Growbag Blog

Summer pots – what’s hot and what’s not

Who doesn’t love some gorgeous pots of plants around their door or patio through the summer? Well let’s get going!

There are a few simple rules regarding container, soil/compost, aspect and maintenance, and then the world is your lobster! Naturally, we don’t all agree about what to put in our pots…


First of all, a few basic rules (What are the chances Caroline is paying attention?) :

  1. You can use almost anything as a container but you MUST have drainage or your carefully-planted darlings will end up sitting in soggy sour soil that will eventually mean failure. Lots of people prop their pots up on little ceramic feet to aid the drainage, and I always add some extra grit to any potting mix for that reason as well.

2. Move a big pot to its chosen position before you fill it, and I usually shove some old polystyrene trays or cardboard in the bottom, so you don’t have to use so much compost – the plants don’t seem to mind. A mix of peat-free compost, John Innes or leaf-mould for ‘body’, a few handfuls of grit/perlite and some slow-release fertiliser – it adds up to a comfy summer home for your plants.

I love creating little ‘garden’ in a pot of all sorts of colours and textures

3. The ‘Aspect’ thing is just a matter of common sense really – don’t put shade-lovers by a sunny front door, Mexican firecrackers like dahlias will sulk in a ferny grotto….and if you’re planting a mixture of things, don’t put the shady customers with the sun-worshippers. Duh!

4. ‘Maintenance’ isn’t rocket science either – all you have to remember is that once those plants are in your pot, they are relying on YOU for everything, especially water. This is where planting into a big pot can work to your advantage – it won’t dry out half as fast as a little one. Feed the container once a week, using a high-potash fertiliser (as for tomatoes) if it’s full of flowery things.

Pots of summer flowers
Fill pots with joyful summer flowerers bursting with colour and fun – who needs subtlety?

Okay, that’s enough technical stuff. Let’s get planting! You just know that Laura is not going to go simple with this and will tire you out with her specialist ‘drama queens’, but I’m very happy to embrace ‘bold and colourful’ for summer pots and you really don’t need to spend big money, to make a real splash – nasturtiums, dahlias, marigolds – all bright and easy – truly, ANYONE can do this. The pic above shows what it’s doing now! Want pastels? Cosmos, annual Lavatera, and Verbena bonariensis make a gorgeous combo, and tuck in some night-scented stock – a rather dingy plant but oh boy, the fragrance on summer evenings……

Lettuces in a container
Lettuces are great in a pot – and it’s easier to keep them safe from slugs!

But your pot doesn’t have to be decoratively flowery – I’ve got luscious lettuces growing in one, peas in another, herbs for my cookery-loving husband in another……

Laura is itching to impress you with her strange choices, and Caroline won’t have listened to a word………


Oh dear, it’s even worse than I anticipated. Whilst E’s tips on preparing your pots for their new inhabitants are sound enough her plant choices sound like she consulted with Skippy the Kangaroo – we’ll have a bit of this and a bit of that and shake it all about, and if you can’t think of anything else, bung in a few nasturtiums (see our feature picture this week…)

For the more discerning amongst us who still consider gardening to be an art form, much more considered thought is necessary. I actually prefer just a single plant species in a pot, or at the very most two, so that their true characteristics can be appreciated close up and undiluted by neighbours. The pot shape and size needs to be balanced with the size and habit of the specimen you are planting.

Tulbaghia violacea
Tulbaghia violacea, elegant yet dainty in a tall slim pot. It does pong a bit of onions, but one does have to suffer for one’s art…

For something gentle yet elegant for this Tulbaghia violacea, which will flower absolutely non-stop until the first frosts. It’s from the onion family so don’t expect a fragrant scent, in fact it’s common name, society garlic, might give you a clue.

For a beefier, more vibrant look, Anna Dalrymple got it right with Tithonia ‘Torch’ coupled with a creamy Argyranthemum ‘Jamaica Primrose’ planted in an old dustbin at her garden ‘Broadwoodside’ in East Lothian.

Tithonia and Anthemis
Tithonia ‘Torch’ and a creamy coloured Argyranthemum planted in an old dustbin in a sheltered corner at Broadwoodside

A summer bulb that looks great in a pot is Eucomis bicolor. Its pineapple shaped flower doesn’t appear until late summer, but the emerging stems have a beauty of their own.

Eucomis bicolor
Am I the only sister with a mindful appreciation of the lovely mottled stems of Eucomis bicolor ?

And full marks go to Growbag subscriber Elizabeth Ellison from Horsham, who took Louise’s advice and grew her Geranium palmatum in a large pot with spectacular results.

Geranium palmatum
Geranium palmatum being shown off in a beautifully balanced pot. Go to the top of the class Elizabeth!

Runner beans

All very tasteful but most of us just want a few things at the door to jolly things up, don’t we?

You might think I exaggerate how patronising my sisters are but I honestly don’t (well not Laura anyway). E & L came up to see me in Scotland in November and I asked them, excitedly, if they were impressed by my winter containers (as I recall a triumph of berried skimmia, hellebores, purple heuchera and some very early wallflowers lighting up the whole affair). Laura said ‘Mehhhhh, they look a bit plonked in’.

Firstly, how bloody rude, and secondly, er, isn’t that the whole point of containers? You plonk…the…plants…in, right?

Never mind Laura’s drab single plants (as you have read, grown for their interesting stalks 😵‍💫), ignore Elaine’s untidy collection of randoms, this is how you plant a container. 

Just read the instructions!

a/ Read Gardener’s World Magazine b/ See what plants Carol Klein recommends c/ Get down to Dobbies d/ Buy them e/ Plonk ’em in. 

This is how it turned out for me. Modesty forbids me to ask you to compare it with Laura’s.

Container gardening – don’t let the experts intimidate you. It’s about plonking plants in pots.

Chelsea Flower Show

We’re off to Chelsea Flower Show and will be handing out our own set of gold medals as usual – ‘best overheard conversation’ etc. But that’s next week’s post. This week we give an insight into what it’s actually like to go to the show – at least for The3Growbags!
Read on here

Louise’s Great Plant this Month is a rose that’s come into its own since it’s been allowed to ‘grow freely’. Click on the box below to find out more about this famous old stager.

NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat, please just enter your email address here

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

2 replies on “Summer pots – what’s hot and what’s not”

In 1960, the queen was photographed wading knee deep through piles of debris as the laborers went on strike and refused to clear it. In 1961 to avoid a repeat, six of us Wisley students were detailed to go to Chelsea to help clear up the unwanted material from the exhibits. We were divided into three pairs with the view that we each had three sections of the old pavilion to clear and we would each have two laborers to help. The laborers refused to work with us as we had ‘no tickets’ (union cards). We set to and as we were clearing the last barrow load out of the pavilion, the Royal family arrived.
Summons by the Curator Francis Hanger the following Saturday, we wondered what we had ‘done wrong’ but it was to show that appreciation for our hard work, we were given extra pay. We did not mention that we had the whole of the show to see as there were no ‘Champane parties ‘ in those days on the Mondays. What a privilege!

What a wonderful recollection Bill. Is there anything better than a rich bank of fantastic memories. You should definitely write a book!

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