Potting with Grace Alexander

06 May 2020

Potting with Grace Alexander

In whom might we trust more to guide on how to best plant within our selection of terracotta pots than Somerset seedmonger, Grace Alexander? To her we turned so that she may gather together an assembly of our rustic planting pots – Suffolk, Barni and Nuno – and offer forth her wisdom on how to slowly grow in their terracotta depths. In this happily exclusive read, she shares her pearls and the photography she captured one April morn in her own potting shed.

To open, we would be most grateful of any tips so that one should know which pot to use with which plant.

GA: Matching pot to plant is mostly about size and how much root room a plant needs to thrive, but I love considering the aesthetic too. The Barni Honey Pot looks great with a big floppy butterhead lettuce, whose leaves echo the round softness of the pot shape. Or, the tall Nuno pot responds well to the linear spires of an upright thyme or marjoram, emphasising its straight sides.

Are drainage holes a necessity in every garden pot?

GA: If you want to put a plant directly in a pot then yes, and remember to use a few crocks to stop the compost coming out through the bottom. Some pots come without, and mostly you can drill one in should you want. I choose to leave some pots without a hole in so that they could go on my kitchen windowsill without me having to put a plate under. These are mostly the bigger pots as you can put an inner pot (typically plastic) inside. As another handy tip, I always water everything from underneath; I make a dreadful mess otherwise. Just fill a bowl with water, pull out the inner pot and let it stand in the bowl for a short while. Let the excess drain off before you put it back in the terracotta otherwise it will wick through and leave a mark on whatever surface you put it on.

Which plants did you decide to pot in our terracotta pieces and what made you choose them?

GA: I have been hugely inspired by the recent Great Dixter book about growing herbs and vegetables in pots, so I was delighted to have extra options for my kitchen garden. Little pots lend themselves to fast growing, fast cropping food, so salad leaves, pea tops, red kale microl eaves and basils were my choice. Because I love them and I want them on the table at eye level, wild strawberries got a few pots too. Pots can make a real feature of a plant and although I adore flowers, it is great to put something a bit different centre stage right now. This being said, I simply couldn’t resist planting roses in the tall Nuno pot – I used an old jam jar as a makeshift inner. It’s my kitchen table’s seasonal centrepiece. 

What might your advice be on knowing how often to water plants and how much sunshine to sit them in each day?

GA: Most flowers like sunshine, but few things like to be baked hard. If you have a south-facing wall or an area that is in strong, direct sun for most of the day, you need a plant from a hot climate – Mediterranean herbs for example. They will still need watering, but they will like gritty soil and ‘sharp’ drainage – that is water goes through and does not sit in the compost in a soggy sort of way, and will be pretty forgiving of neglect.

Pots do dry out a lot faster than anything in the ground as the moisture wicks out of the sides, so I would suggest watering every day if the weather is warm and the compost feels dry to the touch. For mature plants, add a cap of seaweed solution to the watering can to make sure the plant has food as well as drink. 

Is it possible to grow from seed to plant in a terracotta pot, or not?

GA: You absolutely can, but you will need to thin. This means that you might put ten seeds on the surface of the compost, and six might germinate, and you only really want two. (There’s no point putting only two seeds in at the outset, germination is rarely that reliable.) If you leave too many plants in, none of them will thrive and they will simply compete for the nutrients in the pot and there will not be enough to go round. You need to pick out the weakest seedlings, and leave the strongest ones to grow on. I cannot do this because I find it really difficult to kill a growing plant, so I sow in seed trays and then prick out and pot on however many germinate.

And to close, we would love to know, what do you love most about potting in terracotta?

GA: I love the texture of it and the visual softness. I love the curves and shapes and the irregularity of it. I don’t have any plastic in my garden unless I can reuse or recycle it, and terracotta just fits into my space perfectly.

See our full selection of terracotta pots here.

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