Many of you have asked me for an article on the care of pots.For those of you with roof terraces, balconies or even just a few windowsills they can become wonderful mini gardens.
The restrictions of these small places can be turned to advantage as they often have some shade and the range of possible plantings is therefore increased and don’t forget that other dimension – upward!
I would guess that most of us use pots far more widely here than in more northern climes - they’re great for breaking up large paved areas around pools and patios. We can all put some pots into our lives.
I always think that the entrance to your home gives visitors a sneaky look into your soul – so be very sure that it’s going to stun them! You may be an orderly type that likes formality - two large evergreens framing an elegant front door. Or, perhaps you like a froth of pots in your porchway, a friendly, cluttered look. You may feel that you have no space at all to impress anyone, but how about a hanging basket or a wall pot? Magnificent or quirky – it’s your call! Think of the simple, clean image of bright red geraniums against a blue windowframe and white walls – what could be simpler, yet so inviting and fun too! Every gateway/doorway is an invitation to the unknown ….
The biggest problem with pots is probably your concept of them. I suspect most of you have a picture in your mind of pots brimming with colour, lush and bursting with life? Well, this can be done, but not for twelve months of the year unless you are prepared to work very hard on them. In general, pots are transitory things – they should come in and out of our lives – changing with the seasons to keep them looking good. Most people pot up once and expect it to look good for years with an odd bit of water and very little else! Every plant needs a rest period; nothing can look its best month in and month out, even with excellent care. Plants are seasonal. We have hundreds of thousands to choose from, to tackle all sorts of climes and conditions – so let’s use them!
If it’s colourful pots you’re after, you’ll need to change them at least twice a year; once to cope with cooler temperatures and the other with the heat. There is, of course, a place for permanent plantings, generally evergreens, ferns, palms etc. – what we call ‘architectural plantings’. But, even these, will have a rest period when they will look a little tired, a little drab. These large permanent plantings are usually stationary – through necessity – but move your colourful ones around so that the stars of the show are given full limelight.
A cluster of pots can often look charming; think of the traditional Spanish balcony overflowing with colour. The pure bulk of these plantings serves to hide imperfections. If you have a single plant in a solitary pot, it needs to be perfect. The grouping of pots also sets up a mini micro-climate and gives some shelter, a little humidity and dappled shade, all of which are beneficial to the plants.
It probably all sounds fairly obvious, but how many of you think of all this when planning your pots?
Use good quality compost (it has a lot of work to do) mixed 50/50 with normal garden soil when potting. The addition of soil gives the pot some weight to stop it blowing over and, more importantly, adds some substance and texture to the soil. Don’t use peat; it’s too light and has no nutritional content. You can buy special acid composts, and those for bonsai, cacti and orchids.
It’s always difficult to be specific on watering, so many factors come into play. But, more pot plants are killed from overwatering then underwatering! Feel the compost – poke down into it – it should be moist. The weight of the pot will also help you gauge. And don’t forget to feed – it’s vital. Because you water frequently, all the nutrients are quickly flushed through. A general purpose fertliser is fine and follow the instructions. Don’t be tempted to ‘spoil’ your plants by giving more. Many of the chemical fertilisers are extremely strong and can burn or even kill your plants. Kinder – in lots of ways – to use an organic fertiliser.
You can grow anything from a tiny sedum to a tree in a pot and we probably aren’t adventurous enough! Try herbs or the cut-and-come-again lettuce near your kitchen door; many vegetables can also be grown in this manner. Bulbs are great, poking through to surprise us. Use perfumed plants and those that need to be seen close to appreciate their beauty. Camellias, gardenias and azaleas can all be cared for with acid compost. For shade, try tiny butterfly cyclamen, mini silvery ivies, velvety pansies and sweet violets. There are low growing bamboo, external ferns, large-leaved monstera and alocasia for an exotic look. Enjoy your pots from inside too; when a low, slanting sun casts leafy shadows on your living room walls, you’ll feel transported to a wild and jungly world!
Call and see me – I’ll be happy to give you personal advice on your pots.
Lorraine Cavanagh is the author of Mediterranean Garden Plants.
Her plant nursery, Viveros Florena, is on the Algarrobo/Cómpeta Road, 15km from the coast. Look out for the flowerpot lady. Also, catch her weekly shows on OCI radio.