Sunday January 24 2021



TheVillage Gardening

Perfect planters

Posted on September 30 2018 at 12:36:30 0 comments


Judy Lawrance, flower photographer, shares ideas for the next growing season.

As we head towards the end of the growing season and just before it’s time to plant next season’s bulbs, we have a breather to take stock, to sit and enjoy the last of the roses and plan the garden for next year.

If you live in parts of Bordesley and Alvechurch, you probably have to work with heavy clay soil – two days of sunshine and it’s like digging concrete; a few days of rain and the earth “glugs” when you try to dig a hole.

Clay is OK to grow shrubs and trees, for making pots and for the kids to use as Play Doh! That’s not to say it isn’t fertile for roses and a few other plants, but to try and create an herbaceous border or to grow bedding plants isn’t much fun.

If you don’t mind rolling up your sleeves and getting down to a bit of hard digging, then one solution is to replace the whole of the soil with topsoil – a mammoth task – but if you don’t quite have the energy or inclination to do that, then another obvious way to add colour to the garden is to use planters: any size, shape, colour or style. The more unconventional, the more interesting!

Penny Disbury, featured in the August issue of The Village, is the “queen” of planters. A prolific gardener, Penny grows all her bedding plants in containers.

Calibrachia growing in teacups made from old car tyres; geraniums planted in a discarded porcelain washbasin, including taps; petunias smothering an old iron bedstead, and trailing this and that from hanging watering cans and wall planters contained in picture frames.

If it’s big enough to hold soil and easy enough to drill drainage holes, then Penny will use it! So really anything goes if you’re brave enough to try.

Salvage yards and junk shops are great places to pick up chimney pots, old tin baths, dolly tubs and stone troughs, all at reasonable cost. 

Place them in a border, among dull coloured shrubs, a dark corner where there’s not much sun, or on a patio to add interest and a talking point.

The latest trend, rusted metal rings, can be purchased from some garden centres. They are simply lengths of mild steel, bent into tube shapes and welded together. They don’t have a bottom as they just sit on top of the soil.

The bought kind are already rusted, but if you are able to get someone to make them for you, you can choose the diameter and height to suit your garden.

A good winter will see them change from a dull grey smooth metal to a beautiful subtle, textured, rusty orange colour.

For a minimalist look, try placing them in a bare border or on a flattened piece of ground then filling the gaps with shingle or tree bark.

Layering bulbs when filling them will give a colourful show in the spring and planting on top with bee-friendly long-lasting perennials will give months of continuous colour throughout the year.

For the less adventurous, terracotta and enamelled pots are always a good choice (the frost-proof kind). Small pots can be arranged along a border or grouped together in a larger container. Even broken pots can be used imaginatively.

The large wooden structure (above), exhibited at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, is an imaginative way to display enamelled pots.

The pots could all be the same style or a mixture of different sizes and shapes. Easily adaptable to smaller gardens for use as a screen or simply stood up against a plain wall or fence. A good autumn project!

Long, thin gardens can sometimes create wasted space at the bottom end. Two generations ago, this would have been a valuable area to grow the family’s vegetables and cutting flowers.

But sadly, without the necessity to grow vegetables nowadays, “the bit at the bottom” is sometimes neglected, left to grow wild, fenced off or used to house a shed.

Not the place to be growing decorative vegetables or delicate delphiniums – or is it? In an area such as this, if you want to take on a bigger project, then railway sleepers could be the answer.

We had one such area at the bottom of our garden – solid clay, uneven, full of roots and generally an eyesore. So my husband Mike and I came up with a plan to reclaim it.

Armed with a few railway sleepers, a drill and some long bolts, Mike set about making some raised planters.

The sleepers were simply laid on the ground and bolted together through their ends, then between us we levelled them off, propping them up at one end with broken bricks and then digging the earth away at the other.

We didn’t need to worry about the poor soil or the roots just below the surface, or the ground between them being uneven. 

The roots would be covered with weed suppressant and the gaps between the planters would be filled with gravel, taking care of any dips.

Once built, we squared them up, lined them and then filled with a mixture of topsoil purchased from a garden centre; a few bags of well-rotted manure; a small amount of finely chopped clay and finally soil from an old vegetable plot belonging to a friend. Once finished, I looked upon them proudly – all that beautiful loamy soil!

There are so many growing choices for large planters such as these. They don’t have to be too high – a shallow planter painted black looks neat. Fill it with ornamental vegetables and you have a very contemporary look for a modern garden.

A two-sleeper high planter would work well as a cutting garden: every square inch could be used and the flowers deadheaded, tied up and cut without bending down too far.

A rose garden would be the choice for some with blooms at eye level and easy pruning. A nursery bed would do well, especially if you like rescuing “poorly” plants from garden centres or you like to grow from plugs.

Maybe a wild flower patch to fill the space easily and quickly – a box of seeds, sown in spring, will give colour right through to the end of summer.

This would be an ideal introduction to gardening for small children as everything grows so fast. Not forgetting the bees, the ladybirds and butterflies they’ll attract.

But for me, I chose mainly bee-friendly cutting-type flowers because I’d always found it so difficult to grow them in my borders. The first year was impressive, the second was beyond my expectations.

But the bonus for me is that I’m able to use this area as an outdoor photography studio, to capture those perfect blooms any time of day, any day of the week and in any kind of light and weather conditions.

And being indecisive, I can move the plants around as and when the mood takes me! 

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