Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pots and Planters

Pots and planters, pots and planters. I have far too many. Don't know why. I just can't seem to stop. I think it's because the patio looks bare if it doesn't resemble a display at a garden centre. I begin by mixing up a huge pile of potting soil, and then I keep filling containers until it's all gone — no sense wasting it is there?

I never seem to run out of things to fill. I have a shed full of wooden boxes, terracotta pots, galvanized

pails, a few chic plastic things. In fact, I'll turn anything that will hold soil into a planter, but I draw the line at plumbing fixtures.

I know I'm not the only gardener who does this. I once held a contest on my website to see what other people came up with and it revealed that there are some strangely creative, or eccentric, people out there.

Old work boots, open umbrellas, pots and pans, hats, purses, baskets and bowls, even eaves troughs — they've all been tried. How about the agitator from a washing machine, or the top of an old hair dryer? My favourite was an old pair of jeans that were no longer needed because the owner had lost weight and intended to keep it off. She filled them with soil and claimed the twenty pounds she lost was now represented "sitting" somewhere else.

I'll agree these things all make interesting planters. The danger lies in overdoing it. Too many "unique" items can make the backyard look like the back room of a junk shop, especially if the plants aren't thriving.

Besides ensuring plants are healthy, the difficult part is getting all the colours, textures, shapes, sizes, and scale of the plant material nicely coordinated. After doing this for years, I've discovered the secret. It doesn't matter a whole lot which plants you stick in a planter. If you give plants what they need and remember to feed and water them, most groupings turn out looking just fine, even sublime.

I know, designers are paid big money to develop ideal plant permutations. I even have a book on the subject — The Encyclopaedia of Planting Combinations, by Tony Lord. I just don't have time to read it when I'm busy planting. I really should although I'm sure Tony has come up with some of the same combinations that I've discovered accidentally. For instance, it's no secret that blues and yellows in all their hues look really good together, as do pinks and blues, and for that matter, so do yellows and pinks. Colours can complement or contrast startlingly — yellow marigolds with purple salvia, for instance.

I'll occasionally pot up a planter with just a single colour, or shades of the same colour. Know what? They look great too. Of course, I'm not blindly sticking plants in pots like mad without a thought to the process. I do plan. I always go to the garden centre with a list (which I usually forget to look at). I buy lots of plants, especially ones I've never grown before — and these are getting harder to find every year, but the breeders know this and are trying their best to help out.

When I get home, I begin the process of coordination. There is no guarantee that a planted plant will stay planted. If something doesn't seem right, out it comes, sometimes as much as week later. It's a wonder some of them ever manage to get established. Ever seen a geranium with a "Here we go again" look?

Sure, I could purchase a finished planter with the plants fully grown and all in bloom, but this would be far too static for me. When I plant up a container, I've really no idea what it will look like come July. I may have a sparse looking arrangement for a few weeks, but I wouldn't miss the joy of watching the transformation that takes place.

Once in a while, I'll know immediately that I've got it right — the perfect plants in the perfect container. I did it last week when I hauled out an ordinary looking 45mm pot from the shed. It's glazed a faded purple, and in it I planted a bronze/purple cordyline I just happened to have picked up on impulse at my local nursery. Nothing special in that, you might be thinking. No, not until I covered the surface with some Scottish moss that I happen to have in abundance. The result — lance-like, purple leaves soaring up from a carpet of pale green moss — pure elegance. Sometimes, one planter is enough.

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