Photo/Illustration: Scott Phillips
I love terra-cotta, but I think too much of it can be monotonous. To vary the look of terra-cotta pots, I sometimes age them by spraying them with a buttermilk and moss solution to stimulate moss growth (a time-consuming affair), or if I want instant gratification I paint them. I started painting clay pots years ago while working in a craft store and nursery. It is an easy and inexpensive way to dress up the garden as well as a thoughtful way to personalize a plant gift.
The best part of painting pots for me is coming up with the designs. I’ve drawn inspiration for my pots from people, objects, and places around me, and I’ve established a few design guidelines for myself over the years. For example, I usually avoid the color green unless I have a particular look in mind when the pot is combined with a plant. I’ve found that a green pot usually either clashes with or distracts from the foliage of a plant. Also, very small, intricate designs will be lost on a pot used for a floor plant or large container planting. I reserve those designs for a pot that will be seen at eye level.
One of my favorite designs is based on the night sky. It’s mysterious, intriguing, and a good foil for almost any plant. Another design I like is inspired by old gold-leaf picture frames. I love the look of the overlapping layers of gold with the red base color showing through. For variety, I sometimes use a top coat of black paint instead of gold and scratch off a bit of the top layer to expose the red beneath. When I want a very simple treatment, a thin wash of color that lets the terra-cotta show through is all it takes to make a pot shine.
When it comes to painting pots, the design possibilities are endless. The pots hold up well for years with only minimal fading, even outdoors. They won’t survive freezing, though, so bring them in when it gets cold.