I’ve been buying pots. This is mainly because the lawn has gone and I finally have space to accommodate them. When the stone was laid last November I thought the garden acquired a sophistication which had hitherto eluded it. No longer a suburban back yard, it became an urban courtyard, and this, I felt, called for pots.
I have concluded, however, that pots are tricky. Their selection is fraught with anxiety. How many? What colour? What shape? What size? Symmetrically placed or informally grouped? What should I put in the damn things? The more I think about it the harder it is to make a decision.
The thing is, anything decent usually implies a substantial financial outlay, and if I’m stuck with it for a while it will need to earn its keep. Most of the planters I already have are inexpensive, so their selection was easy. They also adhere to a simple aesthetic formula: they are all terracotta and have a kind of Mediterranean feel. One did cost a bit more; it came from Pots and Pithoi and was called Dimitri. We loved him, but it appears nobody else did, because he was discontinued shortly after we bought him. The last of his line, he has stood happily with the others for ten years now, sharing their Mediterranean aesthetic, and all has been good.
A more recent purchase, however, has rocked the boat a little. It is the large mid-century shallow concrete dish (mentioned in the Stone post). It breaks the rules because it is neither upright nor terracotta. And this, I think, has unlocked the secret of successful pot selection. Its low-slung mid-century vibe has added contrast and challenged the tyranny of good taste. It has also opened my eyes to the sculptural allure of concrete. So last week I found myself back on the web searching for pieces by Willy Guhl. The eye-watering prices being asked for his pieces by some suppliers forced me to concede that perhaps Willy wasn’t for me… However, my persistence finally uncovered a pleasingly weird-shaped and affordable pair of small planters in Germany. It was only after payment that I learned I had bought one, not two.
Willy arrived from Germany this week and I have to say he does not disappoint. He is small, strangely shaped and painted dark brown, and whilst that does not sound particularly compelling in itself, when placed with the others he holds his own. In fact he adds just that element of eccentricity that I think we probably need. I have no idea what to plant in him yet, but I suspect I will go for something unassuming. Perhaps Erigeron karvinskianus. Don’t compete with Willy.
Mindful of the first rule of pot selection, (contrast is everything), I turned my attention to the shady side of the garden where there is a location that will benefit from something a little more classical. Here against the wall, almost consumed by an unruly ivy, is a mossy slab of old York stone mounted on a plinth. At its feet in the damp earth are ferns, Filipendula and Bowles Golden Grass. Liberally strewn throughout are Camassia Liechtlinii bulbs. This sounds more poetic than it currently looks. Right now it’s a sea of mud, but come spring, I am hoping it will become a slightly wild and sylvan mini-paradise, enhanced by the addition of a well-placed classical urn. I sourced the perfect candidate from an Ebayer near Cambridge and we drove up there at the weekend to get it. Old, pitted and covered in lichen and moss, it looks as though it has sat here forever. And whilst Willy is being rebellious and provocative on the other side of the garden, the old urn is balancing things out with an air of calm endurance.