Claus Dalby, Containers in the Garden

Posted by Glennis Byron on July 12, 2022

Review: Claus Dalby, Containers in the Garden, Quarto, 2022

I am sorry not to be more enthusiastic about this book, as I am a great admirer of Claus Dalby. Dalby is a Danish gardening celebrity, but more widely known through his YouTube channel and his Instagram site, both of which I highly recommend. He's a very engaging presence, with a fantastic garden, and his posts are always inspirational. This is the first time one of Dalby's books has been published in English, and it's an unfortunate choice of topic and doesn't serve him well. Rather than his spectacular gardens, the wonderful garden rooms and the gorgeous combinations and often unusual flowers in his borders, the book focuses on the approach to container planting for which he has become renowned.

Dalby’s approach is more in the European than the North American tradition, in that he uses only one kind of plant in each pot. His distinctive style relies on a plethora of pots, not just a few, and he puts them together in the manner of a painter. Three or four pots arranged together simply can't create the same effect. And so, despite what is said in the puffs on the back about the book being filled with inspiration for the ordinary gardener and for the smallest of spaces, I would say this is not exactly true. If you have a very large garden, with lots of room for arrangements of multiple pots (think twenty or thirty together in each grouping), preferably on staging, steps or cobblestones, and if you have the time, or the gardeners, to water these pots a couple of times a day, and to change the display every month or two, then this book may indeed be for you and you will find it inspirational.

I don’t have any of those things, and my overwhelming impression became that Claus Dalby and I live in very different worlds – in more than one sense. Writing about the importance of buying the best quality soil for your containers, he observes ‘It may be possible to open a sack to check the soil’. Try that one at your local garden centre. Anyway, as he then goes on to confess, he uses a professional grade of potting soil that is not available to the general public. Dalby’s pots are primarily light terracotta clay, which I love, but which are often the most expensive to buy and the most difficult to maintain. And if you are in a climate where there is winter frost, as he is, they must also be emptied at the end of the year or put under cover. He must spend a small fortune on them.

In the end, however, these container displays just don’t appeal to me and many are too reminiscent of a flower stall in Covent Garden. Nor do many of the colour schemes work for me. I like the monochromatic ones, but some of the brighter versions are too far into sunglasses territory for my taste and I don't think would work in the kind of light we get where I live. But they certainly might suit others. If you’re wondering whether to buy the book, check out some of his container displays on his social media sites first. That will give you an idea of whether this approach to pots will work for you.

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