One way to stamp your personality on the garden is with containers. But large, striking containers can be very expensive. Especially if, like me, you enjoy using bold runs of big pots to show off special plants. I enjoy seeing small pots in other peoples’ gardens, but they take a lot of work (unless they have their bases removed).
Large pots look great even in tiny gardens, bringing foliage up to and above eye-level and making the garden look bigger. In tiny gardens you can plant small trees in pots so that you can walk under the canopies and still put lower plants around the trunk.
Most of my pots have had their bases removed (using a small disc cutter if terracotta) or else I get them made up with no bases, so the plant will fend for itself as soon as the roots get into the ground. In paved areas I ensure the surface under the pot is soil. This means less maintenance, healthier plants and, once established, pots and plants cannot be stolen. Nor do the pots blow over as the roots anchor them to the ground.
One of the least expensive types of planter is to make a square frame of timber from salvaged timber. I often line the inside with heavy-duty polythene to extend the life of the timber and paint the outside a dark green. I then plant box or other hedging plants around the base to hide the wood totally. Or you could clad the outside with trellis, or apply a moulded timber frame to it.
Another option would be to dress it partially or wholly with code 4 lead (from builders’ merchants), which can be cut with tin snips. If you paint the timber to match other items such as door and window frames, it helps to integrate it with the building. I used to buy galvanised plasterers’ baths from our local hardware store for around £20. These made excellent plant containers.
Sadly, they are now more pricey – it seems plasterers today prefer plastic baths. Gates Railings Direct call them tin baths and make them to order in three sizes: 36in, 48in and 54in for £55, £65 and £75. They are galvanised and can be painted with a range of finishes. One of my favourites is an acid etched finish whereby you apply an acid, wash it off and get a fabulous powdery lead colour. The acid is available fromAce Coatings Ltd. I use this finish for lots of items, furniture, obelisks, arches.
Ace Coatings also do simulated copper, verdigris, bronze, and silver finishes. My local metal worker makes up custom designs: large Versailles planters, round drums with bands of metal studs – pretty much anything. We work together to make economical sizes (guided by the size of metal sheets he can buy). Simple designs about 700mm high by 600mm wide with bands of studs work out at about £140. With a lead finish they look smart and are very durable.
If the budget is tight or the pots are for an event, keeping plants in their black plastic pots can be made to work. For weddings, we often wrap pots in hessian. Otherwise, lots of firms sell rolls of fencing made from reeds, wicker, heather and more. They come in 4m rolls in a range of heights from 1m which can be cut and fitted around the container. They start at £16 a roll
If I am using cheap terracotta pots I often paint them with a dilute white emulsion to give a softer look. Brian Drury runs the Terracotta Pot Company. Many of his pots are Cretan-looking but he will do specials at a reasonable rate. All his pots have a 50-year warranty. Big stone pots tend to be very pricey. However, my local Indian stone supplier will often copy old designs for me. This way I can source large real stone containers from around £200. They will do huge stone fire bowls and stone troughs too.
Garden designers are good at coming up with containers with wow factor: Stephen Woodhams has used sections of concrete drainage pipes and Helen Dillon is famous for her dustbins (these could have an acid etched finish if you prefer). Otherwise eBay, and auctions are a great source. I got some fabulous old chimney pots from Batemans, our local auctioneers, and being able to submit bids remotely makes this a fast way to buy if time is scarce.