In an extract from the latest in the ‘Bloom’ series, Pots by Harriet Rycroft, the author explains why every gardener should be growing in pots
It’s been said of Ginger Rogers — the dancer best known for her partnership with Fred Astaire — that she did everything the man did, only backwards and in high heels. As a container gardener, you will be following the same basic principles of ordinary, in-the-ground gardening, but you may face a few extra challenges along the way. This is largely because the plants are strictly confined and depend on you to be ready to notice problems and to intervene. With practice your show can be as spectacular and effortless-looking as Ginger’s performances.
Why grow in pots?
- When approached and undertaken thoughtfully, gardening in containers will make the environment around your home more hospitable for both people and wildlife. It gives you a chance to express yourself, reinvent your style and to experiment with new plants, colours and combinations. There are plenty of other reasons to garden in pots rather than in the ground.
- You can garden where there is no access to earth in paved yards and
- A collection of containers can baffle both noise and wind, making an urban space quieter and calmer.
- If you are
- If you are renting you can take your plants with you when you move.
- If you move into a new-build house (where the soil has often been wrecked by builders or paved over) you get quick, portable results with a few pots.
- You can bring plants close to your house without their roots causing insurance problems or interfering with drains and damp-proofing.
- Well-placed pots can frame views, provide focal points or create a friendly welcome. They can bring a welcome distraction from a blank garage wall or boring paving stones and can be used to hide ugly features such as downpipes and manhole covers.
- Containers may be used to direct people, perhaps discouraging them from parking cars or from walking into a private area. They can also draw attention to an entrance or entice people to explore along a path.
- Plants that wouldn’t suit your garden site and
- Pots can be moved to different parts of your space to take better advantage of seasonal changes, such as winter light through the branches of a tree, or warmth and light reflecting from windows and walls.
- Tender plants can be kept in pots, making them easy to move and protect in winter.
- Containers can house a plant collection that would get lost or muddled in a flowerbed.
- New plants for your garden can be tried for a season or a year in pots so that you can observe their habits before you decide where to give them a more permanent home.
- Fragrant plants or edibles such as herbs can be grown near the house for easy smelling and picking. They can also be raised up, away from rain splash and from the attentions of dogs and cats.
Planting in pots vs in the ground
Plants in pots depend entirely on you — on the growing medium you choose and the inputs you give them — so you must pay a little more attention to watering, nutrients and the positioning of pots. In the ground, a plant that needs water can, to a certain extent, send its roots questing through the soil; while in moist ground a plant that hates to be waterlogged may survive because the plants around it are using up excess moisture and keeping the soil structure open.
Both of these scenarios are much less likely in pots. The limiting factor for most potted plants comes down to water supply. Even if you live on the rainy side of Rainsville, you cannot rely on rainfall, especially when the plants have matured enough for their foliage to cover the surface of the pot (their leaves will act like an umbrella and hardly any moisture will reach their roots). Even in a large container they are unlikely to survive without any irrigation.
And yet, if there is no drainage hole in the pot to allow excess water to escape, or if the drainage hole is blocked, the roots may drown. Unhelpfully, the symptoms of dryness and waterlogging are often the same — wilting and yellowing of leaves or leaf drop — so you must monitor the moisture levels in the compost.
All gardeners are used to looking at the top growth of plants in order to identify them and to judge whether they can tolerate cool or warm conditions, but you will find yourself thinking about roots almost as much as shoots. This is because a plant in the ground in a hot position can send its roots to cooler depths, but in an exposed container, especially one with thin walls, there is no escape. Equally, plants described as absolutely hardy may suffer in pots during winter if their roots are too wet, too dry or frozen and thawed too often. They all depend on you to understand their preferences and put them in the right place so that they can perform well.
Pots by Harriet Rycroft is out now, R310
This excerpt originally appeared on House & Garden UK.