Jen Stuart-Smith discusses how to get creative with your pots and planters

My love affair with plants started with houseplants when I was a child. As my bedroom windowsill overflowed – resulting, occasionally, in waking up with compost under my duvet – I graduated to my grandmother’s greenhouse and enjoyed propagating all sorts of things from seeds and cuttings. There’s something about tending to plants in pots that feels more manageable than dealing with a whole garden. Or maybe it’s the sense of control? Although more needy of your time and attention, container gardening gives you so many options; experimenting with composition, growing things that wouldn’t tolerate your soil type – and getting creative with novel and interesting containers.
If I need inspiration, I’ll pop round to my next-door neighbour. Fay has created a verdant oasis at the back and side of her cottage and, although space is tight, she has the most amazing collection of plants; bottlebrush, Japanese maples,

witchhazel, hellebores and jasmines as well as an array of ferns. If in doubt, with my own containers, I’ll just ask, simply: “Fay, will this grow in a pot?” As well as Fay’s amazing garden, I’ve always loved the front door at Great Dixter – and imagine my own, slightly less grand ‘mini Dixter’ at home.
As well as allowing you to grow exotic, non-native and tender plants (which can be moved into a greenhouse or indoors if necessary) container planting opens up a world of creative – and sometimes money-saving – options. One of the best presents my husband ever gave me – perhaps I’m easily pleased – was the drum of a cement mixer that someone had dumped in a ditch. Its patina of flaky orange paint and bare metal is the perfect accompaniment to an ornamental acer and, despite its weight, it can be moved as and when we’re experimenting with the layout of our garden.
I also have some lovely ‘brocante’ including a hip bath and dolly tubs,

given to me by a friend who moved to Greece. Other suitable vessels include catering-sized food tins, old buckets, watering cans and even walking boots… Just remember to add drainage holes to anything that was previously watertight.
Keeping in mind that container plants will need regular watering and a closer eye, it makes sense to have them near to your house or garden buildings – though this is not a rule. Containers can also make an interesting addition to a border, introducing height or a splash of colour, where required.
But, with back-door and patio pots in mind, what are the obvious choices? Herbs and salads are a great thing to get started with, both aesthetically and for use in the kitchen. Many herbs originate from hotter, drier climes, so can cope well in pots, as well as being pretty robust. Mint, one of the most hardy, is worth growing in a container, so that is doesn’t run amok in your borders. Salad leaves are also a fun thing to try – though

Watering by hand should be an enjoyable job and the perfect opportunity to check for pests and diseases – or just have a word or two with your leafy friends

you’ll need to keep a close eye on them as they can dry out and wilt very quickly.
Scented flowers are also perfect for having by the back door and under your downstairs windows: jasmine, chocolate cosmos, sweet peas, nicotiana… and my personal favourite, acidanthera. Then there are plants such as scented geraniums, whose leaves, as well as flowers, come in a variety of heady scents. The list goes on and on. Warmer, sheltered areas, under a veranda for example, may support more exotic blooms such as gardenia, tuberose and stephanotis.
But these high-maintenance lovelies will need your attention – so it helps if you enjoy spending your summer evenings pottering with a watering can. That said, there are some sophisticated watering systems out there, which can

be set on a timer, if you don’t have the time or dedication to water by hand. But watering by hand should be a relaxing job and the perfect opportunity to check for pests and diseases – or just have a word or two with your leafy friends. Apparently, it helps both you and your plants!
Your container plants may also need feeding, as compost will vary on its nutrient content and nutrient retaining qualities. There are masses of organic options out there… Liquid feeds tend to have a rapid effect – but you should always aim to water them onto already moist and receptive soil, to avoid water run-off and the feed ending up in the watercourse.
Slow-release fertiliser pellets are less labour intensive and can be added to compost at the time of planting. If you plant into a nutrient-rich compost, perhaps

with a little slow release fertiliser, you shouldn’t need to feed again for several weeks. As well as ‘off the shelf’ products, homemade options include well-rotted manure, liquid seaweed as well as easy to make nettle and comfrey teas.
With a little care and attention a collection of pots can create an area in your garden with a personality of its own: culinary, scented, lush and green – as I am planning around our outdoor shower area – or reminiscent of a favourite holiday destination. The possibilities are endless and the results almost immediate… what’s not to like?

Jennifer Stuart-Smith is co-founder of flower-growing and floristry business, Blooming Green

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