Many of us go pot crazy at this time of the year. We delight in the potential of summer colour that provides us with an instant way of creating a focal point and brightening up patio spaces or front door entrances.
I planted up a selection last week for a roof terrace (pictured right) and laid them out in a tiered display. The scheme was planned to give the impression of a colourful country garden in the city. We installed an automatic irrigation system to keep them happy, and straight away birds, bees and butterflies have been attracted to our new colourful urban Eden.
Pots are wonderful ways of introducing colour to our homes, and there are plenty of choices available. Clay, metal, plastic and composite materials all have their place. The same general rules apply to each - ensure there's good drainage, fill with fertile compost and water as required.
Traditionally, clay pots are the most popular and still possibly the most effective hosts for plants. So, that's what I will concentrate on here. If you wish to use them, make sure that the ones you acquire are suitable for our climate and won't be destroyed by frost. Machine-made clay pots can be necessary for large specimens or displays but a hand-thrown pot is often lovely. However, their price can be prohibitive.
Traditionally, most garden pots were unglazed and had a warm terracotta finish. Glazed pots (the coloured ones with a shiny finish) work well as they tend not to absorb a huge amount of moisture from compost. Unglazed pots dry out faster and can steal water from around the roots of your plants. So, if possible, dunk them in a bucket of water for a couple of hours before use.
Ensure there's sufficient drainage so your plants won't drown, but not enough to allow compost or soil to be washed out. If you judge the drainage hole to be too large, put some stones or crocks (small pieces of broken pots) over the holes.
Your plants will require a nice firm and fertile base material to grow in. Don't use garden soil as it may be tired and it's certainly not sterilised so you could be storing up problems with weed seeds germinating. Ensure your compost is of a good quality, as plants will require an immediate boost. For environmental reasons I favour peat-free or a low-peat mix, something with a John Innes base.
And now for the fun bit. Go to the annual or bedding plant section of your garden centre and decide what's to go in your pots and containers. Using just one species of plant packed into a pot can be very elegant and it's generally what I favour, but you can use lot of artistry combining different types of plants, using a multitude of colours. Don't be afraid of creating a complete mini landscape by mixing plants and creating a balanced arrangement. If you do, you will need a tall(ish) plant for the centre, ones which fill out for the middle and some trailing ones to fall over the edge.
A good choice of plants can achieve the desired effect of colour from summer to early autumn. When buying, look for healthy specimens and veer away from anything that's already full of colour. It's best to avoid the temptation of the instant appeal - look for flower buds and purchase what's to come, not what's in full bloom. Soon their primary interest will be over and all you will be displaying is a green. However, the occasional green or silver shrub such as spheres of box (buxus) or rosemary can act as a lovely foil to the display. Lavender or the curry plant will provide you with interesting foliage along with profusions of summer flower.
Back at home, gently remove them from pots by squeezing the container a little, trying not to disturb the roots too much. Set the plants out before committing to final arrangements. Once you're happy, plant and add slow-release feeding pellets to the compost, ensuring that the flowering plants eat well right through the growing season.
Before you water the container to settle your new plants in, move it to its permanent position as the added water could make the arrangement very heavy.
Look after the plants by watering every two to three days, feed them with a liquid boost once a week and continually deadhead. They will reward you by performing right through the summer.
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Try single pots of white and blue Marguerite daisies, blue salvias, foxgloves (Digitalis), patio roses, African lilies (Agapanthus) and blue and white Osteospermums.
Water your plants properly
We have all become very aware of the value of water and conserving rainwater for use in our gardens is relatively easy. DIY stores and garden centres have water butts which can fairly easily be attached to rainwater pipes, conserving what otherwise may be lost.
But giving your plants a drink requires some consideration. It’s often felt that splashing dollops about liberally with a watering can or hose does the trick.
But proper watering, allowing your plants effective amounts of moisture when they need it, requires a little more knowledge and skill.
The best time to water is early morning, allowing plenty of time for the roots to absorb it before the sun induces energy production.
Water carefully and slowly, aiming the liquid as near to the roots as possible (often the canopy of leaves or flower can act like an umbrella, sheltering the roots from water rather than giving them a drink).
Try to ensure that you moisten 6 to 8-inches soil depth. Light watering is of little use as evaporation can result in much water being lost.
With hanging baskets — if you’re feeling strong — dunk the whole basket in a sink of water and allow it to absorb the water from the bottom up before draining and re-hanging.
When you are planting in the garden take care to add plenty of organic humus material to the planting holes which will help to retain moisture around the roots of the plant for longer.
The Carlow Garden Festival is fast becoming the premier show for Ireland’s dedicated gardeners.
Running from July 23-August 3, this year’s event is headed up by Gardeners’ World presenter Monty Don, and includes Ireland’s First Lady of the soil, Helen Dillon, and renowned plants expert Seamus O’Brien of the National Botanic Gardens, Kilmacurragh, among many others.
To book tickets, call (059) 9130411 or visit carlowgardentrail.com
Tomorrow — Sunday May 31 — I’m delighted to be giving a talk at Bantry House & Gardens as part of the launch of this year’s West Cork Garden Trail.
The house has one of my very favourite gardens in Ireland and, over the coming weeks, its famed display of wisteria will be at its very best. The setting is quite incredible and its 100 steps which rise from the back of a fountain appear to lead straight to heaven.
The house, gardens and tearooms are open to the public seven days a week during June, July and August, with admission priced at €5.
Some areas can occasionally be closed for private events, so plan your visit by calling (027) 50047 or see bantryhouse.com