|Spring containers in the porch at Great Dixter. An inspiration at any time of year|
There’s always something to learn with gardening. By which I mean, about gardening, not through gardening, although Gertrude Jekyll was undoubtedly bang on the money when she opined that “a garden is a grand teacher”. Rather, I'm thinking about my own continual process of horticultural education, and the efforts I need to go to in order to keep my gardening brain fed. I love my work as a self employed gardener with my own list of clients, but if there's one element missing, it’s the regular input of peers, and the mentoring presence of people with more wisdom and knowledge to impart than I can imagine myself ever being in possession of. That’s one way in which social media has been a godsend – a veritable army of exactly these folk, ready to cheer and to chide as necessary, as enthusiastic and abundantly generous with their superior knowledge as I could wish. And, by some miracle of the modern age, they all live in my phone.
This is wonderful when I need to ask a question, or feel the need of some encouragement or affirmation. But in order to build my knowledge I need to supplement this with some more structured learning, and so I resolved this year to start taking courses on certain subjects, one of these being container gardening.
Containers can be tricky things. Rarely will you get away with bunging a plant in a pot and forgetting about it, unless you have a penchant for brown, dead looking things. Containers are an ideal solution for people who don’t have a traditional “garden” where you can’t plant in the ground – perhaps only a windowsill or balcony. They’re also great in that you can fine tune the growing medium and the conditions to the particular requirement of the plant you wish to grow, but you’ll need to remember that that plant is more dependent upon your attention when it comes to feeding and watering than it might be had you planted it in the ground. There’s less of a buffer against the temperature fluctuations, too, so you’ll need to be fairly constantly watchful for what the weather might throw at you – under the wrong conditions, container-grown plants can go over with alarming speed.
And then, there’s choosing the type of container, planting for succession, and arranging groups of containers in a pleasing display. Anyone who’s dashed home from a visit to Great Dixter, full of enthusiasm and dying to have a go, will be aware that it’s not as easy as it looks.
I have several books on container gardening by a variety of authors, but if there’s one person in the country who really knows the subject, it has to be Harriet Rycroft, until recently head gardener at Whichford Pottery. I met Harriet a couple of years ago on a visit to Whichford in the Cotswold countryside – a fascinating place for the story of the pots and the wonderful variety of forms and texture, but rendered even more so by the flamboyantly joyful planting combinations bursting out wherever I looked. Harriet is one of the generous souls I alluded to above, and we often chat on Twitter, but there's a limit to how much you can quiz a person, even on their specialist subject. Really, I needed to steal Harriet’s gardening brain to gain her knowledge, but how to achieve this without imposing some measure of inconvenience upon the good lady was beyond me.
And then she announced the Container Planting course at My Garden School – a little jig may have escaped me in my joy. This is a four week course, with video tutorials, detailed course notes and regular assignments, and one-to-one contact with the tutor through a virtual classroom – I can ask as many questions as I like without feeling bad about it. I’ll be posting again here as I go through the course – which begins for me today – to let you know more about the course as I work my way through it. I hope you’ll join me again to find out how I’m getting on.
In the meantime, do have a look at the My Garden School website, which is has just launched a Back to School campaign for 15% off all £145.00 4 week online courses in September and October. (Course start dates: Wednesday, 2 September / Wednesday, 7 October 2015). Click here and remember to use the code MGSBTS at the checkout for the discount.