7 pots near the pond bench: 2 hellebores, 1 variegated hosta, 1 variegated grass, 1 blue poppy, 1 empty, 1 fragment

Going to Pots

A giant blue glazed pot, a big green and blue one from Vietnam, two ochre pots with brown Chinese dragons, curvaceous plastic urns from the Canadian Tire store, dozens of repurposed black nursery pots, terracotta pots in a vast range of sizes and states. Collectively, they are homes to mature hostas, standardized privets, auricula primulas, hearty tomato plants, perennials in waiting, small seedlings, and newly rooted cuttings.

Hosta in a big pot from Vietnam

Earlier this year, I did an inventory of the plants in my garden that are growing in pots. The total came to sixty-two. That was before I added nine tomato plants and a dozen or so young perennials grown from seed or cuttings. The current total must be around seventy pots.

Heuchera coral bells "Timeless Orange" and pot "Toga Bell Yama, olive black"
Glazed ceramic pots from Asia and a basic black nursery pot (on the right).

The pots vary in size from four inches in diameter to two feet. Most of the smaller ones are plastic — reused nursery pots. The biggest ones are wooden half-barrels and a couple of Chinese “egg jars.” At one time, these big clay jars were made to ship preserved eggs from China. Chinatown grocery stores sold the empties quite cheaply to gardeners and others as impressive large containers. I don’t think they’re as readily available now, so I’m grateful to have two of them. One is positioned near the pond and occupied by a Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum). The other anchors a group of clay and ceramic pots near the front steps. It’s rather wasted on a plant of Dusty Miller. I really should think of a more worthy use for it.

Big Chinese pot ("egg jar") and small white ceramic pot
Big Chinese “egg jar” with dragon and white ceramic pot.

In addition, I have a few other glazed ceramic pots, ranging from large to medium size. Then there is a gang of the common unglazed terracotta pots from Italy. I like them, but they can’t be relied upon to withstand freezing temperatures. Eventually they crack and break, which is why I also have a shocking number of half-pots, quarter-pots, and a bucketful of potsherds. Plastic is practical but can look cheap and ugly, especially the nursery pots. They eventually get brittle too. I have a couple of good quality plastic pots that look like terracotta from a distance.

The two pots in front are plastic; the one to the rear on the left is unglazed terracotta; Chinese “egg jar” in the centre background.

Seven Truths About Pots

  • Pots provide plants with ideal little environments — the perfect soil and no competition from other plants, unless the gardener doesn’t bother to remove volunteers and weeds. I know this from experience, having lost a couple of potted lilies to hearty invaders.
  • Potted plants can be moved indoors or under some sort of cover for the winter months. This makes it possible to grow things like lemon trees in places with cold winters — as long as the gardener has the strength to move the pots, that is. I have a jade plant and a variegated weeping fig that summer outside. A special set of straps makes it easy less difficult to lug them in and out. The operation does take two, however.
  • Pots can be moved around to ensure optimal light exposure. They can be positioned strategically to enhance a planting when in bloom and whisked offstage when finished. But see above re lugging.
  • Pots need to be watered, sometimes as frequently as once or even twice a day, depending on weather and the size of the occupant. At its peak, a tomato plant’s roots totally fill the pot and pump through a lot of water, maintaining itself and plumping up the tomatoes. Forgetting to water, even for a few days, means rapid decline and death. Unlike plants in the ground, potted plants can’t put forth roots to seek moisture. They’re like caged animals that need to be fed.
  • Some woody plants (shrubs and trees) confined to pots stage breakouts by growing roots through the drain holes in the bottom of the pot. If the soil below suits them, they take off and grow. Forget being a potted subject. I’m a tree! The gardener must keep an eye on these sneaky individuals, and do some judicious root pruning now and then.
  • All gardeners acquire a shoal of plants in small pots — gifts from fellow gardeners, impulse buys, divisions, and “spares” of rooted cuttings or seed sowings. Very few plants will prosper indefinitely in a four-inch plastic pot. The gardener should have a plan for every one of these temporary pot denizens — a date by when it should be planted permanently, given away, or otherwise disposed of.
  • Permanently potted plants need annual maintenance. Fertilizer of some sort, up-potting or re-potting, trimming, etc. Some plants withstand being root-bound better than others. Delphiniums, for instance, need to be turned out of their pots annually, and then returned to them with fresh soil. Otherwise, the soil becomes compacted and the roots rot over the winter. Goodbye, delphiniums. But I can’t grow them well in the ground because they can’t deal with the maple tree roots. This year’s star specimen is five feet tall and has bloomed well. With the black pot hidden by other plants, it looks like part of the bed it’s in. (Just in case, I rooted a couple of its new shoots this spring. They are now potted up. Add two more to the inventory.)

Despite the above, pots (or, more broadly, containers) are an important feature of most gardens. They add life to hardscapes like decks and patios, and they make it possible to grow things not suited to one’s native ground. All gardeners want to grow stuff they can’t.

Potted delphinium in perennial bed
Five-foot-tall potted delphinium.
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43 comments

  1. You and my mother would get on so well, Audrey. She also has a lot of pot plants. I am sure she also has about 60. She uses all sorts of things to grow plants like an old wheelbarrow and an old braai [not sure what you call the drums you make out door fires in to cook meat over a flame.]

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Pots and other containers are such an easy way to squeeze in another plant. I like your mother’s wheelbarrow idea; my old wheelbarrow is still holding together and used for its original purpose. I’ve seen pictures of old boots with plants in them. Maybe I’ll try that some day. Thanks for this comment, Robbie!

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      1. No, the yards are usually all tiles. Lawns would take too much water which is quite precious. I am still learning the best plants to put in my colourful pots. To my delight, I have a palm tree in my yard!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I too love pots and tubs and the old wheelbarrow. But I have already emptied all our water butts – after deluges of rain we have had a dry period. But it is fun carting and swapping them round.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the thing about pots — you can move them. I’ve finally discovered I can position potted hostas and delphiniums in spots where they wouldn’t do well planted in the ground. The foliage of hellebores and other tough plants hides the pots and the extra height of the pot makes those plants into real features. Thanks for your comment, Janet!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed reading about and seeing photos of your container gardening, Audrey! I’m wondering if you fill your pots all the way with soil. I read, once, that gardeners can use recycled things like bunched-up bubble wrap or emptied soda cans to fill some space at the bottom of pots and then put the soil over the top, which cuts down on the amount needed to fill large containers. I imagine this would be mostly for the annual varieties, but I’m not sure about that. I tried this for several summers, when living in Michigan. It seemed to work fine, and I didn’t see any negative effects.

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    1. I hadn’t heard of that practice, Becky. I wonder if it would be helpful in situations where weight of containers is a concern, like balcony and rooftop gardens. It might work better for annuals and shallow-rooted plants, rather than shrubs or large perennials.

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  4. I enjoyed growing flowers when I was capable of doing it, but I was never anything like the expert gardener you are, Audrey. And I have to say, I could never get anything to grow in a pot, not even one of those ready-planted hanging containers you get at nurseries. Everything died promptly, even if I watered it a lot.

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    1. I’ve never bought a ready-planted container, but I was surprised when a couple of lobelias expired soon after I planted them in a half-barrel. The soil was good, they had enough water, but they decided to exit the scene. And thanks for the splendid review of Islands Vol. 2 on Goodreads!

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  5. Yikes! Audrey, that’s a lot of pots and easily beats my 25 or so. Yours are beautiful and the garden looks delightful – a calming retreat. Pots have so many uses and they definitely add to the garden through the seasons.

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    1. Thanks, Annika! Yes, the garden does have a calm and peaceful look to it, but there are times when I rush frantically from one group of pots to another, watering can in hand. But with some plants, it’s grow them in a pot or not at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love your Chinese dragon pots! All of our plants are in pots, as well. Living in a RV park, leaves no other choice. The advantage is the ability to change the look of your yard at will 🙂
    The disadvantage is watering. Half of our yard is in bright sun- hard on water, lol.
    Your yard is gorgeous!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I sometimes wish I had more full sun areas, but since I already complain a lot about watering, maybe I should be grateful for shade. Although this July is strangely cool and damp so far. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jacquie!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a very interesting post. I am moving more towards growing plants in pots these days. I have moved to a place where growing in the ground doesn’t always work. I have a problem with possums – a very opportunistic Australian marsupial that raids the garden at night. I am thinking I need to grow stuff in pots that are off the ground and aren’t easily climbed into,
    I really like your selection of pots. The Chinese ones are beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A new kind of plant-eating animal for me. Here we have deer — the current group likes fennel and pelargoniums, strangely enough. Also raccoons, They don’t eat plants but do a lot of digging and sometimes damage plants that happen to be there. I hope you can find a solution to the possum problem. Thanks for reading and commenting, Suzanne!

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  8. About breakouts: I grew some morning glories in pots once. It was a compromise: They’re beautiful, so we’d get to enjoy them, but they’re invasive so we’d confine them. The roots show through the holes in the bottom, drilled down the cracks in the brick patio, came up in a small bed, seized a plastic chair and used it for a trellis. It was an impressive display, even if it wasn’t what I had in mind.

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    1. That’s the trouble with morning glories — they are quite beautiful, with those lush, twining stems and white flowers. Pure and decadent at the same time. But their real motive is to conquer the world. They’re also immortal.

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  9. Oh, Audrey – what a delightful treat…So many lovely plants and pots. You can smile at every turn of your garden! I now live in Spain, and while the hardy common flowering plants grow while you watch,,,varied Lantana and technicoloured Bougainvillea, it can be too hot for more delicate plants. The white waxy Stephanotis is an exception and the aroma is gorgeous at dusk. Isn’t Mother Nature bountiful! xx

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  10. My wife is a great believer in pots, too, Audrey. We have a large garden (compared to anything we’ve had before) and she often extracts plants or shrubs from one of the beds to re-home them on, or near, the patio…

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    1. In a pot, the plant can live in solitary splendour with ideal conditions, rather than fighting it out in the open ground with all sorts of other plants. Sometimes it works quite well. And potted plants look good on patios. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Steve.

      Liked by 1 person

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