Monty has a series of occasional episodes where he revisits Gardening at Longmeadow. 

Large, single pots are my favorite. When Sarah and I went to France for Christmas, the first time I purchased a good pot was many decades ago. We asked a couple where to buy some and were told to ‘bat on down to Biot’. 

After a long drive, we found countless jars along the way. After choosing our favourite, we put it in our car, fastened it with our seat belts, and then took it to Hackney. We placed it in the middle of our Hackney garden, but we never actually planted the oil jar. 

UK-based gardening expert Monty Don shares advice for making the most of pots in your garden. Pictured: Whether in clusters or on their own, containers can create a dramatic effect

Monty Don is a British gardening expert who shares tips on how to make the best of your pots. Pictures: Containers can have a dramatic impact, whether they are used in groups or by themselves.

It was smashed by the 1987 hurricane. We repaired it as best we could and it adorned our garden in Herefordshire for a further ten years – always unplanted – until one of the cats arched its back against it, toppled it over and smashed it again.

It was broken and we were able to take it to the local potter for repairs or to make a replica. But as the original was over 500 years old and so delicate – the clay was thinner than an eggshell – it defied every rule of pottery. The original is intact, although we now have a more thickened and cruder copy of it in the Jewel Garden.

It is quite a story, and I am not sure how to use them as plants. The unadorned, unpainted pot is the best.

Big, dramatic containers planted to look like a huge, vibrant bunch of flowers is a good thing, but it’s difficult to do without being messy.

It is now my desire to have identical pots that are identically planted, and not just one display. You can also use box or hollow, grasses like Briza media, Festuca glauca or brown Carex to make simple topiary shapes.


Pictured: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’

Pictured: Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ is a lot of name for a lot of plant, both in volume and impact.

  • It’s ideal for the back or middle of a border, and after a year or two to establish – most grasses are slow to get going – it grows to about 1.5m (5ft) tall and will resist most weather.
  • Although they prefer a full sun environment, miscanthus are extremely adaptable to all types of soil and locations. The leaves should be kept upright and allowed to stand in winter, where they can add an enchanting sound to the wind.
  • In spring, when new shoots begin to appear, you can cut them or pull them up.
  • M. s. ‘Hinjo’ is a smaller, slightly fuller version which spills down more readily upon itself and so is better for the front of a border.

You can make a stunning display by purchasing a couple of orange plants that are potted. However, the plants need to be protected from any frost. If you have the time and the budget for it, you could drape some fleece on the plants.

I’m going to plant evergreen ferns in pots for the shady courtyard and I’m not after anything exotic. Hart’s tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium), the soft shield fern (Polystichum setiferum) and the Japanese shield fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) are lovely, thrive in the shade and add depth to what is a very bleak area in winter.

Planting bulbs is easy in November, when it’s still early enough to get pots ready. The traditional advice to plant bulbs in layers is to start with the biggest at the bottom, and work your way up through muscari or hyacinths. This works if you have a few larger pots but I’d suggest planting a single type of bulb in multiple small pots. 

All bulbs, except fritillaries or snowdrops, require good drainage. Mix potting compost and grit together. You can grow snowdrops from bulbs rather than plants, so get them when they are in flower. 

Put them in the pot and let them rest for a while. Then, bring them back out at Christmas. However, no matter how you plant them or what they look like, keep it simple. 


Since the Romans brought them to this country, parsnips have been grown here and they were eaten widely before potatoes became the main starchy vegetable. 

The frost will intensify the sweetness of the plants and make them taste better. They can be left in place until spring, or until they are ready to be eaten. If they are not cut until spring, the roots will begin to make a flowering stem.

They are perfect baked or roasted with a joint of meat and I love parsnip purée. Simply boil the roots, then add some water to the boiling liquid and add lots of butter and cream.

Although they are easy to grow, the flat large seeds can take a while to germinate. They also need to be matured. Plant seeds in March and April, on an area of ground that won’t be used for more than one year. 

If you want the roots to grow to any extent, the soil must be deepened. However, it is important to not use garden compost or manure. This may make the root system fork-able or cause them to split.

Extracted from Gardening At Longmeadow by Monty Don, BBC Books, £26. © Monty Don 2012.