Caring for pots of joy: Growing attractions of becoming a ‘plant parent’

As a self-described longtime 'plant dad', Peter Dowdall extolls the growing attractions of becoming a 'plant parent'.

I recently learned a new term that describes us gardeners as “plant parents” and there’s even an Instagram hashtag #firsttimeplantmom. Just goes to show how the world of learning and sharing information has changed so much in the recent past.

I suppose I qualify as a long-time plant dad or even a #plantgreatgrandad at this stage, but if this year is to be your first time embarking on the horticultural superhighway then let me give you what I feel is one of the most important pieces of advice to remember and that is: do not be afraid.

Don’t be scared of all the technical terms and long Latin names.

Growing plants is one of the most basic things that we can do, simply put a plant in the soil, let it have water and sunlight and it will grow.

Sure, some plants are more difficult than others and there is lots more that you can learn about if you want to, but it’s not always essential. Just remember that when you do get this gardening bug, it’s highly addictive.

More and more of us live in urban areas and with that often comes smaller outdoor spaces. Even if all you have is a terrace, deck or balcony to work with you can still grow plants, either ornamental, edible or both.

Nearly all plants can be grown in pots and containers and they can create a beautiful display even in the smallest of spaces but they will need maintenance.

When plants are growing in the open ground their root systems will develop so that they can source their own water.

Obviously in a pot, the root room is restricted and thus, we need to provide the plant with water during periods when there is no rainfall and sometimes even if it is raining as the plants could be sheltered from the rain by a wall or building.

Hopefully we are to enjoy a summer like last year once more with long sunny days and high temperatures but don’t forget the plants if this happens.

Plants growing in containers won’t be as forgiving as those in the open ground should you be bold enough to leave them for even a long weekend if you haven’t arranged someone to come in and water them.

Not quite as demanding as making sure the children are fed or the dog is taken for a walk but not to be forgotten about either.

One of the ways to prepare for such eventualities is to use the correct plants. Succulents such as Sedum, Sempervivum and Echeveria will tolerate drought and are very much the plants “du jour” at the moment.

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A garden pot isn’t just for summer....

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Very elegant and soothing effects can be created using plants which have grey or silver foliage and the good news is that plants with these leaf colours tend to offer substantial drought resistance.

Even if growing plants in the open ground, using silver-leaved plants is advisable for drought resistance.

Mulching with bark, gravel or similar is another very effective way to conserve moisture during the summer months. It slows water loss through evaporation as well as having the added benefit of suppressing weeds.

Using an ornamental grit or gravel to mulch the top of a pot will also provide a beautiful ornamental look to your creations.

Helichrysum italicum, referred to as the curry plant, provides elegant, airy silver stems and foliage and is a great plant to grow in a container.

Cut it back during the summer if you want my advice and don’t leave it to flower, for it can get quite “woody” and bedraggled if left to its own devices and I’m not a fan of the yellow flowers.

I much prefer to let the growth go into producing more vibrant silver stems. As the name suggests, it has a strong curry scent and whilst it is often used in cooking its not actually a curry spice.

Convolvulus cneorum produces beautiful, simple white flowers like its exceedingly unwelcome cousin, C. arvensis, bindweed, but unlike its invasive family member, C.cneorum is a very well-behaved silver-leaved shrub and a welcome guest in any garden, be it in a pot or the ground.

Artemesias too will bring that lovely silvery grey colour to your outdoors.

For the wow factor, Cynara cardunculus, the cardoon, will provide the drama, growing to nearly two metres in height with deeply serrated silver leaves and later, as the foliage fades, beautiful amethyst-coloured, giant thistle-like blooms during late summer.

If you are a #firsttimeplantmom then treat this Cynara a bit like you would a teenage child by giving them a large enough pot in which to thrive and provide them with support — in this case, with bamboo canes or similar.

Follow Peter Dowdall for more tips and gardening-related topics on or on Instagram: the_irish_gardener

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