Container gardening is one of the best ways to expand both what you grow and the space available. Pots, windowboxes and wall-mounted containers mean you can provide just the right growing conditions be they soil type or position, brighten up the dullest of patios and grow in even limited space.
It’s also a great way of keeping an ever-changing display as flowering plants that are past their best can be replaced with others that are just coming into bloom. And you don’t need dozens of expensive pots to achieve this: keep your plants in ordinary plastic and slip them inside something fancier. This is particularly good for bulbs, which can be hidden out of sight to die back.
I use pots a lot. Hostas, which would not survive the attentions of slugs and snails in my crammed borders, are grouped in a shady corner where I can keep a closer eye on them. Acid-lovers, such as camellias, would hate my Cotswold ground and putting them in a pot of ericaceous compost is far easier than making an acid bed and far better than going without their spring blooms. In the summer, containers of cheerful pelargoniums give the air of a Mediterranean holiday even if the weather doesn’t match.
A few simple rules apply to growing in containers. Make sure there is adequate drainage; few plants like waterlogged soil. I like to cover the drainage holes with pieces of broken terracotta pots to stop soil blocking them.
Match the pot size to the plant: a small shrub may eventually grow to be big but will look wrong starting off adrift in a large pot. It is far better to repot as it grows – beware though pots that narrow from the bottom as it can be difficult to get plants out.
Above all, remember to feed and water; use irrigation systems and slow-release fertiliser, if time is short or your memory poor.
When it comes to choosing the right container the range is vast and much is down to personal taste. Here is a sample of some of the things available.
Think of plant pots and chances it will be terracotta that comes to mind. From old-fashioned clay pots that are still my favourites for herbs and pelargoniums to those with fancy patterns, terracotta has long been a popular choice.
In the Cotswolds, we are lucky enough to have Whichford Pottery on our doorstep. The family firm, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, sends its pots to gardens across the country, including National Trust properties, and they are sold in the Highgrove shop, suitably embellished with the Prince of Wales feathers.
Handmade, they come with a 10-year frostproof guarantee and range from traditional long toms to huge urns. Details: http://www.whichfordpottery.com/
From traditional galvanised steel and burnished copper to shiny contemporary pots, metal is another widely used material for containers.
New this year are a range of windowboxes by garden planter firm Arthur Jack & Co, whose water butt was shortlisted for the RHS Chelsea garden product of the year 2015.
Made of galvanised steel, they come in two sizes and have adjustable legs to allow for slanted sills, a fitted bottom tray to stop dirty water damaging paintwork and bolt fixings to allow them to be hung from railings. They can also be used as edging on terraces or decking. Prices start at £170. Details: http://arthurjack.co.uk/
If you need something bigger, Cotswold-based Architectural Heritage has copper and lead planters. The pieces, reproduced from traditional planters, include large circular copper urns and a rectangular lead planter patterned with squares. Prices start at £800. Details: http://www.architectural-heritage.co.uk/
At the other end of the price range, Crocus have some clever ideas to maximise your space. Galvanised wall planters can be used to liven up a dull boundary or house wall and are ideal for small plants that would be lost in a border. A set of three costs £18.99.
The same style of galvanised steel with a clear lacquer finish is used in the firm’s corner stand of three pots (£44.99), a great way of filling those awkward corners. Details: http://www.crocus.co.uk/plants/
Reusing old crates has become very fashionable but they don’t have to be plain. Suttons have produced a range in green, pink, blue and whitewash as well as natural that can also have a personal message added. Prices start at £20. Details: http://www.suttons.co.uk/
If you think plastic containers are a bit naff, think again. New colours and sleek lines can be the perfect foil to plants and they have the advantage of being lightweight.
Dutch company Elho has been producing synthetic pottery for more than 50 years and uses around 45 per cent recycled material. The pots are UV resistant, have a useful water reservoir and come in a range of colours from clean white and soft blue to lime green and cherry. They are stocked at many garden centres (http://www.elho.com/ for details of stockists) and online at Amazon and Crocus. Prices start at £4.09 for a GrowPot.
For a touch of fun in the garden, Hum Flowerpots have contemporary designs and sparkling colours. Made in the UK, they are frost and fade-resistant and come in a range of styles. The company, set up two years ago, makes just one 22cm-tall pot but further sizes are planned. They are priced at £10 and available at http://www.hum-partnership.com/
Anything can be used as a planter, providing there’s adequate drainage. The only limit is your imagination.