I returned home from my stay in the hospital, feeling much — MUCH — better. Imagine my surprise when I looked into the garden and saw all of the terra cotta pots lined up like the upstairs/downstairs servants on “Downton Abbey” greeting the arrival of the lord of the estate.
Actually, I had arranged them before the health hoopla for a post on my love of terracotta. My idea was to call it a family portrait with some smarmy comment about it beging so hard to get everyone together for a family photo. But with days and days spent in the hospital, as well as all of the doctors and tests, I had forgotten all about that photo shoot and that post. Oh, well. You know what they say about best laid plans.
In any event (and in my own warped mind), it was flattering to think that the terra cotta team thought as much about me as much as I do of them. I really don’t know where this affection for terra cotta began. I just know that I like the color, the feel, the texture, the variety, the warmth, the weathered age. When I see them in the garden, I am reminded of sun-splashed Meditteranean vacations, where whitewashed walls are the perfect backdrop for terra cotta pots overflowing with red geraniums.
Gardening in terra cotta is tricky because the soil dries out rather quickly, which somehow seems appropriate for a material that translates to “baked earth.” I have learned to keep the terra cotta pots in shadier parts of the yard — and for that, I am rewarded with moss growing up their sides. Then, there is the matter of a Zone 6 winter and having to store them away. After I removed the plants and empty out the dirt, I let them dry in the sun so that I can remove any excess dirt. Afterwards, they are tucked into any available space: in the potting shed, up in the loft, in the garage — any place that will keep them safe from freezing and shattering.
If I had to pick a favorite piece, it would be the large strawberry pot, just left of center. I usually fill it with Impatiens or Petunias, anything that will tumble down the sides. Because it’s so deep, I insert a pvc pipe with holes drilled down its length into the center, adding potting soil around it and planting each level of pockets as I go.
Then again, I am also fond of the large pots that I found in a Home Depot while driving through Florida; of the four large pots that were picked up (on sale) in Costco; of the smaller ones that were found in a local barn sale; of the shallow platter on the right that I hoped would be a ground level bird bath (in reality, the dog likes to drink from it); of the cement acorns that make me smile each year. Every pot — every garden — every gardener — has a story.
And when the weather warms again, I will happily bring the terra cottas out of storage and greet their arrival as the lords and ladies of my not-so “Downton Abbey” garden. I might even bow.