Garden expert reveals the mistake we're all making when potting up plants

Gardener Arthur Parkinson shares his top tip for avoiding this container planting compost mistake

minimalist container garden
(Image credit: RHS / Tim Sandall)

Potted plants are the best way to bring a small garden or balcony to life. However, gardener Arthur Parkinson warns against the common mistake of just using compost when potting up plants. 

Arthur Parkinson has made a name for himself as a gardener and florist, thanks to his creativity with container gardening ideas. He trained at Kew Gardens, before becoming a protégé to Sarah Raven. 

He is currently the gardener for the Emma Bridgewater pottery factory and authored two books including the Sunday Times Bestseller The Flower Yard: Growing Flamboyant Flowers in Containers.

Arthur Parkinson surrounded by flowers

Gardener Arthur Parkinson

(Image credit: Arthur Parkinson)

Speaking exclusively to Gardeningetc Arthur Parkinson explained that when it comes to using pots and containers you need to invest in the right kind of soil type you use. However, he points out that solely using compost in a pot is a mistake.

'In a pot situation compost can become lifeless, so if you can include some real soil it really helps to bring it together,' says Arthur.

If you don't have the benefit of a garden to borrow soil from to add to your compost mix, Arthur has a smart solution for how he enriches his own compost for container planting. 'If you're on a walk and you see a molehill, take some molehill soil home in a bag for life and mix it in with your shop-bought compost,' he explains.

trough planted up for winter

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

'That's going to have lots of micronutrients and organisms within that, which will be really good to make the soil alive,' he adds. 'It's something I started doing a few years ago after buying supermarket cheap compost.'

You don't need to bring much back with you in your bag for life or bucket, one bucketful of molehill soil will go quite a long way. If you have moles in your own garden, it is worth making the most of that molehill soil if you have been composting to make your own soil enricher. It is a great DIY potting compost ingredient.

green wall on the side of a planter in the The IBC Pocket Forest designed by Sara Edwards at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs/Future)

It is important to remember that pots are self-contained environments, so anything your plant needs to grow you will need to add in. This is why adding some soil to the mix is a great addition.

In addition to mixing in some soil with your compost, Arthur also recommends using a seaweed fertilizer all through the summer. Look after your soil and you should be rewarded with gorgeous blooms.

So don't forget to pack a sturdy bag when you're out on your next walk.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca has worked as a homes and interiors journalist for over four years, and is currently the Deputy Editor on Ideal Home online. Previously, she was the News Editor across the Future homes and gardens brands, including She lives in a rented flat in South London where she makes the most of window boxes to create small container gardens. Inside she has a jungle of houseplants in nearly every room which she does her best to keep up with regular watering and repotting.