In my case, that title should read, Never For Strawberries. For growing strawberries in strawberry pots in my area poses several problems.
First of all, in our hot, dry, rainless summers, any fair-sized terracotta pot can dry out, killing the contents, in the course of a single relentless sunny day. A largish terracotta pot, like a strawberry jar, might take two. Those of us who tend to be distracted by things in life other than gardening learn this the hard way.
The first year I got my strawberry pots, I innocently put strawberries in them. Since I have very few garden spots involving full sun (my second strawberry pot problem), I used alpine strawberries, white alpine strawberries to be precise, which I got from a specialist catalogue at a very special price. They were alpine strawberries with runners (most alpine strawberies don’t have them), which appealed to me: I could propagate more, because at this price, I wasn’t going to be able to afford to buy them.
The first year I put strawberries in the strawberry pot, the plants in the bottom of the pot went dead after a few weeks. I realized this was because watering from the top meant that the water either evaporated or ran out the side holes before it got to the bottom.
I regrouped. I set up my simplest bottom-watering system, which is to put the pot in a plastic bulb bowl – with the plug still in the hole, so the bowl holds water. This way , the plant has a reservoir of water to draw on, and, in the case of terracotta, the pot itself wicks up some of the water, so it’s a little less porous (read: liable to dry out the soil).
This time, the bottom plants did well, and the top ones died. Same problem, only in reverse. I did try watering from the top and using the bottom-watering system as well, but this was tiresome, and I never did get any strawberries.
I planted the strawberries somewhere else, and retired the strawberry pot. A year or two later, I was overwhelmed with my usual fall influx of spring bulbs. I thought: I’ll just use this strawberry pot as a bulb pot. After all, I don’t water them; they like to be dry in summer. And the terracotta will ensure they get drainage.
And for a few years, all was sort of well. The I. danfordiae bloomed the first year, but needed replacing in each coming year, so while they accepted the strawberry pot, they weren’t exactly happy there.
The Philippe de Comines bloomed for a couple of years, then went blind. (On reviewing this post, it came to me that I should explain this. My tulips did not look at an eclipse or a Day of the Triffids meteor shower and suddenly become unable to see: what happened was that they continued to put up single spears of leaves, but didn’t bloom. That’s how bulbs go blind.) When I finally dug them up, they had split into many tiny bulbs, ready to be grown in a bigger space, so they could mature and bloom. They had always looked a little short for the tall strawberry pot, anyway.
I transplanted Philippe de Comines into other containers. That left the strawberry jar empty. Where it sat until recently, when I was in dire need of transplanting one of my lavenders.
Looking around for pots – if there were a portrait of me as a gardener, it would be me looking around for pots, preferably in a noble pose, like stout Cortez and his companions, viewing the ocean and each other with wild surmise* – looking around for pots, I spied the strawberry pot. Empty.
I had to peel back the root layers from my lavender; it really had gotten awfully potbound, and the pot it was in was wider than the strawberry pot. But much shallower, I reasoned to myself (or perhaps to the lavender). The strawberry pot would give the lavender more root room, and after the radical cutting back I’d given it on top, I expected great things. Since it’s one of the more compact lavenders (knee-high ‘Rosea’, with pink flowers – really mauve in my climate and soil), the proportions should be right for the strawberry pot when it grows out. At least that’s the vision.
But what about the side pockets? While cleaning up in another large container, I was inspired: here was one of the places I’d dumped my little bearded iris roots. Since I hadn’t had a place for them last fall, I just slipped them into any container that had a spare slice of room. They weren’t doing very well, because they didn’t have much sun in those crowded conditions. They were alive, though, which had been the point of the exercise.
Now I thought: what about putting them in the side pockets of that strawberry jar? Bearded iris don’t like being buried deep; they actually prefer to be partly out of the soil, so they’ll be all right in there (soil tends to settle and sift from the pockets, leaving the roots of whatever’s in them exposed). Neither one of them has to have water to barely survive, so an occasional summer watering would probably keep them in decent shape. And the combination might look cool in that pot, grey-greens against dark terracotta.
So that’s where I put them. The iris and lavender are waiting: will they be the final epoch of my strawberry pot? Or will it need renewal next year?
Next post: about those alpine strawberries and what happened to them
* leaving out the mass murder bits. For those of my readers who know Cortez only from Keats, his progress through the Americas was marked by the kind of slaughter, torture, and lies that the Nazis (or some previous U.S. governments) could have taken pride in.