Food For Dreams: Reclaimed Terracotta Pots

An assortment of recycled plant pots

If you live in one of the places where trees and most plants are shutting up shop for the winter, and your gardening thoughts have turned to plant catalogues, here’s food for dreams.

An interior designer might see these reclaimed pots from Yew Tree Barn as the perfect accessories for a cottage-style home, but when a gardener looks at them, they see a range of plant possibilities. It all depends on your personal plant fascinations: you might plant fancy auriculas or culinary herbs in the medium sized pots and mother-in-laws-tongue, Christmas cactus or cyclamen in the larger ones.

Those tiny clay pots with saucers intrigue me. Too small for most plants, they would dry out so quickly to need assiduous watering for anything other than miniature succulents. I’m not sure I’d want to trust seedlings to them, but wouldn’t they look cute with green, variegated and silver thyme spilling out, artfully staged for one of those impractical but bewitching Instagram shots? 

Some girls dream of working on the space exploration programme. I did my fair share of that, but the earliest waking dreams I remember were incoherent thoughts about having a flower garden. I spent quite some time carefully cutting up my Dad’s old plant catalogues, then putting pictures of my favourite flowers reverently into envelopes.

I wish I’d had this picture to feed my dreams back then, although truthfully, pots probably wouldn’t have done a lot for me. Especially not manky old used ones like these.

My grown up imagination considers the practicalities more. And, need I add, down the years the paintbrush-like touches of patina on terracotta have gathered respectability, till this sign of age has become, if not desirable exactly (it forms too quickly in real life for that), something to respect. These pots have the ghosts of plants around them.

Geranium with pink edged white flowers

Tapping in to my solitary flower games of old, I can transport the larger, deeper pots in my imagination to any kitchen window sill and fill them with… pelargoniums, shall we say? A leafy one with scented foliage and insect-like flowers; an ivy leaf; at least one rosebud type, such as ‘Appleblossom Rosebud’ (above); a ‘Fringed Arnside’ Regal type; and a classic, pure white one would make a nice collection.

I love the fact that your imaginary collection would be different. Just having a selection of these pots stacked up somewhere would be deeply reassuring for those who garden in a particular way. I’ll leave you with this set of square ones:

Square terracotta plant pots of various sizes

If you’ve read this far, you might be the type of person who can recognise how these can be objects of desire. I didn’t buy them. They weren’t going cheap, and I was in practical mode, on a quest for reclaimed ironwork for my sweetheart’s latest old window. But I wanted them. Not because I could imagine the plants I could grow in them, but because I could not. Their shape was unusual. They seemed to be craftsman-made. They were nice in themselves – the perfect terracotta plant pots for a shelf in a potting shed, you might say. A luxury.

If we pass by there again, I’m planning to visit them. And if they’re still on the shelf, who knows if I will be so strong willed to resist them a second time?

39 Replies to “Food For Dreams: Reclaimed Terracotta Pots”

  1. Perfect pots. Who cares if they aren’t practical? Using ones like these may explain why I am the owner of so many short-lived plants…… but the pots still look great.

    1. I feel the same – and have similar success with pot plants. I do have some prettily decorated small pots with thick walls (so even tinier interiors) that I tried to grow things in. I have had to conclude they’re better for holding small objects than plants.

  2. Inspiration strikes when you least expect it – and you’ve just handed me a truckload! I am both a gardener and a potter. And while I have made a fair number of flowerpots (both accidentally and on purpose), they have all been wheel-thrown. But these wonderful photos have inspired me to head in a totally different direction.

    Square pots! Ceramic potting trays! Hand-built, slab-built plant containers! Why had I not considered these ideas before?. It may be too cold and wet to garden just now, but the studio is always warm and dry.

    Thank you! You’ve given me both food for dreams and inspiration for making!

  3. Love the square shaped ones, I can see herbs in those and I have zonal pelargoniums in small terracotta pots, they just seem to go together and pelargoniums can survive without much water. The small pots suit me fine, I find large ones are too heavy for me now and that’s without the added compost and plant. Who cares if they are practical. When I get my potting shed I definitely want some: saucers and all…

    1. It would be wonderful to have such a varied supply as this at your fingertips. I like the contrast of the straight sided ones with the normal, lipped ones, and the slightly wobbly ones…

  4. Yes, they are not as cheap as they used to be. They are not used much anymore. I can not imagine using them in nursery production! That must have been tedious before vinyl cans were invented. But then, horticulture was taken much more seriously back then too.

    1. I have seen them being used in specialist nurseries in the UK, and in the glasshouses of gardens, but hadn’t thought that at some point, all nursery producers might have used them.

      1. Well, a very long time ago, old school horticulturists used them here in California. In most parts of the continent, people bought their field grown plants in winter, either bare root or balled and burlapped. But of course, people did not buy nearly as many plants as they do now! My great grandparent bought only a few fruit trees for their relatively ‘modern’ garden in 1940. The orange and lemon trees were actually assembled on site by a horticulturist who planted the understock one spring, and then came back the following spring to graft the scions onto them! No one has the patience for that sort of thing nowadays. clay is used primarily for bromelliads and orchids and plants that like that sort of porous material.

  5. Yes, yes!! The pots hold ghosts of plants past but also ghosts of plants future–they totally appeal to the imagination and to our hopes for next year!

  6. “but wouldn’t they look cute with green, variegated and silver thyme spilling out, artfully staged for one of those impractical but bewitching Instagram shots?” Love this bit!

    I have ( a growing) collections of stacked pots on my dining room table. Neatly sorted out by colours and sizes and perfectly angled so they look Instagram worthy 🙂 (even though I don’t have an Instagram account but I am a designer after all) some I filled with cacti some are empty because I think they look better that way. You know, seem carelessly put but in reality take most of my nights and careful planning to achieve 🙂 Practicality soon flies out the window when I’m dealing with these sort of things. I will hesitate to buy something for myself but will not have second thoughts purchasing something for the house or garden. In just five months, I acquired hundreds of succulents and cacti and I soon running out of place to put them. But they are so cute and lovable I can hardly resist them.

    1. I can imagine you’ve made them look fantastic. They’ll give you plenty of material for weekly challenges, no doubt. I recently discovered to my delight that one tiny cutting of the ‘Sunburst’ aeonium I liked had somehow survived in a pot under a tangle in my sweetheart’s garden. They do seem particularly addictive. To think I used to think they were all just immobile green blobs not that long ago!

      Funny that neither of us use Instagram. I might have been more tempted if it wasn’t so phone-led, but find it easier to do just one thing (WordPress) wholeheartedly.

      1. I shy away from Instagram because of these little rules and regulations attached to it plus it exposes some of my weaknesses like marketing and social skills and the privacy policy is too much for a private person like me. Or I could be imagining all these things. Let’s say I am not comfortable using Instagram.

        Addictive is what they are, succulents. Few months ago I was not even remotely interested in them but the more I know about them the more fascinated I become. They lessen my ‘homesickness’ for my garden during this time of the year. D. said they look like miniature forest.

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