Friday 19 January 2018

Cheat with colour

A few pots will help keep your garden alive, says Marie Staunton

Marie Staunton

When it comes to planting up big pots, I'm all for a bit of cheating – that's what the best in the business are up to, and if you can't beat them, join them.

I love visiting the garden in Farmleigh, Dublin, and although I come away with fantastic ideas for my own patch, I feel utterly lazy when I see how beautiful the place looks, even in late summer and early autumn.

I then come home and kill myself trying to whip my own garden into shape from the guilt of it all.

But a little bit of cheating goes a long way, and adding in pots of colour to keep the season going a little longer is quite acceptable. How else would gardens open to the public be able to sustain the interest for so long?

So, how do you achieve the look? Growing quite a bit in pots seems to be the answer, then add them in as other plants keel over or look a bit raggy.

When you go into the courtyard in Farmleigh, the pots are overflowing with colour thanks, in part, to begonias, petunia and the interesting addition of plumbago, which will need to be brought into a glasshouse shortly.

Plumbago is a beautiful plant with very delicate pale-blue flowers that wouldn't ordinarily reside outside in Ireland, but it will cope very well outside during the summer. Come late autumn, wheel it inside for a bit of heat.

If you have the pot against a wall, you can attach the stems of the plumbago to some wires or a trellis and it will serve as the perfect backdrop to the buttery yellow begonias pictured here.

Begonias are a godsend to any gardener who loves pots of colour but has a shortage of space in full sun. These are quite at home in a semi-shaded area of your garden. If you feed the pots and keep them well watered, it's a sure bet that you will have colour right into autumn.

The secret is to constantly dead-head, which will in turn encourage new flowers.

Having a glasshouse or a lean-to will certainly help when it comes to over wintering non-hardy plants. Begonia tubers can be housed in the garage, after the first frost. Just take them in and let the foliage die back naturally. If you notice any rotten bits, cut them out and dust them with a fungal powder.

After a week or so, the stems should come away easily; then put each tuber in its own brown bag and store the lot in a box over winter, as mentioned, in the garage. Check them every few weeks for any signs of disease. If you notice any rotten bits, cut them away and dust again with the fungal powder, or, in some cases, you might have to dispose of them altogether.

I didn't include petunias in any of the pots I planted this year because of past performance. The summers weren't particularly kind to petunias and they always looked sad and uncared for with all the rain that fell on them. Of course, this year brought a perfect petunia summer, full of glorious sunshine.

In the interest of securing a decent summer next year, I am willing to forgo using petunias. It's a bit like bringing an umbrella – it never rains when you have one, but it's a sure bet that it will bucket down when you don't.

Irish Independent

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