After years of renting houses and having to grow plants in containers rather than in the soil I developed a bit of an aversion to container gardening, mainly because I used to have to spend so much time watering the pots, particularly during hot weather. As a result, when we bought our first house I didn’t really bother with containers – having our own soil to grow in was very liberating and I liked that I could go away for a week and I didn’t have to worry about plants in pots dying from lack of water.
We’ve moved now, and while I have lovely raised beds and plenty of room to grow in the ground I seem to have found a happy compromise when it comes to container growing. The area by the back door is a bit of a sun-trap – it’s south-facing and sheltered. It’s also the most frequently used entrance into the house, so it has gradually become a place for a doorstep planting display.
By gathering all my pots together in one spot it’s made watering them less time consuming, and because I walk past them several times a day I’m much more likely to spot when a container has dried out. But the best bit about this collection of plants is the colourful and often fragrant welcome they provide.
I use this area to create an ever-changing show of seasonal plants. In the winter there are Christmas box, winter-flowering heathers, violas and grasses, which lift the spirits during the darkest months of the year. These are followed by a mass of spring-flowering bulbs and early-flowering perennials such as primulas. I tend to focus on growing dainty spring plants here, ones that would otherwise get lost in the garden. Plants such as the petticoat daffodil, alpine saxifrages and masses of crocuses. Larger pots are packed full of tulip bulbs in late autumn and in April and May they provide a spectacular burst of colour. By mid-May when these plants are fading I’ll move some of the pots containing bulbs to a shady corner where the foliage can die back and feed the bulbs for next year’s flowers. For other pots I’ll remove the plants, replenish the compost and set to work on planting for the summer.
For summer colour I tend to use plug plants of half-hardy annuals and tender perennials from the garden centre or via mail order, and I’ll mix these with hardy perennials such as salvias and ornamental grasses for long-lasting interest. While the borders in the garden are planted with perennials and shrubs and these don’t tend to change much each year, this little corner by my back door is like a stage set or a window display where I can choose a different theme or colour palette, and I can grow plants in pots here that wouldn’t thrive in the heavy clay that’s in the borders, such as succulents and pelargoniums. Many of these plants will keep on flowering right up until the first frosts and then the cycle starts again, with bulb planting for the following spring and adding plants that will add some colour over winter.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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