Roots and All Podcast Episode 20 – Container Planting with Harriet Rycroft
This week, I’m honoured to be joined by the Queen of Containers, Harriet Rycroft. Harriet worked for many years at Whichford Pottery in Warwickshire, where she became renowned for producing season after season of the most spectacular planting and colour combinations.
Oh, and Harriet had the door open to her garden, so enjoy the birdsong!
We talk about:
The ideal container
Feeding your pots
Well and badly behaved container plants
Pests in/on pots
Tricks for discouraging mice and squirrels
Planting combinations for the wow factor
About Harriet Rycroft
Harriet Rycroft switched careers to horticulture while her children were small and spent 14 years
working for Whichford Pottery. As Head Gardener she was responsible for planning, planting and
maintaining large displays of planted flowerpots of every conceivable shape and size and was careful always to provide plenty of planting inspiration for visitors all year round. With up to 500 plantings on display at any time the garden attracted many visitors and much praise from some of the UK’s leading horticulturists.
While at Whichford Harriet also planned and planted container displays for events and shows,
including Chelsea Flower Show, and gave lectures and demonstrations both in the UK and abroad.
She now divides her time between writing about gardening and container planting, giving talks and demonstrations, and teaching container gardening online at LearningWith Experts.com. She still gardens at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens and at home, where she usually has at least 200 planted containers on display. She’s a keen photographer, using her camera to record her own workbut also as a way to celebrate gardens and the natural world generally and to share inspiration for the creative use of plants.
When she has a bit of spare time she writes a blog called “A Parrot’s Nest’ at https://harrietrycroft.com/ and can also be found chatting about plants and gardening and sharing
photos on Twitter and Instagram @HarrietRycroft
Harriet gives talks and planting demonstrations to garden clubs and groups, so if you would like a
talk about container gardening for your society please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
She recently wrote (and took most of the photographs for) a book about the amazing gardens at the Cotswold Wildlife Park with their Head Gardener, Tim Miles. A Celebration of The Gardens is
available from the Park’s website.
Cotswold Wildlife Park Website www.cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk
Buy a copy of The Cotswold Wildlife Park – A Celebration of the Gardens
Harriet on Writing the Book:
I was keen to do some work at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens because of the ENORMOUS range of plants and gardening tasks. It didn’t disappoint, there is everything from traditional English country house mixed borders to tropical rarities, from re-potting giant cacti to deciding where to plant rare snowdrops. Some favourite moments have involved cutting back ornamental grasses while baby rhinos frolicked only a few metres away, pruning shrubs inside the vulture enclosure and tidying borders under the interested gaze of Asiatic Lions. When Tim asked me to collaborate on his long wished-for book I knew it would be a chance to get to know the gardens really well.
Tim has been at the Park for 21 years and together with his amazing team he has transformed the gardens. From presenting talks for garden clubs and from visitor comments he knew there was keen interest in the Gardens part of the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens but until now had never quite got round to writing about it.
We have deliberately crammed a lot of photographs into this book (nearly 500). We had a lovely set from the great garden photographer Andrew Lawson but the majority of images in the book were taken by me and by Tim so that we could show some of the things that we know about but that a visitor might not notice. It is a gardener’s eye view, covering every season.
I would often walk around the Park and take photographs while it was quiet at 8am, then hide my camera in a shed near the house while I worked in the gardens. Then I would grab my camera again and take more pictures as I walked to and from the potting shed for coffee break or lunch. It’s a big site (about 160acres) so even while working here you don’t see everything in one day and I would quiz the other gardeners about what was looking good in their areas and sometimes whizz over to have a look. Or I would walk around again at the end of the day. I ended up with thousands of images to choose from.
My task was to extract enough information from him to write the text – which was tricky because
Head Gardeners of large, complex gardens don’t have a great deal of spare time. In the end I suggested that he should talk into a dictaphone as he walked around. Sometimes I laughed as I sat in my warm study listening to raindrops hitting the microphone (and Tim). Later, during the heat of summer, there were many times when I wished I was outside with the other gardeners instead of sweltering in front of the computer. I transcribed what he said, then wrote each chapter using information from the audio files, supplementing it with my own observation and constant pestering of Tim and the other members of the team with daft questions. Together we fine-tuned the details and emphasis.
The hardest thing was choosing which bits to leave out – I could have written a book about four times longer but the text had to be whittled down as we wanted an accessible, generously illustrated book that would serve both as a souvenir of this unique place and to whet the appetite of serious gardeners and horticulturists.