27 October 2014
When I started at Allt-y-bela back in June Arne was particularly excited because it meant that he could do more with pots. The previous gardeners were fantastic but only worked two days a week making looking after pots around Arne's busy schedule really challenging. When you garden in containers you have to be extra vigilant to the plants' needs, containers can get very hot, or indeed very cold; they can lose moisture very quickly on hot days and use up the nutrients in the compost alarmingly quickly.
The best plant displays in pots tend to be tightly packed and really need daily checking. Over the summer months I watered all of the pots every day, sometimes twice a day if required. I also fed the pots a liquid seaweed manure at least every month and in hindsight I could have done with feeding them a little more. The results however have been worth every minute spent. Choosing plants that suit pots can be tricky, especially if you want to get away from some of the more traditional choices, but it's worth experimenting with new mixes. Our pot displays this year have been dominated by salvias.
The three large pots on the south side of the house are purple themed with spikes of tall and almost black Salvia 'Amistad' softened by Salvia leucantha, a strong structural half hardy salvia with purple velvet-like flowers set against blue grey foliage. We chose S. leucantha 'Santa Barbara', a particularly deep violet form and slightly more compact than other cultivars with a good strong frame. Against this we used purple basil, Ocimum 'African Blue', which not only fills the pots with scent and great leaf colour but also adds flowering spikes in the same purple blue as its leaves.
Threaded through these main plants are others that add to the complexity of the composition and a frothly quality that the former, more structural plants slightly lack. Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) weaves its way tentatively through the throng and appears amongst the rabble pointing a perfect purple-brown daisy-like flower on a long spindly green stem. This beautiful cosmos adds a sweet scent to the powerful pungency of the basil for those who take the time to savour it.
Lastly two other salvias are present in the mix and it is these that create the 'froth', spilling over the sides and rambling through their neighbours. They both have small anonymous leaves and slightly woody stems but that's not to say these salvias don't make themselves known. Salvia 'Ultra Violet' and S. 'Nachtvlinder' are both purple but are very different. S. 'Ultra Violet' is a vibrant violet pink while S. 'Nachtvlinder' is graduated from purple to maroon across each flower.
These pots have been flowering non stop from the days I started back in June (and I'm sure they were even before that!) and even now at the end of October they show absolutely no signs of slowing down. It is going to take a pretty hard frost to stop these extraordinary pots from continuing to brighten the areas immediately around the house, and I think we will all be very sad indeed when they do!
Words: Steve Lannin, Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer