THE POT GARDEN

There are two ways of gardening in pots and other containers, and neither is right or wrong. Which you choose depends partly on the site of your little garden, but much more on your taste and experience of life.

One approach is to treat your garden as a breath of country air which has blown into town. This is a very English attitude, for the English are at heart a rustic nation, and their townsmen are transplanted countrymen. The English delight in villages, cottage gardens and wild flowers, and in making a pot garden, whether they have a whole terrace as their site, or a balcony, or nothing more than a window-box, they are likely to go for mixtures of plants and plenty of colour. They will use flowering shrubs, bulbs and bedding plants, and will have two plantings a year, one for spring and one for summer.

The alternative approach is for those with strong visual memories of the Mediterranean, especially of Italy and Spain. They will favour a formal arrangement and a smaller range of plant material, largely permanent and evergreen. Something as simple as two tubs of box or bay might be their choice, or a group of pots of architectural plants, such as Fatsio japonica, phormiums and ferns. If they want colour, there might be pots of choice shrubs, such as camellias or azaleas. Many city gardeners in the milder parts of the United States plant on these lines, and the Japanese courtyard is not [ dissimilar, with its accent on proportion and shape. Gardeners in the colder districts either confine themselves to bedding schemes, or take favourite tender plants, like camellias, into winter protection.

Both kinds of gardener are likely to have another element to work with as well as their allotted piece of ground, and that is a wall. Climbers, even tall ones, can be grown in containers and trained up trellis on a wall, making the garden seem more spacious than it is, and also lighter, for climbers with variegated leaves bring an illusion of sunshine. A town wall will also give frost and wind protection, and I have allowed myself some semi-tender climbers in my choice.

The techniques of pot culture are much the same for all gardeners. Every plant must fill the pot, and be moved to a larger one as it grows, perhaps every other year. When mature, it need not be moved, but the soil must be renewed.

Every pot must have a hole in the base, and drainage should be provided from the start by putting a good layer of broken crocks in the bottom and filling up with wellmanured loam, which will keep going for years if regularly topped up with fresh compost and liquid feeds. If loam is not available, commercial loam-based composts, such as those prepared according to the John Innes formulae, are good substitutes. 1 myself prefer these to light, peat-based composts, which are difficult to re-moisten if they dry out. Plants in the open ground can, to some extent, fend for themselves, but plants in pots must be watered regularly.

What material will you choose for your containers? I always prefer a natural material to a synthetic, and cannot en-dure the sight of plants in concrete – there is more than enough of that in the streets outside. Simple clay pots with a minimum of decoration are ideal for most plants, but wooden tubs have a nice note of formality for clipped box or yew. A wooden window-box has more style than even the most convincing plastic material, and I suggest (following Miss Jekyll) painting it black to show off the flowers. The placing of containers on the ground is an art in itself, grouped pots on a terrace or in a paved courtyard having the quality of a still-life.

When planting a window-box I feel that simple arrangements, with no more than two, or at most three, plants are the most effective. It is difficult to beat small daffodils and grape hyacinths for spring, or purple and white petunias for summer.

A final word for those making a garden on a roof or balcony – remember that pots full of soil are very heavy, and be sure that you do not overload the structure.

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