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Potted Style

Terracotta, plastic or metal - go potty about ornamental pots this summer. crack

Manufacturers have made great strides over the years to make stylish pots which will withstand the worst of the weather and still look good. In recent years, garden centres have been flooded with metal containers in both shiny and matt or weathered finishes, along with synthetic pots made from moulded resins which look like granite, stone or terracotta and won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

There are pros and cons for all pots. If you go for unglazed clay, the pots will be porous and therefore plant-friendly, carrying air to the plant roots. They are also heavy, thus keeping large or top heavy plantings stable.

However, unglazed terracotta absorbs water from the planting compost, so the plants will need watering more frequently and, as many of you will have discovered after the snow, will crack and break in frosty weather unless they are protected in harsh the winter weather.

Metal pots - zinc and titanium are now popular - look great in contemporary settings, with their sharp lines and eye-catching sparkle, but they don’t do well in sunny situations as the containers quickly heat up and can damage the roots of the plants. You can, however, get around the problem by placing the plant in a different container and then putting that inside the metal one, adding damp compost or shredded bark into the metal pot, which will then act as insulation against the heat.

Natural wood planters are widely available in soft and hardwoods and blend well with plant material. They are not affected by frost and are light and relatively inexpensive. Look at sets of barrel shaped planters, such as a bargain set of four for £29.99 from www.greenfingers.com (0845 345 0728).

The big disadvantage of wood is that if it is left untreated, the life of the container will be short. They will last much longer if you line them with thick plastic sheeting to prevent deterioration.

Many gardeners would baulk at the thought of buying a plastic pot, but today there are many good ones out there which really don’t look plastic and you can paint the pot with a metallic finish to give it a contemporary feel. Plastic is light, cheap and you can drill as many drainage holes as you like. Good options include Sankey’s range of recycled plastic pots which look like granite (for information phone 0115 927 7335 or visit www.rsankey.com).

The disadvantage is that over time many plastic containers go brittle, especially if placed in direct sun, and the roots have little protection from winter cold.

A more convincing fake is resin, which is also light but can look like stone, granite or terracotta and is resistant to frost and heat. It’s probably the best option if you want a good look but don’t want the hassle of having to lift heavy stone or terracotta containers.

For those with contemporary tastes, fake metal is also available. Check out faux aluminium Geo pots at www.crocus.co.uk in a variety of shapes, which are made of fibreglass and resin, are lightweight, low-maintenance and frost-proof. Ask for drill holes to be made when you place your order.

Best of the bunch - peony
Well-known for their huge, blousy blooms in late spring and early summer, these grand perennials will add a majestic touch to any border. They take a couple of seasons to settle down and produce flowers, hate being moved and prefer an open, sunny spot, sheltered from cold winds - but the reward is a vast array of colours from cream to deep red. The common peony, P. officinalis, is a cottage garden favourite, growing 60cm (2ft) high and producing 12cm (5in) blooms in a variety of shades, flowering in May and June. The most popular are P. lactiflora, which flower in June. Good scented varieties include ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ or ‘Sarah Bernhardt’. For big, bold flowers, go for P. lactiflora such as ‘Bowl of Beauty’, which produces pink flowers with a cream centre, or ‘Baroness Schroder’, a Chinese peony producing a large clump of dark green leaves and huge, globe-shaped flowers which turn from blush pink to white as they mature. Others to watch out for include P. ‘Peter Brand’, which produces deep red blooms and whose foliage turns red in autumn. They contrast well with ornamental grasses and bearded irises. Peonies need to be grown in well-drained, fertile soil in full sun or partial shade. They need mulching in spring, staking and feeding with a general fertiliser in late summer. The stems should be cut down to ground level in autumn.

Three ways to deal with permanent container plants

1. Unless otherwise stated use half and half John Innes No. 2 potting compost and a soilless potting mix for containers.

2. Start off small specimens in small pots because if you put a small plant in a big pot its roots will be surrounded by too much wet compost and may rot.

3. Apply the appropriate slow-release fertiliser in spring to ensure healthy growth.