Making a colourful entrance

Choose carefully and, even with a bit of neglect, you can have cheerful pots, says Dr Jonathan Holliday.

A colourful mixed pot of flowers can be such a welcoming sight at the front door. And as so many have little time to start a pot from seed, it is good to know that it actually makes more sense to buy plants because successful pots and hanging baskets require small numbers of many different plants that are all healthy, vigorous and prominent.

When making up a pot, choose a container that is as big as the space will comfortably accept. The bigger the container, the more compost used, so the less likely it will be to dry out. A clay pot looks nicer, but if you are to hide the side with training plants you may as well go plastic.

Choose a soil-based compost and add some water-retaining granules. Peat-based compost will dry out too quickly and is then difficult to re-wet.

Choice of plant is important. Think about the growing conditions and the look you want.

The following list of plants like well-drained soil and will tolerate a bit of neglect: gazania has pretty daisy-shaped flowers and lancelet dark green leaves. Cape marigold or African daisy give bright daisy-like flowers.

Pelargonium (frequently referred to as geraniums but not to be confused with the genus geranium which has small flowers and is good for ground cover) gives height and colour to your pot while convolvulus cneorum, with silvery-haired leaves, will add a grey background to it. Pendula varieties of petunia and trailing lobelia (Blue Cascade, Red Cascade) will tumble over the sides and obscure the pot nicely.

To achieve the right layout arrange the plants within the container while still in their original pots before actually planting them. After planting the container, water well and then cover any visible surface with a water-retaining mulch such as cocoa shells. They look good and they also help to retain moisture.

Having promoted the use of plastic containers for their practicality I have to confess that my heart is not really in it and I prefer the extra watering and the sore back of a beautiful clay pot. One of my favourite makes is Jim Keeling and his wife Dominique's Whichford Pottery.

As well as their tours in Yorkshire and Suffolk, you can visit their base in Warwickshire, where they hold specific events, such as the Dry Garden Weekend on 14 and 15 July, with guest speakers, tips on arid planting, plants for sale and special offers on pots.

My imagination was really caught recently by the Shadeplus range of modern shade solutions, a variation on the theme of parasol. They are semi-permanent removable structures that provide protection from rain, sun and wind - and they look fantastic.

They talk of 'sail and support frame' and certainly the taught curving fabric canopy looks very elegant. It might be that missing element that can turn your decking into something really special.

- Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor

Potting points

  • Choose as big a pot as the space will allow.
  • Add cocoa shell mulch to retain water.
  • Colourful plants that will stand a bit of neglect: gazania; Cape marigold; pelargonium; Convolvulus cneorum; petunia pendula; trailing lobelia.

Ceramic containers

  • www.whichfordpottery.com.

 

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