Kitchen Sink Drama

Reading time 7 minutes

Not a square inch of my tiny garden goes uncultivated. Over the years I’ve found plants that enjoy, or at least tolerate, every environment I have to offer, from bright sunshine to deep shade, and from exposed to sheltered. It’s involved a process of trial and error that will be familiar to every gardener. There have been triumphs and there have been disasters, but the benefit of growing almost solely in containers, as I do, is that plants can be moved elsewhere should a problem be identified early enough.

Begonia ‘Little Brother Montgomery’, Solenostemon ‘Chameleon’, Fuchsia ‘Firecracker’, Aeonium ‘Ice Warrior’, Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’.

The granite worksurface either side of my outdoor kitchen sink was once completely clear of plants, save for a couple of herb pots hanging from a stainless steel rail. Then for some reason or another, probably lack of space or shelter elsewhere, a collection of small potted plants started to gather on one side, where I could keep a close eye on them. (I find an elevated position ideal for small plants, those that deserve closer inspection or any that need protections from slugs, snails, and unsightly soil splashes.)

Each spring and summer the number of pots increased (I find pots breed faster than rabbits – is it only me?) until this year almost the entire space is filled with succulents, coleus, begonias and a few other ‘blow ins’. What began as a temporary display is now a permanent fixture, with two main phases; summer / autumn and winter / spring. During the colder months my focus is on bulbous plants such as crocus, cyclamen, iris and dwarf narcissi, with a few primulas, orchids and shrubby plants thrown in to vary the texture.

When summer comes, the sink area is often the last to get my attention. This year it looked very pedestrian until early July, by which time all my larger pots had been heaved into position and I had time to focus on the finer details of the garden. I’d thrown together an eclectic transitional display with pink geraniums, but they detested the shade (this area only enjoys direct sunlight from 3pm – 5.30pm) and were hastily re-homed in window boxes outside the library where they’ve flourished.

Plan B involved a coleus theatre, but I didn’t have enough coleus to do the project justice. I also worried about having too much of the same thing. So I played around with aeoniums, which don’t require as much sun as one might imagine, and a handful of succulents that had been languishing in the greenhouse or on parched windowsills indoors. Over the weeks I added Begonia ‘Little Brother Montgomery’, Fuchsia ‘Firecracker’, Pseudopanax crassifolius ‘Trifoliata’, Pelargonium ‘Aristo Red Beauty’, Echeveria agavoides ‘Ebony’ and Cyperus papyrus, which have contributed to a multi-textured, carnival-like atmosphere in one of the quietest and least promising corners of the garden.

I was not sure these combinations would work ……

At first all I could see from the front door was a collection of terracotta pots, but within a month the plants had started to meld together and put on a decent display. I was unsure about having so many reds and pinks alongside gold, bronze and silver, fearing the grouping might appear a trifle gaudy, but the palette has grown on me. It’s also different to last year and 100% temporary, so I’ve no need to repeat it again if I should look back on my experiment with horror.

These plants should continue to look good until the end of October when cold nights and strong winds will doubtless trigger their decline. The succulents will all come indoors and cuttings will be taken from the coleus whilst they are still healthy and vigorous.

…… but with a little time and careful adjustment they have started to come together.

Whilst I love flowers, my first consideration when choosing a new plant is almost always foliage. Few plants flower for more than a couple of months each year, but most are in leaf for at least seven or eight. If a plant looks good in leaf, it is worth three or four that do not.

There are very few flowers in my kitchen sink arrangement and arguably they would not be missed if they were removed. It goes to show that one does not need flowers to create drama in the garden, not only on a small scale, but also in the wider landscape. As we approach the most important season yet for foliage colour, and one of the best times of year for planting, this is a lesson worth bearing in mind. TFG.

Solenostemon ‘Redhead’, S. ‘Mrs Pilkington’ and Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’.

Categories: Begonias, Coleus, Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, Our Coastal Garden, Plants, Small Gardens, succulents

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

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15 comments On "Kitchen Sink Drama"

  1. Your sink top garden is always a sight to behold. I especially like it because the plants here are usually of a size that anyone (me) could accommodate. I can remember years ago when I had Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’. I bought it before it had stretched out like yours. When it did stretch out I thought I had failed and gave up the plant. Every time I see it on your blog I wish I had it back. He looks so handsome with those coleuses.

    1. I actually like the aeoniums when they get a bit taller. They make great accent plants. At Sissinghurst they bundle several into an enormous pot like a bouquet and they look amazing. If I had space and any free pots I’d try it out myself.

  2. I like the fact that you are happy to experiment and nothing seems set in stone. I’ve taken to casting a critical eye on my snall garden and nothing is now sacred. Sometimes I regret change, and sometimes I’m happy. Have a small area for seeds and cuttings which I am trying to ‘enhance’ instead of a haphazard mess.

  3. I love spending my free time in my garden. I’m all alone, no one annoying calls me. I am looking for ideas for my garden and I found it here. Thank you for your work. I will use your ideas at home. I’ll do everything myself, I won’t have to answer onerous calls from contractors. I will also set up my blog at if you have a moment, please have a look. Keep your fingers crossed for me and I will definitely visit you more often.

  4. Gorgeous! Do people leave succulents in the ground year round in your part of the world? Or, are the winters too harsh?

  5. My potted plants accumulate around the kitchen sink too but not so spectacular, you gave me inspiration to do it consciously.
    A question, What light go you have there?

  6. I fall love into these beautiful leaves. I want to grow ornamental trees in my own garden. This article helps me a lot. Though it required a lot of labor and tools.

    Keep up the good posting.

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