Pot luck: What to buy – and what not to buy – at the garden centre

, , Comments Off on Pot luck: What to buy – and what not to buy – at the garden centre

So you want all the plants? Photograph: Getty

So you want all the plants? Photograph: Getty

It’s that time of year again when Ireland’s garden centres, hardware stores and supermarket chains are filled with cheery displays of annual bedding plants brimful of colour, entreating you to buy them. Hot pink surfinias, begonias the colour of lemon drops, sweet-smelling stock, popsicle-coloured pelargoniums, sherbety cosmos, fruit-gum coloured osteospermums, cascades of peacock-blue lobelias, violet verbenas . . .

If you’re new to the world of gardening, it can feel a little like walking into a sweetshop, while even seasoned gardeners find it difficult to restrain themselves from gorging on all that high-octane colour, especially when it comes with the whispered promise of long, hot summer days filled with picnics and barbequeues. But hold your horses, as just a little careful planning will make all the difference to the quality, floriferousness and longevity of those much longed-for displays of summer colour.


Let’s start with the containers, which should be as large and as splendid as you can manage. Not only will a few out-sized pots or urns add much-needed visual ballast, unity and coherence to any summer display, they’ll also make the job of keeping your plants well fed and watered a whole lot easier than if you were growing them in half a dozen smaller pots. By large, I mean at least 60cm (2 feet) in diameter and at least 30-60cm in height.

Where to get them? Wicklow-based Dunne & Dineen supply Irish garden centres with an extensive selection of garden containers including the lovely Impruneta range (among BBC gardener Monty Don’s favourites), which Marcus Dunnedescribes as the “crème de la crème” of garden pots. Handmade to old Italian designs and frost-resistant to temperatures of -12C (so they can be re-used for spring-flowering bulbs), these are beautiful in their own right.  But they’re not cheap (from €100-€300, available in many good Irish garden centres). More affordable options include Weather Wise Clay Range (frost-resistant to temperatures as low as -25C) while the company’s range of granite-clay style pots are also increasingly popular (dunneanddineen.ie). Wexford-based Kiltrea Bridge Pottery (kiltreapottery.com) and Kerry-based Louis Mulcahy Pottery (louismulcahy.com) also supply lovely ranges of garden pots designed specifically for outdoor use.

Next, let’s talk about the growing medium. This needs to be fresh (so definitely not last year’s tired, spent compost), rich in plant nutrients (important when you’re growing so many plants cheek-by-jowl), and moisture-retentive yet free-draining. You could use some good quality homemade garden compost mixed with a little good topsoil and coarse horticultural grit (available from good garden centres) , or get yourself a few bags of good quality John Innes-type compost enriched with some extra horticultural grit and a handful or two of slow-release pelleted organic fertiliser. Add some broken pieces of polystyrene board to the very bottom of the pot before filling it, to save on compost and help with drainage.