My neighbor has a pot problem. I’m not talking about marijuana (what you do with your free time is your business), I’m talking about the small terra-cotta clay pots that seem to multiply and line his pathways, nose up against the fence line, and creep down the sidewalk as if they were reproducing on their own . . . like hermaphrodites. (They’re not.) I'm no therapist, but this man is clearly addicted to pots. ’(I'm wondering if there's a 12-step program for that?) I'm guessing he’s the guy that can’t pass up the “FREE” sign when neatniks (as opposed to beatniks) set these often-neglected plants on the curb.
Don’t get me wrong, pots have a place in this world, although I’m not sure it’s on the city sidewalks where every manner of pathetic geranium and common weed has taken root. I'll be the first to admit that placed strategically on a deck or patio, a kitchen counter or a front porch, potted plants can fill in the missing landscape, provide a pleasing place for the eye to land, and add a living element to the scenery quite beautifully. In fact, all things considered, I'm decidedly pro-pot! (That's not a political statement; it's a pragmatic one.)
Here’s the caveat: potted plants require constant attention as their only water source is from above, unlike the mature plants in our gardens that tap into ground water, sprinkler systems, and aquifers.The smaller the pot, the more often you’ll need to water it. These tiny containers require almost daily watering and as I've yet to meet the person that's willing to do that, mini potted plants are often rendered scraggly, leggy and barely alive. (Don't our plants deserve better?)
By way of example, Sarah Abel and I currently have a beautiful new listing in Piedmont and we not only added pots on each side of the front door, we also potted a magnolia tree and some large chrysanthemums on the deck next to the kitchen out back (by "we" I mean our trusty project manager, Jill), and then we planted the window boxes as well, and added a long line of potted Hopseed to cover an unfortunate chain-link fence. (Again, that would be Jill.) Our goal was to maximize the benefits of potted plants without cluttering the spaces. We didn't place 100 pots on the premises, we added a dozen. When it comes to pots (as opposed to pot) MORE isn't necessarily better.
Are these plants going to require Jill's vigilance and attention? You bet they will, (which is why there's no vacation on the horizon for her until the house is sold and through escrow) but aside from the window boxes, which are fairly shallow, the larger pots can withstand a few days in between waterings. Moreover, the statement and impact one large, perfectly-planted pot can make far exceeds the confusing visuals of 20 poorly-performing potted plants.
The truth is, you can't walk by my neighbor's yard without wondering if the proliferation of pots over the years aren't the physical manifestation of something far more deeply rooted. In other words, is my neighbor off the beam?!? (Possibly).
Is there a lesson I can learn from him? (Definitely; keep it simple).
Take heed: pots (large or small) should never be in direct contact with your stone patios, wooden decks, or hardwood floors as they will leave water marks and in the worst case scenarios, create a fair amount of damage underneath.
Finally, only plant what you have the bandwidth to care for. Think large - not small - displays, add trailing plants beneath the main event. Elevate your pots enough to get some air underneath, water and feed them regularly. Replace what isn't working with something fabulous and flowering and who knows, you might just be rewarded with something truly beautiful (as opposed to tragically sad). Under the right conditions, the rewards of skillful potting might even make you a little giddy and high (without the munchies). At the very least, you'll have saved yourself the chore of daily watering.
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 14 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.