Whether you have a small window ledge ar a large garden, Kim Wilde shows you how to be creative with containers.
Growing plants in pots can make a big impact on your garden, regardless of its size. Annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, omamental vegetables as well as herbs all really suit container treatment, and they only involve a relatively small outlay. You can let your imagination run riot when you're choosing your container, as you'll find most items can be adapted. The only restriction is that it's vital for the container to have really good drainage.
I always opt for simplicity in a pot- useful but topiary shapes look just right on their own, using either box or a small leafed ivy to create a false topiary. I have a heart-shaped box underplanted with sedum oreganum, which looks beautiful.
Box (buxus sempervirens or fhe dwart form 'Suffruflcosa'} is best when planted between mid-autumn and mid-spring in soil-based compost. Use a slow-release fertiliser and trim during mid-spring to promote bushy growth. Once established, box can be trimmed in the late summer or early autumn. Top dress every year during spring by removing 5-10 cm of compost from the top of the pot and replacing it with a mix of soil-based potting compost and slow-release fertiliser. This is very important in container gardening, as it's vital to replace nuttients that have been used up by the plants during the year.
Herbs are among the most useful and succesful plants to grow in containers. What could be more rewarding than simply stepping outside your back door to fetch a sprig of mint for your summer Pimms or rosemary for a roast chicken or lamb? Many herbs also have very attractive foliage. For example, the yellow variegated thyme (Thymus serpyllum 'Goldstream') has beautiful yellow and green leaves with pretty mauve flowers in late summer.
Most herbs do best when placed in an open sunny position and need to be grown in a free-draining potting compost. Other plants that are good for growing in containers include choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom) with its attractive evergreen foliage and fragrant white flowers. For a more dramatic display that will last all year round and also make a really eye-catching focal point, try euphorbia characias 'Wulfenii'.
The most elegant and beautiful trees to grow in a pot are Japanese maples, as long as they're given a rich, well-drained soil which retains moisture. In my garden, I have an acer 'Senkaki' (caral bark maple) that reveals its striking coral-red branches during the winter and looks beautiful at other times of the year, too.
This year's spring bulbs remind me that bulb planting is not over yet. Lily bulbs can be planted from October through to April and look wonderfully regal in a container. Most 1iIies root trom the stem above the bulb as well as at the base, so make sure you have lO-l5cm of soil above the bulb and always follow the planting instructions. A layer of sharp sand or grit under the bulb will help drainage. Lilies also benefit from a good mulch of well rotted manure or leaf mould in spring. For the best effect, plant three bulbs of the same variety in a 25cm pot. Ulium regale is an easy bulb to grow and its magnificent trumpets are richly scented, flowering in July.
African lilies (agapanthus) also look wonderful in large containers. Elegant tall stems hold the rounded blue or white heads of funnel-shaped flowers high above the base of leaves. Plant the crowns of fleshy roots at a depth of 5cm in mid to late spring. They look even more stunning when underplanted with pretty pink diascia vlgllis.
For year round ink makes interest in a pot, it's hard to beat a rock garden. I've planted two in old butler sinks that I found in a field and covered them in hypertufa (a mix of one part cement, one part coarse sand and two parts peat substitute), which makes them look like stone. Rock gardens like full sun and tree drainage, 50 add up to one third grit or gravel to the soil-based potting compost before planting up. AJso top dress with the same gravel for efficient drainage and to reduce the risk of rot. I've used varieties of sedum and sempervlvum - mat-forming evergreens - which are studded with small yellow flowers during the summer. They have succulent leaves that are either bronze red, pea or bluey green and stay beautiful throughout the year.
They're also as tough as old hoots and are really easy to maintain. You can add some spring bulbs to the container to add a bit of extra interest although it's tempting to go all out for colour and sensation, I think restraint is the key. A group of pots planted with similar colours can actually make a far stronger impact than if they were full of multicoloured specimens. This is especially true of busy lizzies (impatiens) which always look better in single colours. But whether you go for a minimalist look or a cottage garden feel that's full of variety and colour, it's important to start off with effective, simple ideas and not be confused by more ambitious displays.
Get the best results when planting in containers
- Check that your container has drainage holes which can't be blocked. Use crocks or try one or two layers of used teabags. Don't forget to stand your container on feet or bricks.
- Standard potting composts can have their supply of nutrients quickly used up or leached out by watering, so mix in a slow-release fertiliser before planting.
- Remember to water containers regularly, because they soon dry out. Measures to slow down water loss include lining the insides with sheet plastic, painting the inside of the pot with PVA to seal it, adding water-retaining granules and covering the surface with gravelor mulch.
- In the winter use hessian or bubble wrap to prevent rootballs and compost treezing. Choose tough, trost-proof containers so they withstand al1 weather conditions.
How to weather terracotta pots
New terracotta can look quite harsh and out of place, but it can be made to blend in with its surroundings perfectly by using this simple trick. All you need to do is paint live yogurt over the outside of the pot and within a few weeks it will have developed a weather-worn look.
Plant and prune roses for a glorious display
Roses add a fragrant note to any garden and are easy to look after
Many people are put off having roses in their gardens because they think they're difficult to grow. Whether they're for tubs on the patio, climbers for walls and fences or for border displays, there's a perfect rose for every occasion. March is traditionally the time to plant new rose bushes and prune established ones. It's easier than you think and by the time summer comes, you'll reap the benefits of one of our most beautiful and romantic flowers.
Roses are best pruned in March when the uppermost buds start to swell. The only exception is rambllng roses, which can be pruned back in the autumn after flowering if necessary. Prune back to old wood.
Start by pruning dead or diseased wood and old growth. Cut remaining sterns of hybrid teas to 3Ocm from the ground and floribundas to 45cm. Prune the sterns above an outward facing bud to create a bush with an open centre and spaced out and evenly balanced branches.
Plant roses with the top of their crown/bud unions a fraction below the surface in well prepared soil, to which you've added well-rotted manure and bone meal. Roses love the stuff.
Always cut down a new rose to 15cm in its first spring to foster bushy growth.
The Royal National Rose Society website at www.roses.co.uk gives tips on planting and pruning and offers the chance to buy roses on-line. For further details about The Royal National Rose Society Rose of the Year, call 0800 358 7689.
This miniature chest, made from galvanised metal, is perfect for storing your seeds, tree ties, string and other small odds and ends. It keeps things easily to hand and is a real bargain at only 19, from Ikea. Call 0208208 5607 for stockists enquiries.
Well worth a visit
Painshil1 Landscape Garden
Cobham, Surrey (01932B681131). This lovely garden is the lavish creation of the Hon Charles Hamilton and has been fully restored to its former glory.
Royal Hortlcultural Society Orchld Show,
18-19 March at the Royal Horticul1ural Society, New HalI, London (020 7649 1885) This glorious display is packed with colour, and exhibitors come from all over the world to show off their beautiful prize specimens.
Q: Last year I bought 50 winter aconites, but they only produced half a dozen flowers. Where did I go wrong? A: Eranthis hyemalis are actually perennials. They should be planted in a fresh, green condition or they will suffer a slight setback. However, they should recover this year and flower from late December onwards. To ensure more flowers, allow your plants to set seed this spring. The seedlings should flower in a couple of seasons.
Things to do in March
- Get tools ready for spring. Sharpen all blades and protect metal surfaces from rust with an application of oil-just mix oil into a bucket of sharp sand and plunge tools in before storage
- Protect new shoots of hostas from slug attacks by surrounding them with sharp sand
- Sow outdoor vegetable crops such as carrots, spring onions, lettuce, beetroot and broad beans.
In bloom this month
Take a stroll and look for these delightful flowers.
The Japanese apricot will thrive in a sheltered spot in weIl drained soil and will grow into a large shrub. On warm days the blossom, ranging from white to dark red, gives off a sweet fragrance.
Richly scented flowers and attractive evergreen foliage make this plant an all round winner. It will establish itself readily in a sheltered position.
Most daffodil varieties are now coming into bioom and look spectacular planted in drifts. A sure sign that spring is here.
The many varieties of wallflower make this plant indispensable in March. Easy to grow with a lovely perlume.