AFTER one of the driest autumn seasons in decades, the wet cold of winter has arrived. This week, growers that supply winter-flowering pansies to garden centres breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Pansies thrive in the cold weather, and the cold weather makes them flower even better. Now is the time to plant up pansies into pots.
Plants in pots add instant colour to brighten the garden on cold overcast days, whether in wine barrels in a cottage garden, in elegant urns in a formal garden, herbs in pots on a kitchen windowsill, or succulents in troughs on low walls.
Pots can provide focal points, screen off an area, or draw attention to a particular part in the garden. Use them to indicate a change of level from patio to lawn, or a flight of steps. If the steps are wide enough, stand pots of flowers down one side. Place pots of scented plants near entrances and windows, next to garden seats and outdoor entertainment areas.
Dwarf citrus trees are attractive when grown in large decorative pots or Versailles planters on a patio, in a courtyard, or lining a driveway. Versailles planters are large square wooden boxes originally designed in 1661 for orange trees that were overwintered in wealthy owners’ orangeries (greenhouses).
They are also suitable for standards of clipped bay and olive trees. Pots do not always need plants. Oversize pots can stand on their own, or have plants with architectural foliage (acanthus, artichoke) or ornamental grasses planted around their base. A giant urn can stand as a strong focal point at the end of a path, or where a path changes direction.
Choosing a pot:
When it comes to choosing a suitable pot, clay, plastic or glazed is the usual choice. But just about anything can be used, providing it has drainage holes – watering can, wheelbarrow, wooden crate, old boots, cooking pot. Metal and fibreglass containers suit modern and minimalistic landscapes.
Pots should be deep and wide enough to hold sufficient soil for the roots to fit comfortably. Plants that share pots should have similar requirements of sun, shade and moisture. Grouping pots is far more effective than randomly placing them. On patios, add height by standing one or two pots on pedestals.
Use a commercial potting mix rather than garden soil that may contain weeds or toxins. Make sure there are sufficient holes in the base of pots to ensure good drainage, and cover holes with pebbles, broken brick, or pieces of broken clay pots to prevent soil washing out.
Plants for pots:
When deciding what to plant in pots, think of “thrillers, fillers and spillers”. Place vertical plants (thrillers) in the centre with cascading plants (spillers) to soften the edges, and finish with filler plants. Experiment with a single colour, a blend of shades or contrasting colours. Different textures will add contrast and interest.
Stand pots of rosemary or clipped bay at intervals in the vegetable garden; transform an ordinary kitchen courtyard with pots of colourful and edible nasturtiums, violas and calendulas interplanted with culinary herbs. Basil needs warm conditions, and if you want larger leaves, grow basil in more shade. Parsley can be grown in half day sun.
Pots of culinary herbs next to the barbecue can be used for instant garnishes. Pots originally designed to grow strawberries have pockets that are perfect for herbs. Where gardening space is limited, grow herbs and vegetables in pots on patios and balconies.
As weather warms, fill pots with chives, spring onions and lettuce. Grow mini cabbages, Swiss chard “Bright Lights”, and patio tomatoes on a trellis or wigwam.
Pots can also be used to confine invaders like bamboos and mints, hold alpine treasures that require excellent drainage, and add vibrant colour to outdoor entertainment areas. They can perk up a boring part of the garden and be planted with white flowers to lighten up a dark corner.
A coat of paint will refresh old pots. Fill lavender-blue pots with a selection of lavenders, plant orange gazanias in pumpkin coloured pots, and bronze ornamental grasses in pots painted in the 2015 fashion colour, marsala.
For a sophisticated effect on a patio, paint pots charcoal and fill them with white flowers and silver foliage plants.
l Use a good quality potting mix in pots, not garden soil.
l Choose plants with similar sun, shade and water needs.
l In hot weather, check containers daily to make sure they do not dry out. On hot days you may have to water pots more than once.
l Turn pots from time to time for even growth.
l Deadhead flowers to extend their flowering time.
l To maintain healthy plants, feed pots once a fortnight with a liquid fertiliser such as Nitrosol or Seagro.
l Ensure that all pots and ornaments in the garden and on the patio are firmly secured. Injuries and even fatalities have been caused by children trying to pull themselves up on pots, birdbaths and statues.