Friday, 3 February 2012

The pots are frostproof but not all my plants are...

Pots by the entrance arch at Whichford Pottery this week
The weather this week has been crisp and beautiful, which is ideal for showing off the warm colour, decorative detail and frostproofness of our pots.
Not so ideal, however for gardeners, especially those who, like me, have a weakness for tender plants. The fact that my greenhouse heater seems to be on its last legs is making me jittery and I dread to think what's going on in the polytunnel.

Icy grip
As each clear night sends the temperature plummeting still further I arrive in the mornings to see compost clenched ever more tightly around the emerging bulb shoots. With a bit of luck they'll shrug off this tight embrace and emerge unharmed.

Iris Halkis has carried on regardless. I love the detail on the backs of the falls (outer/lower petals).

Iris 'Halkis'

Incompetent stalking
Most of the plant life shrinks and flattens in the cold, which makes it easy to spot birds. I tried to sneak up on a green woodpecker but my footsteps crunched in the frost and it was gone in a trice. Even the long-tailed tits weren't very co-operative. They turned their backs on me and flew off, muttering to each other as they went.

Long-tailed tit at Whichford Pottery

Lonicera fragrantissima with pollen-spattered
bumble bee this week
The Lonicera fragrantissima on the sunnier side of the courtyard garden was attracting early bumble bees on Monday but by Thursday the garden was stony quiet, even the voices of our hardy customers were muffled by woolly scarves.

A pattern of growth
Frost ferns grew on the inside of the polytunnel...

Frost patterns in the polytunnel
...reminding me of the frost on this little conifer in one of the pots in the stockyard:

Frosted conifer in the stockyard

I'm terrible at identifying conifers - I suppose it's a prostrate Chamaecyparis of some sort but I'd be glad if someone could identify it for me, it has been re-used so many times it has long since been separated from its label.

Many of the evergreens I use in the pots actually look better in the frost, a smattering of ice crystals seems to highlight colour such as the reds and yellows in this Leucothoe fontanesiana, and of course in pots the plants are raised up so such details are all the more noticeable. That's if you can bear to stand still long enough to study them.

Leucothoe fontanesiana with a light dusting of frost

Know when you're beaten
Puss-Puss waiting for me to finish pruning
the willow arbour
It's best to keep moving in weather like this and on Monday and Tuesday I spent some time pruning the willow arbour (helped by Puss-Puss as usual) but even with six layers of clothing this was only really possible while the sun reached it. I'll finish it next week.

I retreated to the staff tea-room and finished my seed orders; I have ordered a combination of old favourites and new varieties and am determined to plant more edible plants this year. With limited space available they will all have to earn their keep ornamentally.

Edible pots
Our friends at Pennard Plants have a great range of unusual and heirloom veg, so I have ordered plenty from them. We sell some of their seeds in the Octagon at the pottery and I love the quirky packaging.

Seeds for Whichford from Pennards

Mrs Peabody, a black Maran who gave her name to
the salad mix 'Mrs Peabody's Piece of Provence'
Photo courtesy of Chris Smith at Pennard
Pennard have put together a collection of sweet pea seeds and a collection of cut and come again salads for us at Whichford, these are already available from the Octagon and I shall be sowing some next week. The packets are full of interesting factoids and some varieties are even endorsed by Chris and Mike's hens!

Kale and farewell
Ordering the seeds allows me to dream of summer. I was doing this and tidying the greenhouse when I came across a bag of Allium sphaerocephalon that I had missed, as I potted them up (worth a try) I remembered a particularly satisfying combination of these with Kale 'Nero di Toscana' in large pots in the stockyard from 2010.
Blurring the boundaries between more edibles and ornamentals this year is going to be fun!

Allium sphaerocephalon and Kale 'Nero di Toscana' in the Whichford stockyard, summer 2010


  1. Bonjour Harriet!
    Tell me, the pots are frostproof, but how much?

    The seeds packaging are artful! Looking forward for inspiration trough your combinations of edibles and ornemental plants for this spring!

  2. Merci Jasmine! Now, I know you have much harder winters than ours, but Whichford pots are guaranteed in this country for 10 years against lamination (flaking)in the frost. Many of the pots I use are 10, 15, even 20 years old. I never give them any protection such as bubblewrap, and do not raise them on pot feet. Last year we had temperatures around -18C for about a week or so, this year we have had -10C, -12C several times. As Whichford is so far from the sea we often get freezing temperatures for long periods in the winter. It is very rare for our pots to laminate. This is because a lot of research has gone into the clay recipe - there will be more on this subject in my next blog...