Let container plants give your garden colour and style
The greatest gardening sin is a bare patch of soil in my opinion – it will only get colonised by weeds unless you do something about it.
Obviously, it can’t be helped when beds are newly planted or you’re in the middle of a revamp – that’s where a collection of container plants comes in handy.
Potted plants can slip into gaps in the border, bulking it out and giving much-needed colour. If you’re using plants at the front, black pots blend in more easily.
The number one rule is group pots together. They look better and will create their own microclimate – and you won’t forget to water any. I’m also not a pot snob – I’ll plant into anything. I’d rather save money on plastic containers from Wilkinson and spend it on plants, which will grow over them anyway or be hidden in a group.
Also, when it’s so easy to rearrange pots, even sun-lovers like geraniums (Pelargoniums) won’t mind a month or so out of full sun – make sure they do get some – they will hate dark shade.
Here are my potted garden life-savers and how I use them:
Geraniums (Pelargoniums): I have about 100 built up over the years, grown from seeds, cuttings, and plug plants. Some are in plain black plastic pots to bump out the front of a spring border which loses its lustre after May, while others in large decorative ceramic containers are grouped together to jazz up the area where we sit, relax and eat. Scented-leaved varieties are placed next to paths where people will brush them, releasing perfumes as diverse as Turkish Delight, lemon, orange, cedar, and cola!
Lilies: Bouquet lilies are planted in tall zinc planters and form an early summer centrepiece to the geraniums. I aim to have the colours clashing as much as possible. When finished, I stash the pots out of sight so they can die down with dignity.
Succulents: A mix of hardy, rockery, and tropical succulents sit well together – Sempervivum, Echeveria, Aloe vera, Aloe humilis are my favourites. They work well planted in quirky containers – I use a selection of old pans with plenty of drainage holes and a gritty compost.
Canna, Yucca, palms: Cannas need to overwinter indoors so I keep them in large containers. Their huge purple leaves and deep orange/red flowers are in my new tropical bed this summer. The Yucca is the houseplant type and really benefits from a spell outdoors, lending height and an exotic air, as do the Canary Island and Windmill palms, although they will be staying out all winter.
Tulips: It’s essential for me to grow tulips in pots, as my heavy clay soil doesn’t agree with them. This way, leftover containers from summer can be planted up again in late autumn with pure bursts of colour to place right where it’s needed in April/May.
Hostas: Due to unrelenting snail action, I dug up most of my hostas and potted them up – they fill in gaps on the shadier side of my tropical bed, providing contrast to bamboo Fargesia Pingwu and Chaenomeles (Japanese quince).
Potted guide: Caring for container plants
- Pot on with good compost each spring into a slightly bigger pot, or at least scrape off the top layer and refresh it with new soil.
- Add a slow-release fertiliser in spring – hostas benefit from water retention granules.
- Water more regularly than the rest of the garden.
- Overwinter geraniums, Yuccas, Canna, non-hardy palms and succulents somewhere under glass that’s cool, bright and dry. Winter wet will kill just as easily as low temperatures.