It's as if I have always sought them out; if broken or chipped, all the better. There is something timeless, if it's character-marked enough, about a weather pot. They sentry our gardens, silently declaring "I have endured the severest of which Mother Nature has since directed my way."
I've had my best luck finding these warrior treasures at flea markets and garage sales. And because I purchase them chipped, cracked, and sooty, I generally pay next to nothing. I recall my first pair of old strawberry pots given to me by my good friend Esther. They'd belonged to Esther's mother and where upon her death, were brought down to Basking Ridge from the house in Massachusetts to be used by Esther in a then 'newly plotted' butterfly garden. When Esther handed them over to me some twenty years later as a housewarming gift for my first home, she indicated that their crude design was testament to the mid-century potters in New England who, just by way of the basic 'width of one man’s hand,' would fashion the opening for a single hardy strawberry plug. Pots were meant for practical purpose then, not decoration. There was no real symmetry, nothing smooth about the openings, and these two strawberry pots in particular, despite being a matching pair, did not match, one having eight openings, the other only seven. Unplanted, one could tell just by looking them that something was 'off,' but planted (I chose a UK 'Frills & Spills' variety Petunia for years), nobody would be the wiser. Ashamedly, I remember not appreciating them initially, but accepted them kindly because after all, I now had a mortgage, and until I could afford to buy new pots, these would do. Then, one Sunday while making my way around the wilds of upper Warren County, I stopped at a flea market in Butzville. Yes folks, Butzville, New Jersey, and.....number one on my list of top ten flea market spots of all time. And somewhere in the midst of this pop up bazaar, there it was. A grayish, unglazed, perfectly pudgy cement pot, acting as a bookend to a line of Civil War tomes. There was still dirt inside, the remains of roots that had become as hard as Portland. I didn't see a price, so I asked, and thus began for $1 my love affair and the (nearly) first in my collection of weathered containers. I hustled it home and still recall a first spring planting of Dusty Miller and red, white, and blue Verbena.
If you are fortunate enough to hit estate sales, you can oftentimes find people's lifetimes. By lifetimes, I mean 'things collected, lived with, and loved' over a person's lifetime. And generally that includes garden tools and planters bearing nicks, chips, and cracks which is great for collectors like myself. I came across this serpentine-rimmed terra cotta pot with a generously sized weep hole on the side rather than the bottom; very English. And this festoon-adorned cement planter was free on a local neighborhood website. When I arrived to pick it up, I realized that adult children who were dealing with the cleanout and disposal of their recently passed mother’s home meant dragging her lifetimes to the street for the pickers, and it made me very, very sad. My tribute to the former lady gardener that same afternoon was a stiff bristle brush to the bottom and sides of the planter followed by a traditionally fitting pinkish scented cranesbill (Geranium robertianum). I recall sitting in a different corner of my ever evolving plot later that evening gazing at it, wondering if she would have approved. I think so; yes, I think so.
Note ** For those who require instant gratification (I do not judge), follow this link to the only supplier whose wares I have supplemented my garden spaces with, Camp de' Fiori out of Sheffield, Massachusetts, www.campodefiori.com. Here you will find everything from mossed terra cotta planters to forged iron pieces, and their skilled workmanship is exquisite.