Plants in pots can offer such freedom whether you are new to gardening or an old hand like myself. My biggest experience of planting containers was to create seasonal drama at Powis Castle Gardens. By the time I became a head gardener, early in my career, my displays evolved.
I know everyone thinks you begin with the choice of container but I would suggest the starting point begins with the growing medium. In other words, a choice of compost that will support and nourish the plants over their life in the container. Fundamentally, you need an open growing medium like compost to help the formation of roots. Loam (fine soil) in your compost will help to retain moisture and adding grit will aid drainage
There are different composts for seed sowing, for pricking out and potting on small young plants and for potting on plants for display. My preference is to mix a regular compost with a John Innes compost, this is a loam-based compost. As a general rule, by adding some loam to a regular multipurpose compost it helps to retain moisture in the container for longer to eliminate the need to water on a daily basis.
When I mix my compost, I want to keep it light by weight and when I run my fingers through the compost, I can feel the soil within the mix; a little bit like making a crumble topping when the ingredients come together you can feel the flour and the fat in the right proportions. Using a loam-based compost only in your pots will be very heavy and heavier when watered which is why I like to mix a blend of the two.
The type of compost you require will determine the type of plants you are planning to grow: if you are sowing a seeds selection, use a compost suitable for seed sowing. Like-wise if you are using shrubs or roses in containers, you need to select a compost for roses and shrubs. The addition of a slow release fertiliser enables nutrients to be released over a period of time, the compost will also contain nutrients with a timescale on how many weeks nutrition is available to the plants.
TIPS WHEN CHOOSING CONTAINERS
finding a second use
for containers at home
Now we come to the bit everyone loves to think about: choosing the containers that work best for your garden which I have to admit is the amongst the many joys of gardening. The range of pots you can buy is bewildering sometimes. Equally, containers at home can find a second use in your garden and again the choice is endless. Pinterest is a great source of inspiration.
My top tip is no matter the choice, increase the size of the pot to plant ratio by a maximum of three-to four finger widths from the plant roots to the edge of the pot. This rule also applies between plants and if you are planning to add more than one plant to the same container.
If you are planting out for the summer and using big or bold plants, then double the width between the plants to allow room for growth. The depth of container can sometimes be a challenge when using shallow rooting plants. A simple solution is to fill the bottom with polystyrene chips, cubs or chunks. A practical suggestion would be using a polystyrene vegetable box, these are used to deliver fresh product to farm shops and independent greengrocers. They are often happy to give you a box, I simply use a knife or break it into pieces with my hands and place it into the bottom of my containers. This will reduce the volume of compost required, allows drainage and has the potential to increase temperature in the pot which is ideal for rooting.
Try to proportion the size of your pot with the plants in it. If you have a pot with a large depth containing only small plants, expect the pot to dominate. Similarly, having a small pot with big bold plants would look top heavy and unbalanced. Plants such as alpines and cacti thrive in large or long containers, they require a shallow depth to grow well.
A big question I get asked regularly is why do my plants die in my container?
The answer: more often than not it is because they have either been over watered, under watered or over potted!
JOYS OF POTTED GARDENS
containers signal a warm welcome
to your home
In a small garden, such as a courtyard or balcony, a collection of pots that show off a seasonal display or where you have planted as a long-term scheme can work really well. Well-planted containers placed at the entrance of your home can really WOW visitors and signal a warm welcome.
Another fun reason for using pots and containers is the chance to experiment. The best way to learn, to develop your skills is through trying and of course, it’s ideal because your mistakes are, pardon the pun, contained. I take the view that gardening is all about trial and error and if you don't get it right with your containers one year it’s quite okay because there is always a fresh start every spring.
Now, if you want to start out small scale, try growing salad leaves or strawberries in a hanging basket or try some troughing (the gutter pipe that collects rain water from houses is ideal for salad crops with shallow roots). Sowing a salad crop such as lettuce will take between 45-55 days before it is ready to crop or radish which is fast growing will take about 4 weeks to crop. You can begin sowing these salad crops now and you can have several crops in one season if you sow in succession after each crop has finished. Troughing is not only an easy way to water and to pick your crop but it also provides an opportunity to grow if you have limited space. Plus, wouldn't it be easier to pick your strawberries without having to bend down?
When it comes to gardening, it’s not about making things more difficult but to simplify it so your garden works for you.