Monday, September 2, 2013

The Pot Garden


The gardening visiting season is almost over for another year. 


Opening the garden is a wonderful experience because no one ever says that “your garden is awful”, and it is so interesting to see the garden through the eyes of visitors.  We give garden tourists a brief introduction to Smugcreek and then explain that here we have created four gardens. 


A few weeks ago one of our guests suggested that we actually have five gardens.  It was suggested that our deck has so many pots and troughs on it that is could easily be called The Deck Garden.


So, that is what it has become.   Our Deck Garden consists of eighty-nine potted hosta in large and small pots, plus nine planted bowls and troughs.  
These containers include a bowl planted with the original Blue Mouse Ears sport collection and two large stone troughs that came all the way from the island of Bali in Indonesia (long story!)   In addition, there are several dozen really small pots containing miniature hostas that Kathy has arranged on an ornamental iron stand.   


We try to arrange the larger potted hostas for effect.  Some pots are placed on tall plant stands, lower pots are placed around them and even smaller pots and trays are arranged around them.  This arrangement is intended to showcase the beauty of the foliage whilst hiding the pots as much as possible. On a good day it can look really impressive.

 As people look around the deck garden, the most often asked question is “What do you do with all those pots in winter?”  The stock reply is this:

Hostas are perfectly hardy in our climate but the pot might not be.  Hostas need a cold winter in order to rest and recharge their batteries for the next season.  They go dormant and disappear underground.  This makes the storage of potted hostas quite easy.


Although it may look like many of our bigger hostas are planted in ceramic or terracotta pots, they are not.  They are usually in a plastic pot that is simply dropped into a larger fancy pot so the plastic cannot be seen.   As soon as the hosta has gone dormant,  these plastic pots are removed and placed in a sheltered spot in the woods – pushed closely together to keep each other company, and left until spring.   The outer ceramic pot, that may or may not be frost proof, is stored in a cold garage. 

All the ceramic pots and trays that have hostas actually planted directly into them are also stored in the garage on temporary shelves.  The plants stay cold but the pots do not get frosted.  It is the constant freezing and thawing during the winter months that causes some pots to break.   There are tiny cracks on the surface of these pots.  Damp collects in them and then freezes.  Frozen water expands slightly and makes the crack larger.   On a slightly warmer day the ice thaws but the crack it has left is now larger.   Next time it freezes there is more water in the crack that expands to make the crack larger still.   Multiple freezing and thawing throughout the winter and the cracks become big enough to break the pot into pieces. So, although the garage is very cold, it is not damp, there is no moisture to freeze and the posts do not crack.

Those small hostas displayed in very small pots and trays receive special attention.   Our friend John Walczak gave us a wonderful idea for the storage of these little gems.  Get a large plastic tote.  Once the hostas have gone dormant, line the bottom of your tote with small pots, add a layer of cardboard, then another layer of pots and then more cardboard and more pots until the tote is full.  Once the lid in on they are cold and protected from the frost and the vermin and they have a self-contained environment.


Elsewhere we have a large number of hostas in smaller plastic pots (There is a philosophy around here that if we manage to plant by fall all the plants we obtained during the summer, we didn’t buy enough) that are over-wintered in our hosta ‘corrals’. (The Book of Little Hostas, page 47).  For these hostas, we have still another scenario;  four wooden planks are used to make a rectangle.   The small plastic pots are placed within this rectangle as close together as possible.  Cedar wood mulch is used to fill the gaps between them, mouse bait added, and then the whole lot covered with a few inches of mulch and left for the snow to cover and protect.  Cedar mulch is used because it has been said that the smell deters mice and voles.   Mouse bait is added just in case the cedar mulch information is wrong.

When spring comes and the days begin to get longer and warmer we just have to remember to gently water the plants in the garage and gradually remove the mulch from the pots outside.


But often, in the flurry of activity in the fall, a pot is forgotten somewhere in the garden – or two or more.  We have come to learn that more often than not, the hosta survives just fine.