I don’t own the Priory. I don’t live there, drifting about in the evenings with a dry martini in one hand and a watering can in the other. And with that pleasant existence denied to me, I’ve been cautious about having too many pots and containers dotted about the place.
As I’m not always there to water, parched Priory potted plants sometimes have to fend for themselves for a few days.
But over the years, I have slowly increased the number and variety of planters. A few simple precautions ensure that pot grown plants can easily survive even very hot, dry conditions. For example, these pelargoniums are in iron pots which don’t leach moisture. With a top-dressing of gravel they can (and do) survive two or three days without water.
I have planted up a datura,
several more pelargoniums and fuchsias to group by the front door. They are in full sun for half the day but lining the terracotta pots with plastic and once again mulching with gravel keeps them moist.
Certain plants flourish if neglected. This old planter has suffered frost damage but looks OK when planted
with drought resistant sempervivums. I might occasionally splash them. But only very occasionally. (The watering cans were fished out of a skip. They are too leaky to hold water but I like them nonetheless).
Semps don’t even need a pot – I also stick them into the gaps in sunny walls where, once established, I never water them.
I have a lot of cacti and succulents in the greenhouses, some of which I bring out in summer. You may remember that in this hot, south-facing corner they hide an ugly manhole cover.
Agapanthus too can survive a few days untended. But even so you must water them regularly throughout the summer if you want plenty of flower stems the following season. (And obviously you do. Why wouldn’t you? I was quite ridiculously pleased to have 14 flowers on this one).
Of course, for non-succulent plants in pots to really flourish (without almost constant watering) you need to site them in shade. Here (where there is no sun at all) an old terracotta pot is home to a hosta whose
leaves soon hide the broken pot rim. (I’m loathe to throw out only slightly damaged, nice old pots). It has no drainage holes and needs only infrequent watering. On the right I’ve planted a toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta) in a zinc bucket and behind that is an upright ivy (Hedera helix ‘Erecta’).
I also grow a number of ferns in shade; some planted in naturally hollowed out sections of tree trunk.
I discovered these as I was chopping firewood and thought that they would make perfect planters.
And they do. The wood holds moisture well and though you might think that they would soon crumble away, these are already four or five years old. Cheap too!
To the north of the house is a shady area that gets only brief sun in high summer. Planted in handsome (and unbelievably heavy, almost immovable) cast-iron planters are box plants which I am training into spheres. One day they will be perfect, precise balls. Yes, they will. Between them are two large acers
with an under-planting of white saxifrage.
They have sat in these pots for three or four years and are now very pot bound. I shall knock them out soon (won’t that be easy?), plant them in the garden
Rhodohypoxis will bloom for several weeks in spring and I place alpine-pans and containers about to add splashes of colour.
But I need to put them in semi-shade too as they hate prolonged drying out.
Also in partial shade is an old cooking pot filled with lilies. Here, in a semi-enclosed space beneath a wisteria arbour, the shade helps prevent baking
and accentuates a heady scent.
I keep some pots by the greenhouse until required. Then I wheel them into position,
leave them to perform and then wheel them out again.
Some plants do less well than others. These orange lilies were a scraggly disappointment and I quickly shooed them back off to the greenhouse-holding-area. The pineapple lily (Eucomis bicolor) did rather better (and mostly hides a wide, shallow, ornate pan which I dislike).
Talking of failure, you might want to ensure that your mix of container grown tulips are the same height. Though it barely mattered in this planting fiasco – most of these dwarf reds failed to bloom anyway. Bah.
Finally, out on the car park and in full sun all day long are two concrete planters. Over the years I’ve tried various plants in them including hebes and, above, a yellow helianthemum.
But it is this combination of helichrysum and trailing pink pelargoniums that I finally settled on. A bit blousy perhaps; even a bit bridal. But I rather like it. And thankfully so does the Priory owner. And that, actually, is all that matters.
I don’t own the Priory.
I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all …