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.
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.
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.
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.