Since ancient Egyptian times, growing plants in containers has been popular. There's a myriad of reasons. Pots enable you to plant somewhat tender but definitely colourful species at this time of the year, when our fear of frost is beginning to recede. And it allows you to grow plants that are normally unsuitable for your soil. For instance, if you have an alkaline-based soil, displaying some species which are happier in an acidic base, such as camellias or rhododendrons, may be a real treat. And if you garden on a balcony, or tiny paved patio or courtyard, and have no soil at all, pots and containers give you the ability to create an 'out of the ground' garden.
As the lockdown weeks go by, more people are turning to gardening, and pots and containers are the ideal entry point. It's so easy, and this spring we're around to water and maintain anything we plant... so why not start now?
Just before lockdown, in an urban location, on a terrace high over the madding crowds, I've planted up a mixed border, all grown in pots. Taking care to achieve a balanced look, I started by potting up some mature yew hedging in deep wooden planters, which acted as a green wall behind the display.
The fun started in front. I commissioned a blacksmith friend to make a series of metal steps for pots, leaving me with three tiers to play with.
Clipped spheres of Buxus sempervirens (box) were used as my base, or structural planting. I set them on a series of diagonal lines across the display, softened by potted summer mounds of white marguerites (Argyranthemum) and sky-blue felicia. Purple hydrangeas - oozing new blooms and requiring an acidic compost to keep them in rude health - were next, as gradually my potted, tiered courtyard composition came to life.
Where there was a little shade, I used those edge-of-woodland favourites, foxgloves, underplanted with blue ajuga, along with some glossy fronded ferns and trailing ivy. But I wasn't completely done with the sunny side. My very favourite flowers for pots, some gorgeous blue salvia spires set beside some agapanthus (African lilies) and exquisite white patio rose flanked with pink cosmos, completed the picture.
My big tip when potting up a garden? Envisage the complete display as a single unit. Think about the shape and style of your pots and take some time to consider what you place next to each other. Getting the right balance is key and may depend on the effect you wish to achieve. Do you want the pot to be the feature or the plants? Try playing with sizes: small plants peeking out the top of a large container can look quirky, but large leafy specimens in small containers may look top-heavy.
Large pots are more dramatic than small containers. They also require less maintenance but can be heavy and difficult to move, so make sure to plant them up in situ and don't be shy about using containers made from lightweight materials.
If (like me with this scheme) you are using the traditionally favoured terracotta, get ones that are guaranteed frost-proof. If they have been kiln-fired to a high temperature, they are sure to withstand the challenge of an Irish winter.
Use containers to shape your garden style, too. Tall pots planted up with half standard clipped bay trees can help to define the entrance to an informal plot. Pots and urns also make beautiful focal points and larger ones can be used without planting as architectural features.
Plants in pots cannot feed or drink from the ground, which means you have to supply everything they need. Ensure that the soil or compost and the amount of fertiliser and water you provide are right for your plants. I hooked this display up to an automatic irrigation system.
Change your seasonal colour a few times a year. And each spring, top-dress by carefully replacing the top inch or so of growing medium with fresh material.