West Dean Walled Gardens prepare their beautiful terracotta pots for winter

Alitex Growing On

Ah terracotta pots! or Aaaaaghhh!!! Terracotta Pots - as it's time to get the scrubbing brush out as we embark on our seasonal pot cleaning duties.

Why use terracotta pots? The Foster and Pearson glasshouses at West Dean date from about the 1890's to the early years of the twentieth century and so terracotta pots, contemporary of the time, were deemed an appropriate choice in which to grow all our glasshouse displays.

Initially pots were commissioned from a pottery (Harris and sons) near Farnham. After they closed the fine, elegant Whichford pots were used but now we favour pots from West Meon Pottery (the image shows them being delivered by Mick), click here. They are made to measure, sturdy and solid, but like any terracotta pot they need a regular clean. The sad news is that glasshouse pests like 2-spotted mite and mealy bug don’t need plants to over winter - any structure including pots will do, hence the need for a cleaning regime. The washing process goes like this: first a 24 hour soak at least to leach out soluble fertilisers (salts), then a hearty scrub using a scrubbing brush, kitchen brush or scourer in soapy water and finally a soak into an appropriate disinfectant. This is the first task carried out by two people each day during the winter months and believe it or not some of us actually enjoy it! Yes really!

Melons and cucumbers are grown in shallow beds in their own heated glass and this valuable space is required over winter to house other display plants as we begin the cycle of glasshouse cleaning. So at this time of year, after the crops are removed, the training canes are bundled ready for cleaning and the compost taken out to be used elsewhere in the garden. Following cleaning the house, we will then rack out the house with temporary benching to support pots of plants. 

I like this time of year as there is time to think and plan for the next twelve months. Seed catalogues are perused, a twelve month calendar for the kitchen garden is created, herbs and vegetables are selected and any replacement fruit trees are purchased. Currently I’m fussing over the planting lists for the reconstructed sunken garden which lies at the end of the Harold Peto pergola in the pleasure grounds. I’m looking for plants with excellent form, foliage and fragrance with colour a close second. It’s an excellent exercise, causes fevered use of our houseful of garden books and is one of my most favourite occupations in my gardening life.

To visit West Dean Walled Gardens and find out more click here.

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