Container gardening

Sowing overwintering salad crops


I've now harvested most of my greenhouse tomatoes. There are just some compact plants and the chilli's left in my pots on the floor of the greenhouse now.

Within a few weeks I want all of those refilled with winter cropping salads. I've already got some lettuces growing, and some chervil, but I needed to make sure that I had sown enough salads to last me through until April, as i've vowed to have another winter with no shop bought salad leaves.

To make sure that I can keep to that, i've filled my staging with module trays of lots of different varieties of winter leaves, and seedlings of lettuces which will be for as soon as the sun comes back next spring.

The winter leaves i've sown are

Rocket, - wild and variety Apollo

Chervil - a favourite now, great for adding to winter omelettes

Red leaved Sorrel - fairly strong so only a few leaves used in a salad, but great for using in sauces for fish

Mizuna - this tastes revolting if grown in the height of summer, but the overwintered taste is milder

Mustard - i've several different types of mustard leaves growing

Chicory -Leaf and radicchio

& Coriander, - (just writing this reminds me I should sow even more of this as I always run out)

plus Perpetual spinach and rainbow Chard


The Lettuces

Winter Density, All the Year round, Arctic King, Valdor and my every present pack of Bis di Lattughe from Franchi.

Although i'm lucky enough to have my greenhouse, most of these are hardy enough to go outside in the ground. In fact the chervil was planted in my raised beds last winter, and came through the snows perfectly and kept harvesting until May. For easiest Winter cropping though, if you havn't got a greenhouse, make sure you've got your salads in pots near the back door.

my seeds are from a variety of sources, but my favourite suppliers for winter lettuce are

Sarah Raven

(amazing selection, and some strong selections)

Wiggly Wigglers

(new to the winter salad seed market, but some different varieties that i'll be roadtesting this winter)

Seed Parade

(smaller collection, but great Rocket, Coriander, basic lettuce varieties, all at budget prices)

plus T & M, and Mr Fothergills (the only one I know that does the red veined sorrel)

Drought or Drowning

I'm sitting at my desk watching the rain hammering down outside. After no rain in March, April and May, now summer has started, we're really making up for it.


The plants in the ground are loving it. With sunshine between the showers, it is perfect growing weather for them. But if you have seedlings that you've taken outside to harden off, you now need to take them out of their drip trays, or you'll risk drowning them.

These lavenders needed to be rescued from a 2 inch well of water in their propagator tray. If the weather gets hot again though, i'll pop them back in the tray as small pots and plug trays can dry out very quickly.

What not to buy at Garden Centres this Bank holiday weekend

Normally I love using my experience from 12 years of managing garden centres, to tell you what to buy. However this bank holiday weekend, i'm going to give you some hints and tips about what to avoid, to save you money and heartache when they fail.

So first for those wanting to do container gardening, I'd suggest avoiding these dark stone pots.


Although they are very stylish, and look great with a specimen bay tree or box ball in them, unfortunately the dark colour attracts heat, and in my experience, the roots of whatever is in them fries whenever we have a sunny day.

Light coloured terracotta, seems to be much better at keeping specimen plants in healthy condition, and when you've bought an expensive specimen plant, you don't want to replace it every few months.

I also came across this planter this week


it's a self watering herb planter, with a water reservoir at the bottom and a ledge to sit the pots on with capillary matting to keep them well soaked. - Nice Idea, and i've used a similar trough for my strawberries for several years, - but in this case, the pots are just too small. After 2 weeks, the herbs my client had put in were already straining to get out, and they wouldn't have kept in good condition for long, no matter how much water they were given, because almost all herbs like to spread. (and if you want to find out more about herbs in general, check out my Beginner Herbs, and Herbs and Salads workshops)

With the surge in popularity in growing your own, the garden centres are stuffed with vegetable and herb plants. I'm all for trying to grow your own salad, and have often cheated by buying plants rather than growing from seed, particularly if i've missed the sowing time, but radishes?


A pack of radish seeds is less than £2, and they are so easy to grow, it's always the first thing I try with children at school gardening club. - plus the fact that they need to be thinned, means that this pack is going to make a bunch of radishes cost £3.49 rather than a few pence.    


Sweet peas, - What could be better for summer cut flowers and scent? But beware, Sweet peas have deep roots, and need lots of water. If you are going to put them in a planter, don't be tempted by one of the shallow wigwams, plant them in a deep chimney pot.

And lastly, Lavender


With long lasting scented flowers, it's easy to see the attraction of these plants. But this table of cheap plants have been grown in Italy. Apart from the air miles to get them here, this means that the plants have been grown on a lot faster than the English nurseries can produce them. - This makes them cheaper, but it does mean that if we have a frost over the next few weeks, these plants are likely to be a lot more stressed than anything that has been grown in this country.  We have some wonderful herb nurseries here in the South of England, so for Lavenders and Rosemary that will last through our winters, I suggest you buy British.

What have you bought that seemed like a good idea at the time?



Protecting your pots over winter

Freeze, thaw, freeze, freeze thaw.

Your outside pots are having it hard at the moment. - expanding and contracting on a daily basis is fine for some materials, but for terracotta, and some plastics the constant pressure put on them at this time of year is too much. Cracks start to appear, and then water gets into the cracks, - expands when it next freezes and your pot falls apart.

Here are my tips for keeping your pots in one piece this winter.

1) Ensure that drainage holes are as large as possible and are clear of roots and debris

2) Stand your pots on feet or bricks so that water can drain out


3) only water your pots in the morning when there is no frost, - so that water can drain through before it freezes again at night.

4) move pots to the shelter of house walls if possible, to raise the temperature slightly,

5) wrap in fleece or bubble wrap to help keep temperatures more even.

If your pots do fall apart this winter, - use the broken pieces for drainage crocks, and make sure that the pots you buy next year have larger drainage holes.

Mint fit for your summer pimms.

it's that time of year again, when Mint is starting to peek it's head up, and we are starting to think of all the ways it can be used in the kitchen, - Spring lamb with mint sauce, Minted Peas, Mint tea, and of course the queen of summer drinks a Pimms.

Mint is very invasive, and needs to be kept in a pot, unless you have an enclosed space in which to grow it. Because it grows fast, you need to make sure that you divide it now, before the roots get too tightly wound, to ensure that you have a healthy supply for this year.


This apple mint is one of the less vigorous varieties, but it has filled this 30cm pot in a year.

To keep it growing strongly, I cut it into 3, - using a sharp spade, or probably if the roots are very matted, a pruning saw, or an old bread knife.

it doesn't matter if some of the fibrous roots are severed, the mint will regrow from small pieces, so don't be afraid to chop it up.

I then repot one third into the original pot. using a mix of John innes compost or garden soil, and multipurpose compost. And water well.

The pot can then be resunk in the ground, but beware, - i'd advise leaving a lip above the soil level, because the mint wants to spread, and i've found that if you put it level with the ground, you will find escaping trails during the summer.

I'm growing about 6 varieties of mint this year, - my favourite for pimms is a large leaved variety that I can't find in the garden centres, but was growing all over my vegetable patch when I moved to this garden. - it's now firmly potted.

No maintenance gardens?

On my first visit to clients, i'm often told that the reason their garden doesn't look great is because they have "no time to do anything", we then talk through what they want, and then I have to explain that what they want will take time to achieve and maintain, and they either have to find the time, or pay me or others to do it.  However today I might have spotted something that might fall into the No maintenance garden category.

While packing up the truck today, I glanced over to my clients neighbour, who had this hanging up outside her window


Continue reading "No maintenance gardens?" »

Layered pot, for winter through to spring colour

I'm hosting a dinner party this evening for 18 people.  Most people would be worried about whether they got the food or drink right and what they would wear, I however, looked at the empty pot outside my front door with horror this morning and realised that I really needed to get them looking good for when my guests arrived.

I'm lucky enough to have a couple of Whichford pots which are excellent quality terracotta pots that have a 10 year guarantee on them. They are extremely stylish and have excellent large drainage holes at the bottom and each season I fill them with perennials, climbers and annuals to give me the longest break possible in between planting up. This afternoon I decided to do a layered planting, which would give me  bursts of flower until next summer.

I started by mixing multipurpose compost with John Innes no 2 compost. This gives a secure base for the roots, but with enough drainage for the bulbs and plants that I was putting in for the winter season.  I put crocks in the bottom to make sure the drainage was good, and put the pot on pot feet.


The first layer of bulbs are tulips and they need to be planted deeply so I only put a couple of centimetres of compost in the bottom of the pot  before planting them. You can't really overdo it with tulips, the more the merrier and the beauty of using this  layering system is that you don't have to worry whether all the plant  colours complement each other because they will be flowering at different times of year so I've planted red and yellow striped tulips at the bottom.

On top of  this is another layer of bulbs.  Daffodils for early spring colour before the tulips come  and lilies for when they finished.  I'm not quite sure which variety they are as  they are ones that were left hanging around in my truck.  probably yellow tete a tete or white Thalia.  the daffodil bulbs will be strong enough to push their way up through the root balls of the cyclamen which I'm planting over them but the lilies are more delicate so I'm  placing the cyclamen in around where the shoots of the lilies are.


The last but most important step is to ensure that compost is pushed in around the rootballs of the  cyclamen.  You have to use your fingers and push the soil right down around the plants (you always need more than you think), and make sure that there is fresh compost between the pot wall and the root ball of the plants. This ensures that air pockets don't form which can allow the roots to dry out or freeze.


The cyclamen will last for a couple of months although they are not completely hardy. They don't mind cold temperatures  as long as they don't get wet. However, as this is going to be on my doorstep hopefully it will be sheltered from the worst of the rain. I may water it if we get drying winds, but if I do, it won't be over the top of the cyclamen, which could cause botrytis (mould) on the corms, but will be around the base.

This is a new combination, last year I tried Muscari, Daffodils, Tulips and Nerines, and i've got Alliums and Tulips in my other pot. - What combinations have you tried to get the longest flowering from one planting?

Do I need to water my pots & baskets in winter?


Now the nights are drawing in, and you never seem to be home in daylight, it's easy to forget about watering pots and hanging baskets in the garden.

It's true that containers won't need as much attention as during the summer, but winter winds can be very drying, and so particularly evergreens will need some additional water maybe once a month through the winter.  The most important thing to remember is to ensure that the roots don't sit in water, because the moisture will turn to ice, and if the compost freezes solid for long it kills the plants (from drought, ironically!).
Ensuring that any saucers used in the summer are removed, and that pots are drained by placing on bricks or pot feet, so that any excess moisture can run out.


these pot feet are available from crocus

Water before midday, so that plants have time to soak up the water before the daylight fades and the temperature decreases, and if possible avoid getting water on the plant leaves, just water the compost.

If watering in a greenhouse or poly tunnel, ensure that all doors and windows are open to ensure thorough ventilation, but close up before dark.

In the middle of the winter, it may be worth "lagging" your most precious pots with bubble wrap, or moving them to the lee of a house wall where the temperature will be several degrees higher than in the rest of the garden.