A single pot, such as the one containing the Japanese sago palm (Cycas revoluta) can look extremely charming or kawaii in other words. But it is also possible to take a visitor’s breath away with a grouping of pots. The terracotta pots on the patio were planted with bright annuals and perennials, while the different shapes, textures, and colors of the group of pots make for an equally attractive display. A crown of thorns forms the centerpiece.
Pots that are strategically placed in the garden can help to soothe several gardening headaches quite quickly. They can, for example, be used to 1 lead the eye away from an ugly corner; 2 grow plants in the shade of large trees where the garden soil is full of tree roots and depleted; 3 make claustrophobic walls more people friendly; 4 add instant greenery to the driveway, garden gate or front door; 5 transform patios, verandahs, and other entertainment corners into lush plant oases; add sparkle to a boring plant bed.
Garden pots are no longer cheap and the variety is so large that you sometimes lose courage when the time comes to choose and pay. Thorough planning is therefore essential. Take time to walk through your house and look out of every window to see where a focal point is needed. Also, take a slow stroll around the house and then standing back. If the front door looks unfriendly and the section at the back door is a barren cement desert, you should definitely add containers and plants.
There are no fixed rules for choosing garden pots but do keep the following in mind: Use a tape measure to measure the size of the available space where you want to position a special pot. If the pot is too small it will look neglected and sad; if it is too large it will either not fit through the garden gate or it will overpower the corner. Also, consider what plant(s) you want to plant in a specific pot: plants that become large and heavy, such as Japanese sago palms, need large, heavy pots, otherwise the wind will blow them over.
Use pots to control the foot traffic through your garden. Those in the photograph on the left form focal points but also indicate a change of level to another part of the garden. The dark green, dramatic arch in the background was formed by tying together the growth points of two Cupressus sempervirens plants. They are regularly pruned lightly to stimulate dense growth.
Stairs with airs
Stairs can be handy ‘shelves’ on which to display a single pot containing an evergreen plant or a number of smaller pots containing flowering plants. Here the Euonymus japonicus ‘Microphyllus Gold Dust’, with its lime-yellow foliage (that turns golden yellow if the plant grows in full sun), and the sacred bamboo (Nandina domestica) in the background complement each other. Delicate daisy fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus grows in the cement cracks You can plant more than one type of plant in a wide-rimmed pot, such as the silver-grey Kalanchoe and the new Angelonia ‘Serena’ in this photograph. What’s more, both like full sun. Don’t use too many types, otherwise, the plants will smother each other and the result will be too much of a mixed bag.
Greet the guests
No, the plant isn’t in the pot, the pot is in the plant! Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla laxa), with its snow-white trumpet flowers and soft, sweet fragrance, has completely overwhelmed this garden chair at the front door. The picture is rounded off with a resin urn from Botanica (www.botanica.co.za). We bought ours at Aspidistra outside Stellenbosch but they are available at nurseries countrywide.
Pots create a visual link between the architecture of the house and the design of the garden. Simple cement pots with a small base and wide neck usually go better with modern and contemporary building styles and gardens, while urns look good with old-world architecture, as well as romantic and formal gardens.
Instant patio garden
This patio at the back door of a farmhouse used to be a drab piece of paving where the children raced each other on their tricycles. However, thanks to the addition of a variety of interesting pots, it has now become a spot where Mom can sit down and enjoy a cup of tea. The clay pots, potbellied pots and old kitchenware (bread tins and a colander) contain no-fuss greenery – box trees (Buxus sempervirens), ornamental grass (Festuca gautieri), Echeveria and annuals.
The appearance of this instant pot garden can be easily altered by adding other plants or by simply moving the pots around. This farmer’s wife saved an old wooden crib and uses empty cattle lick containers to nurture cuttings and divided grasses. Tip: Garden pots dry out fast so rather choose a few large pots than many smaller pots that have to be watered more than once a day.
Shocking-pink focal point
If it’s hollow, plant something in it, and if it looks good, and is hollow and empty, uses it as a focal point. We had many ideas concerning what to plant in this proudly South African urn made of galvanized wire but then decided to paint it shocking pink and use it as a garden ornament instead. The urn stands on a 1m-high pedestal – an old tree stump overgrown with ivy.
Make an old pot new
Are you tired of your tatty asbestos pots? It’s easy to give them a second chance with a coat of paint: Washed-out look: Sand the pot lightly. Dilute a water-based paint in a color of your choice with enough water so that it has the consistency of thin cream. Use a moist cloth to paint the pot with the mixture, but remove most of the paint. Allow the paint to form a slightly thicker layer in the grooves. Rusty look: Paint the pot with black water-based paint and let it dry, then add a coat of rust paint – you buy it along with a rust activator at hardware and paint stores. Once the paint is dry you can apply another coat. Finally, paint on the rust activator while the previous coat is still slightly wet.
Pots among plants
Pots can provide height and color in plant beds. In the tall pot on the left, the fragrant ground-cover rose ‘Peach Sunsation’ was planted along with a coral bush (Russelia equisitiformis). The shorter pot houses Euonymus japonicus ‘Microphyllus Gold Dust’. You can also provide color in dark-green shaded beds by placing pots filled with bright annuals, such as impatiens and begonias, among the plants.
Pots against the wall
This boundary wall with a built-in pond would have been rather drab and dreary without the steel plant rack supporting the clay pots, as well as the asbestos pots in the foreground. The green balls in the potbellied fiberglass pots are Syzygium paniculatum, which have been pruned into round shapes.
Pot garden for a collector
People who enjoy gardening in pots are usually also keen plant collectors who cannot resist regularly bringing new plants, cuttings, bulbs or seeds home. The challenge is to display the collection in such a way that it does not look like a mini nursery but rather an attractive corner. We chose elegant urns of different sizes and filled them with plant favorites. Remember to use pots that vary in size and height but keep the design or color the same if you want to display a collection of pot plants together.
Designers often draw inspiration from nature. Ficinia filiformis (also known as optic fiber grass) could easily have been the inspiration for those 1970s lava lamps that are popular once again.
It’s hard to believe that the grim and thorny fingers of the crown of thorns can produce green leaves and wax-like flowers. Pick any bulb plant with decorative foliage and a slender neck from your garden and plant it in a shallow bowl such as this one. Round it off with a mulch of Irish moss (Sagina subulata) and admire your own green artwork. Plant Echeveria or other succulents in a beautiful potbellied urn. If the pot has no drainage holes you can place a thick layer of pebbles at the bottom and plant the succulents in stony, sandy potting soil. Water it lightly every now and then.
You’ve purchased the pot, the plants are ready and now it’s time to plant them:
- 1 Make your own potting mixture: Mix 2 bags of potting soil, 1 bag of compost, 6g bone meal and 60g general granular garden fertilizer, such as 2:3:2 or 3:1:5.
- 2 Check that the drainage holes of the pot are open, or drill a few. If the holes are very big you can place a piece of shade netting on top to prevent the soil from falling through.
- 3 Place a layer of rough gravel, stones or clay shards into the bottom of the pot. Tip: When planting plants with shallow root systems in large pots, save potting soil by placing an old plastic pot upside down on top of the drainage layer. Then fill the pot with potting soil. The pot will also be considerably lighter to move around.
- 4 Fill the pot with the soil mixture and check every now and then to see if your plant in the plant bag fits – it has to be planted at the same depth as in the nursery container or bag. Remember to water the plant before you transplant it.
- 5 Continue to fill the pot with the potting soil mixture and press the soil down firmly around the plant. The soil has to be about 10-15cm below the rim of the pot, otherwise, the water will run out. Make sure that you leave enough space if you want to apply a mulch of bark chips or pebbles. Water the plant(s) immediately.
- 6 Care: Keep your pot plants healthy and lush by feeding them regularly – use a liquid fertilizer such as Nitrosol or Seagro at least every three weeks in the hot summer months. In spring, replace the top layer of soil in the pot with compost or fresh potting soil.