Hurrah! We’re storming through the vaccination programme here in the UK but wait, that means getting the hair cut, weight lost and joggers back in the cupboard pretty damn quick and the garden prepped for VISITORS!
Long-time family friend and Growbag follower Ann is seeking advice for creating little coffee spots in her garden using plants in pots that are a bit more hefty than the usual bedding varieties on offer now. She’s thinking mainly of green foliage with just a dash of colour and needs one collection for shade and one for sun.
Fortunately Ann came to me, the most knowledgeable sister, first (she knows which one of us to trust), and I want her to be quite adventurous. To set the scene in her shady spot I think she should invest in a tree fern (yes, expensive, but happy in quite a small pot so that’s a saving). In our feature picture above we have a tree fern, a camellia and a group of lilies all living happily in pots in a shady corner.
Ann could also add in one of the bigger hostas (sometimes much better in a pot as they are away from the slugs). Hostas flower in early summer and many have delicious fragrance at just the right height to be sniffed whilst enjoying a latte and a home baked rock cake (just saying …..Ann lives just round the corner from me …)
And for a bit of late summer drama, how about a ginger lily, which can be bought very cheaply now as a corm (to balance the cost of the tree fern). Ignore all the cultivation advice about ginger lilies liking full sun, Ann, they thrive in deep shade, and we have seen them absolutely rampant in the wet shady gorges of the Azores. All these three will like regular watering, but I’m sure Ann would up for this.
For a sunny spot Ann has already taken up the Growbags Three Pot Challenge and bought our bulb collection of stunning white agapanthus, tall apricot watsonias and the exotic looking pineapple lily so she’s off to a great start! (we still have a few bulb collections left but you need to hurry …) If she wanted to add a bit more height and foliage, and has a good big pot available, I would recommend Dahlia imperialis, which again is available quite cheaply as a tuber at this time of the year, and repays you with amazingly robust stems almost like tree trunks and layers of tropical looking foliage – a gorgeous backdrop to her pots of flowering bulbs.
I’m here to add a marvellously practical element to the pots on your post-Lockdown outdoor nook. Ann’s idea of ‘mostly green with touches of colour’ is a lovely one, but how about adding some edibles to the list?
Lots of herbs thrive in pots in the sun – lavender, basil, lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)(I adore this plant – pure sherbert lemons!), thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, etc. and some are happy in light shade too – mint, parsley, dill, garlic and chives, and so on. In fact, don’t THINK of planting mint anywhere BUT in a pot, or it will spread quicker than rumours of a new series of Line of Duty. Many herbs are fabulous pollinators and very pretty too – a pot-edging of curly parsley is a delight, for instance, as is the foliage of bronze fennel, or the bright flowers of rosemary. Your guests could watch the bees at work, crush a few leaves and relish the scent as they sip their tea.
For more colour, add some edible flowers like nasturtiums or pot marigolds (Calendula, not the ‘French’ kinds which are Tagetes). Violas and borage don’t mind partial shade though I suggest you get them growing well in a sunny place first, before you move the pot to the shadier position.
Now what about some veg? I have become such a fan of vegetable -growing in pots since the pandemic first hit us for six. They are so much easier in pots! You thus lift carrots (with their beautiful feathery tops!) out of the way of the wretched carrot-root fly, you control the snail and slug attacks on salads or courgettes, and create the height that Ann was seeking with wigwams for peas and beans. Several bean varieties have pretty flowers too. You might not want onions or Brussels sprouts among your terrace ornamentals, but lots of developing veg can look very attractive as well as impressive, and be right there on hand for the caterer in your household (not me!). Beetroot, kohl rabi, chard, spinach and even loose-leaf lettuces are all fine in a shadier cooler spot. Lots more tips on growing gorgeous veg in our new Beginner’s Veg pocket-book, of course – find it in our shop.
How about getting fruity? Apple and pear trees bred to be small are fantastic in big pots, or figs or little cherries; strawberries are excellent in containers…..Gooseberries, raspberries and redcurrants will grow in shadier areas……
Time to see what of value Caroline can add to the discussion……
Golly how on earth did Elaine’s former pupils pass their exams? Isn’t the golden rule ‘Read the question fully before answering’? Ann wants big plants to create ‘living walls’ around intimate garden seating. A big ask for your average carrot or lettuce, right?
Move over. Not only have I understood the brief but I, too, have some skin in this game. My newly built house is still a little exposed to the critical gaze of passers-by (“Look, they’re having another drink Mildred!”), so I, too, could do with some instant and movable height depending on the time of day.
I’m tempted to invest in two or three pots of bamboo (with mahoosif ballast in their bottoms – we’ve talked about the wind in Scotland before I think?). But I’m worried they may look rather depressing in winter, which I really don’t need. Any views?
One solution for Ann is to give her pots a lift. Laura actually gave some good advice recently about buying chimney pots for this purpose, and I’ve seen swish examples of people creating ‘bases’ for a row of pots if the space you’re creating is to be permanent, and then you can have pots of whatever takes your fancy flowering at a decent height.
If that’s not an option for Ann, I do think she is going to be pleased with Laura’s summer bulb offer. In my experience watsonias, eucomis and agapanthus are all pretty muscular in the foliage department. Granted they’ve also been chosen for their contemporarily cool colours so… you know what’s coming right?…what about the odd wigwam of climbing nasturtiums for that dash of colour (love nasturtiums), or adding in a pot of zinnias or even tithonias?
Now I’m going to surprise you with the shady area. I’m going to suggest a gunnera.These damp shade-lovers can grow enormous beside a stream. We call ours Frankenstein and keep him in a galvanised bucket from which he emerges like a monster each spring – just look at him go here. Keep his bucket very well watered and drag him into a sheltered spot in winter. If it’s privacy you want his giant leaves and prehistoric aspect are tantamount to having a couple of dobermans at your gate. No need for a gun – a gunnera should do the trick!
If you are after a few more ideas for pots, you can check an earlier blog we wrote on the subject.
Louise has a great little early tulip for a pot as her plant of the month this week. Click on the box below to find out what it is.
One of The3Growbags’ favourite seed suppliers, Suttons, is running a competition to get free tomato seeds – check it out here.
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