mini-series episode 5 | beginner's guide to pots
Container gardening is so accessible. Whether you’ve got a windowsill, a small terrace or a huge garden, pots are for everyone and allow an amazing diversity of plant possibilities. As Arthur mainly does all of his gardening in pots, he leads this episode, sharing his expert tips and advice on how to get started gardening in containers. Sarah also explains how they choose and look after for the (300!) pots at Perch Hill.
in this episode, discover...
- Arthur and Sarah’s favourite plants for perfect pots
- Arthur’s Emma Bridgewater Factory combination for a whopper pot
- Why you need a Thriller, Filler, Pillar and Spiller for your container combinations
- Easy, low maintenance plants to use like perennials and herbs
- Why you should give your pots a stage
Arthur loves container gardening because it is so accessible. He finds it so inspiring to see big containers planted up in school playgrounds, hospitals or train stations for everyone to enjoy. Container gardening includes houseplants and indoor gardening, which are also rising in popularity.
Arthur’s top tips
· Get the biggest container you can. Even if for a windowsill - the bigger the container, the more possibilities there are in terms of growing.
· Think about weight, especially for windowsills.
· All pots need drainage holes at bottom. Or they will quickly become swamps and rot plants.
· Some plants particularly like being rootbound in pots, like agapanthus and amaryllis, so this is good to consider. Look in the description to see if it says compact or suitable for pots.
· The soil you use is important - pots are a condensed environment. In summer, use a liquid seaweed fertiliser feed every 2 weeks. When you repot with a new seasonal display remember to enrich the soil with fresh compost. If you have something permanent like a shrub or a perennial in a pot, take the top layer off and add fresh layer of compost.
Sarah favourite pot plants
Tulips and dahlias are Sarah’s two favourite plant families and also her two favourites for pots. She especially loves how you can cram tulips in layers in a bulb lasagne for a total abundance of flowers.
Sarah adores pairing a dahlia with an annual climber like Thunbergia, a black-eyed susan or Rhodochiton, the purple bell vine, or even Cobaea scandens, the cup-and-saucer plant, for a massive container.
Arthur’s Emma Bridgewater combination for a whopper pot
When Arthur managed the garden at the Emma Bridgewater factory in Stoke-on-Trent, he had a huge container/raised bed with two teepees to give height and scale, surrounded by massive Kales ‘Red bor' and Dahlias ‘Totally Tangerine’, ‘Waltzing Mathilda’ and ‘Bishop of Auckland’ (which make up Arthur’s Doorstep Dahlia Collection too). Plus wallflowers and nasturtiums.
Think big when planning pots, not dotty. You can also break this idea down into a family of pots, with one pot for each plant variety, creating a different sort of impact that is stylish and not busy.
Sarah’s recipe for perfect pot combinations
Josie, the Head Gardener at Perch Hill, is amazing at pot combinations and taught Sarah to consider form and scale as well as colour.
· Thriller – first choose a thriller, something dominant that you love for wow factor
· Filler - then choose a filler which backs up your thriller and is a similar colour
· Pillar – choose a pillar to add height and scale
· Spiller – Sarah will sometimes add a spiller, to spill over the edge of the pot, especially if it is a pot for a table.
Sarah gives the following combination as an example: Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’ as her Thriller, Panicum ‘Sparkling Fountain’ which is tonally a similar colour to the dahlia with Salvia ‘Amistad’ as her Pillar, with electric blue petals, as if cut from silk, contrasting beautifully against the orange ‘Totally Tangerine’.
Arthur’s pot combination for a shady lane in his Gloucestershire garden
· Spillers - Petunia ‘Tidal Wave Red Velour’ and ‘Sophistica Lime Green’ – traditional bedding plants are perfect for pots and many new breedings have amazing colours.
· Filler – Panicum ‘Sparkling Fountain’– grasses like panicum are great for pots as don’t need feeding, especially good paired with a hungry plant like a dahlia, as it won’t compete.
· Thriller and Pillar - 2 nicotianas - a new gorgeous brick red one called ‘Babybella’ and ‘Lime Green’ that really bounce off each other.
· An extra Pillar - Amaranth ‘Red Army’, slightly taller, with clout to stop it looking too airy.
Bonsai your pots
Arthur keeps large plants contained by pinching them out. If you pinch out Amaranth ‘Red Army’, Kale ‘Red Bor’ and Kale ‘Curly Scarlet’ – which make great autumn into spring pots - you keep their crimson foliage and helps to bulk them out.
Use perennials in pots
To keep cost and maintenance down make sure to include some permanent perennials and shrubs in pots. Sarah recommends dwarf buddleias like ‘Buzz Lavender’. She has a long tom with this buddleia and little plugs of Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ and a heliotrope for extra scent and colour.
This year Sarah is trialling an evergreen sub shrub Teucrium fruiticans in a pot. She is also trialling also a sea lavender – airy and light, mauve in summer, and then it dries and keeps beautiful skeleton left right the way through winter.
All the herbs are great for pots
Herbs are perennial and edible. They love being pot bound, kept on dry side and suit neglect. They make great windowsill plants, let them flower and the bees love them, especially oregano. Arthur is crazy growing mints in pots at the moment, and also to using them for scent in arrangements.
Big containers make great water features filled with aquatic plants, something to think about our wetlands are also in decline.
How to arrange your pots
Arthur recommends a wedding cake tiered look, placing biggest pots in the middles, surrounded en masse by smaller pots. After his spring display has finished, he tends to stack up his smaller pots and just replant the big pots for summer as easier for watering and maintenance.
Give pots a stage
Sarah is a fan of giving pots a stage – on tables or placed on plant stands. This lifts the pot, or collection of pots, to a more viewable level and works really well.
Feeding your pots
At Perch Hill they feed pots every 7-10 days with a normal concentration of Liquid Seaweed Fertiliser from the end of June. Then by the end of August, especially for smaller pots and window boxes they move to a double concentration, and for some plants that can go into winter, like Petunia ‘Tidal Wave Red Velour’ or Petunia ‘Tidal Wave Silver’, they feed with a triple concentration once every 10 days.
At Perch Hill, Head Gardener, Josie Lewis, has developed a system of watering pots in areas. A collection of pots are designated area 1, area 2 and so on. Josie will give drench each pot in area 1, then go back round and drench each pot again. The first watering helps the soil in the top of the pots to plump up which means the second watering should penetrate through the now moist soil down to the roots. For more information listen to episode 59 on drought tolerant plants that are especially suitable for pots.
A white combination for a calm container
· Mini Cosmos ‘Dwarf Sensation White’ or Cosmos ‘Fizzy White’
· Oestospermum ‘Akila White Purple Eye’
Find out more
· Visit sarahraven.com to see our full range of pots, containers and plant stands.
· Listen to episode 24 where Sarah and Arthur discuss pot maintenance.
· In The Flower Yard read how Arthur gardens through the seasons in pots. A beautifully visual, personal and highly informative read on his love for bold colours, cut flowers and bees.