Growbag Blog

Summer pots, three ways


Planting up a pot is such good fun! You can grow a huge variety of things, as long as you adhere to a few simple rules regarding container, soil/compost, aspect and maintenance. (What are the chances Caroline is paying attention?)

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.

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.

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

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!

‘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.

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 – indeed I used these very plants to create a jolly pot about a month ago – and look at it now! Want pastels? Cosmos, annual lavatera, 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 nasturiums (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!


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’.

Just read the instructions!

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. 

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

NB: Louise is in summer rose mode so click on her tab below to find out which one she has chosen to tell us about this week.

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.

6 replies on “Summer pots, three ways”

Hi Growbags, I hate to choose, but, Laura’s pots win hands down for me any day. All my containers contain one variety only, be it a Christmas tree, Hydrangea or Pelargoniums. One variety & one colour per pot, simply stunning. Less is more girls, less is more! Thank you for your entertainment. Anne

Hello Anne, Laura here, and glad to hear you share the same approach as me, let’s fly the flag for single species pots, they’re so much more stylish aren’t they? Thank you so much for following us and joining in with all the banter and bickering, it’s what makes it all so much fun. Happy gardening and best wishes Laura.

I’m still in lock down Caroline so have to make do. I have kept my Elaine style winter pots going and they have been amazing. I swapped the cyclamen for primroses earlier on. The pansies and violas are still very colourful but getting leggy.
Managed to grab some cosmos seeds prior to lock down. So, not to upset either Elaine or Laura some will go into their own pot and some I will combine with dahlias and nasturtiums.
Thank you all for making me smile.

It sounds like you’re making the very best of the situation Helen. Caroline here and to be honest alrhough it’s great to be able to go to a garden centre, it’s still quite a tense experience in the mainstream ones. You’re not missing tooooo much!
So pleased we gave you a smile – that’s great to hear! ????

Love all the different points of view on pots! I am fairly new to planting up pots so any info is gratefully received. This year I planted some beautiful irises (single variety per pot) and they flowered at different times so I had a pretty succession of colour by the front door. Did the same with tulips (orange ones in one pot, purple ones in another next to it) and the neighbours all approved! Now thinking about summer pots…….

Hello Helen, Laura here, it sounds like you are definitely on the right track with your pots! It was a really good spring for tulips so I bet they looked wonderful. A plant you might like to try in one of your pots to follow on is a chocolate cosmos, it grows from a tuber a bit like a dahlia, but is a smaller more compact plant, with deep red single flowers that are scented like Bourneville chocolate. Keep enjoying your gardening – that’s the main thing:) Best wishes Laura

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