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Growbag Blog

Top tips for going potty

This summer’s weather has proved that gardening isn’t a great hobby for control freaks. You really just have to go with the flow and sometimes this delivers, as Louise’s plant of the moment demonstrates, and sometimes it doesn’t. But put a plant in a pot and suddenly you have much greater power over its destiny. And some plants genuinely do seem to do much better if removed from the hurly burly of the garden and given some personalised TLC (actually who doesn’t? ) 

Here are some of my top tips for plants that thrive in pots:

Blueberries – needing a properly acid soil, blueberries do really well if planted in pots of ericacious soil. They have pretty bell shaped flowers in spring, superfood berries in summer that you can pick each morning and have fresh on your muesli  (that’s English for porridge, Caroline), and beautiful red tinted foliage in the autumn – honestly there is not a single reason why you should not grow blueberries in pots  – try to have at least two, as like Love Island inhabitants, they prefer to cross pollinate.

Blueberries – No earthly reason why you wouldn’t have TWO pots of these!

Fig trees – despite their beautiful leaves and fruit (see our feature picture) fig trees make sprawling, gangly trees, usually taking up too much space when planted out in the garden. But in pots they take on a much more satisfactory form that can be pruned into a thing of great beauty and actually produce more figs if their roots are constrained (they also tend to have bigger leaves if you need one in a hurry).

Tibouchina – flowering in autumn in opulent purple, you can keep T. urvilleana going from year to year if you can bring it under glass in the winter where it will keep flowering until Christmas but it will still give a great show if grown on from an overwintered cutting each spring if this is all you have room for. 

What everyone wants – a sack trolley

Just one tip, and probably the most romantic present a gardener could receive, is that which my own best beloved presented me with this year – a large heavy duty sack barrow to move all those blasted pots around on….


Yes I recall Laura got a trailer load of manure from her OH on Mother’s Day – Tim is truly a proper life partner.

Personally I use pots for one of three purposes – a/So I can bring slightly flaky plants into the shelter through a Scottish winter and b/To ‘fake’ the right conditions for plants that wouldn’t normally grow for me and c/Like Laura and her fig tree, to tame colonisers that would otherwise spread like the measles over my garden.

On the a/ issue, without the benefit of a sack trolley I lugged my fragile Lobelia tupa (devil’s tobacco) in and out of my greenhouse autumn and spring, while it relentlessly outgrew bigger and bigger pots. Eventually it became obese – too large to accommodate or move. I planted it out and it died the first winter.

A tragic tale which might resonate with you. It turns out, according to the brilliant Jonathan at Glendoick Nurseries, if I’d collected its seeds, rather like Laura’s tibouchina tip, I could have simply left it out the first year and germinated hundreds more lobelias on my windowsill the next spring, easy as wink. So I need to gain more confidence in my germinating skills and obsess less about pot heaving.

The sorry tale of my Lobelia tupa serves to make you think – what will I do with my plant when it gets too unmanageable to heft in and out summer and winter?

On point b/   i.e. fake horticultural news, I give you my very odd looking Arisaema nepenthoides (Himalayan cobra lily) which in its humus rich compost, thinks it’s in a dappled woodland canopy, but actually lives in the old greenhouse beside the clothes pegs. Not exactly pretty, but strangely, growing something that looks like this does make me feel vaguely accomplished.

A bit lonely but thriving in its artificial pot environment – ‘Arisaema nepenthoides’

And finally on c/, ‘control’ can’t be underestimated. I’ve come over all ‘Mrs Trunchbull’ with the Gunnera, and ours does look frustrated in a galvanised bucket but when you read, as I did this week, that the Western Isles now has an eradication programme for this generally adored Chilean rhubarb, I think finger-wagging at gunneras is totally justified (although yours might have entirely shrivelled up in the drought by now in any case!)

Frankenstein – monster enough in his very small bucket!

While broadly delighted if anything chooses to grow enthusiastically here, the garden mint was also rampaging all over the place so it, too, has had to be ‘kettled’ in a pot by the back door. If only this policy could be applied to partners and dogs.


You would think my sisters would have something better to do with their time than dither about with their potted prima-donnas, wouldn’t you?  Ooh, shall I  bring it in? Leave it out? Shake it all about?  I will grant you that I am rather tempted by Laura’s blueberries (definitely not by Caroline’s Arisaema oojamaflip), but I have a different approach to containers.

Because of my half and half existence in East Sussex and Normandy, I don’t use pots for any permanent planting beyond a few stalwart ivies etc. which can stay in situ and provide a backdrop to a few summer dazzlers.

Zinging zinnias – here today and gone tomorrow

And I really think that for many of us, this is the best way to use pots – put in a bright array of annuals, like Cosmos, Nicotiana, and the odd background perennial plant tolerant of a little neglect and there is no need to get your knickers in a twist about how they will cope when the neighbours forget to water them during your hols, or when the frosts start.

Thus, my seed-grown zinnias, for instance, can strut their stuff on the terrace among a few easy pelargoniums, not giving two figs about the approaching winter.  Literally as if there’s no tomorrow, because for them, there isn’t. 

On the subject of figs, Laura is right about restricting their roots, but we got round that one by planting our friend’s cutting in a little bed between two walls.  No pot-watering and lugging about, and dozens of figs to enjoy this year; my husband’s tart drew many gasps of admiration last night at the garden-association supper…….

My friend Jérôme was telling me about the exotic tree-ferns he’s growing in pots – probably right up Laura’s alley, far too complicated for Caroline, and way too much cosseting for me.

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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.

4 replies on “Top tips for going potty”

Hi Laura, I visited Elaine’s open garden in spring and spotted a plant that we couldn’t identify. Sorry so long as elapsed before I’ve asked – many life distractions! Did you manage to find out what it was and can you remember?


Hello Jackie, yes I remember our conversation well, and actually you asked me via the blog just after the open garden at Elaine’s and this was my reply ‘Evening Jackie, yes I consulted the oracle and it was indeed what we suspected it might be – Onopordum acanthium or Scotch thistle, but rather a poor specimen if I might say as they usually reach a far more impressive stature (hope Elaine is not reading this….) Two months on I am not sure if it ever delivered on it’s potential, perhaps Elaine could report on its progress? Laura x

Elaine here. Well, I don’t know how it’s doing because I am in France, but my son says there’s is a huge thistly thing outside his window so I’m guessing that it got its skates on in this sweltering weather, and would finally meet Laura’s approval!

As I read this Saturdays issue I was ‘gobbed smacked’ when I saw your gunnera in a bucket. What a fantastic idea. When I bought my gunnera I dug a deep hole and lined it at the bottom with a piece of pond liner, thinking it would make a good bog spot. Sadly during this heat wave it has still dried up despite constant watering. Your idea of putting it in a bucket is better. In my garage, I have a large plastic barrel that I could drill a drainage hole halfway up and semi bury it in the ground. Then if it starts to dry up during a drought all I need to do is to top it up with a bucket of water. A far better idea than making a make shift bog. Thank you for solving a problem of what to do to keep a bog plant going during a drought. Thank you ladies.

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