is eating that plant?’ Never mind, I like it.