When it comes to garden envy, nothing excites my green-eyed monster more than Longmeadow. What Sir Monty of Don has done with a two-acre abandoned field is nothing short of miraculous.

While there’s something to enjoy in every corner of the plot, not much rivals the Jewel Garden at the height of summer when the extraordinary vigour of the plants is matched only by their rich and intense colours. Utterly glorious.

While I will never be able to match the Jewel Garden’s palette in my northern strip of land, there’s a lot to be said for a splash of summer colour. I often turn to annuals for this mid-year treat, not least because I have nowhere to store tender plants during the dismal winter months (we don’t all have an abundance of greenhouses, Monty). And this is where containers, planters and baskets come into their own.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a glut of old pots knocking around, and possibly some hanging baskets which have seen better days. Don’t chuck them out – it’s really easy to repurpose them, thereby doing your bit to save the planet (and spare your bank balance).

In the past, I’ve bought cans of spray paint and upcycled drab brown plastic pots into on-trend chalky grey and sage green delights. I’ve done the same with decrepit metal hanging baskets, bringing them back from the brink with a sleek new look and a fresh liner (you can pick the latter up at DIY stores for next to nothing). I’m also a devotee of secondhand shops and antique centres which often sell vintage stone planters at reasonable prices. If you’re prepared to rootle around or, as a TK Maxx employee once aptly put it to me, “wade through all the crap”, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. And don’t get me started on the versatility of a reclaimed Belfast sink.

Any and all of the above will look magnificent filled to the brim with a riot of vivid summer colour. Don’t hold back – mix rich sapphire blue with ruby red, emerald green with butter yellow. Be bold and be beautiful. Provided you ensure that your pots, planters and baskets have adequate drainage (broken crockery in the base and horticultural grit are my preferred partners), you’ll be fine. Just remember to give the plant roots good nutrition with a peat-free compost, and you might want to consider a handful of vermiculite in baskets basking in full sun so they don’t dry out. This year, I’m also experimenting with comfrey pellets for added soil enrichment. I’ve often marvelled at Monty’s homemade comfrey feed but, really, who has the time? Next-day delivery wads of comfrey, easily scattered across the soil, get my vote. 

Finally, there’s the fun bit: the plants. Cosmos, and lots of them, are always top of my list. Easy to grow, floriferous and stunningly pretty, they are perfect for pots. Keep them well watered and deadhead regularly and you’ll enjoy them until October. Sweet peas are another favourite but you’ll need to give these wee wonders room to stretch and climb. This summer I’m using bamboo canes I grew myself (*smug face*).

Nemesia are also in my garden, waiting to be potted up. These compact, branching plants are brilliant value – enticing flowers, often combining two colours, and a heavenly scent best enjoyed in the early evening. In addition, I’ve invested in a tray of Petunia Prettytoonia (Raspberry Vanilla). This variety is a head-turning, showy bloom, guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and leave you lusting after a raspberry ripple ice cream.

Of course, if all of this sounds like a right faff, you can buy pre-planted pots and baskets from your local garden centre. Just don’t tell Monty.

Words and images by Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul  


This article first appeared in Catena