When I started becoming interested in indoor gardening, I bought lots of clay pots. My initial interest was in cactus and other succulent plants, and clay pots seemed right for them. As I learned at a meeting of the Cactus and Succulent Society, there were lots of arguments for using plastic pots: they were cheaper and retained moisture better so you didn’t have to water as often, but my plants were all about beauty for me and plastic just didn’t cut it.
Over time, my interests changed. Cactus grew SOOOOO slowly and I got fed up with unfriendly spines embedding themselves into my fingers. Even though I continued to admire their strange shapes and their ability to survive in adversity, when a feng-shui-oriented friend came by and told me that the cactus were working against harmony in my household, I decided to find other homes for them–conveniently done by contributing them to the plant table of the Cactus and Succulent Society where they would be sold for a few dollars to a new loving owner.
I then started collecting plants and cuttings at meetings of NYC’s chapters of the Indoor Garden Society, the Gesneriad Society, and the Begonia Society where the plant sale tables always lured me onto new adventures, and the enthusiasm of members kept me increasingly educated, enchanted, and eager for more. I began making my own potting mixes, propagating from cuttings, and growing under lights.
But I was always ruthless: if a plant wasn’t interesting or beautiful to my eye, if didn’t stay around for long. My definition of beauty often included strangeness of shape and leaf, but if a plant didn’t seem happy and refused to grow tall or put out new leaves, I found it a new home.
Around the time the cactus left, I started growing tired of clay pots and began looking for alternatives. I found lots of interesting glazed ceramic pots at Jamali’s in New York City’s ever shrinking plant district on W. 28th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues), and little by little my collection began looking more decorative and more beautiful still.
Then, last summer in Maine antique shops, I discovered McCoy planters and went a little crazy. Founded in 1910 in Roseville, Ohio, the McCoy pottery went through many permutations, but the glazed pottery I came to love was produced mostly in the twenties, thirties, and forties. Raised leaves and berries were the primary motifs. (You can learn lots more about McCoy and its avid groups of collectors on www.mccoypottery.com and numerous other sites.) I was especially drawn towards the planters which were prolific in the antique shops and had beautiful shapes and colors. McCoy certainly had its ups and downs as designers and fashions changed. To my eyes, the countless cookie jars they produced are quite hideous (though highly collectible).
Here are some of the beauties I found, and my plants have never looked happier. It was hard getting a good shot of both the planter and the plant so when I had to choose, I opted for the former. I aim to complement the color of the glaze with the color of the leaves and flowers. This McCoy pot holds a yellow flowering begonia:
This beauty holds a fern about 1-foot high:
Here’s a real favorite sporting a frequently flowering rex begonia:
The McCoy factory also produced a lot of bulb planters. In this case the bulbs never flowered and the plants look like a bunch of scallions growing in a beautiful pot:
Here’s another bulb planter that I’m using for cryptanthus:
Planters like the one below are the most commonly available. They come in a variety of colors and sizes and have built-in saucers. It’s fun to match the planter with the color of the stems and foliage:
I intended to limit my collection to planters until I happened upon two more extraordinary pieces. Take a look at this tea pot:
And my all-time favorite, the strap vase:
I am running out of space, but I’ll always make room for more McCoy pottery. And what a joy hunting down the pieces at Flea Markets and antique malls. Prices vary widely, so it’s good to acquaint yourself with the going rate on EBay and other auction sites before starting your own collection.