Spring update – How to Plant Pots for All Year Round Interest

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Last spring, I decided it was time to give my little courtyard a make-over, by potting up three matching containers. My challenge was to choose plants which would provide interest all year round and continue to look good the following year. It was hard work restraining myself over the cold months but, eventually, in early spring, I allowed myself to indulge in my favourite pastime at the garden centre!

Salvia x superba - for spring and summer flower beds and containers. Weatherstaff garden design software
Salvia x superba
Pansies and grape  hyacinths - spring flowers for container planting. Weatherstaff garden design software
Pansies and grape hyacinths
Dianthus for garden pots - from the Weatherstaff blog
Dianthus

Buying plants earlier in the year means that the plants are small – and I did have to take some on faith that they were going to survive and grow more than the one flimsy leaf they came home with – but they are usually cheaper, so you can get a lot more for your money.

Choosing plants at the garden centre from Weanterstaff garden design blog
Choosing plants at the garden centre

Early summer containers with heuchera
Early June

Because these pots were designed to brighten up the courtyard all year round, I chose at least one evergreen plant per pot, as well as plants which would provide interest at different times of the year.

The Gaura in this pot flowered magnificently for months on end, but when it eventually faded away, the purple heuchera and red hook sedge (Uncinia rubra) kept the display going well.

I potted up each container with at least one tall, architectural plant, a couple of mounds for contrast and a trailing plant to tumble over the edge. This is known as the ‘Thriller, Filler, Spiller’ technique – read more about it in the post below. I also added a handful of Muscari bulbs, left over from planting elsewhere in the garden.

Here are my recipes for all-season container plantings:

Pot 1 rosemary, salvia superba, Japanese anemone and geranium endressi - planting ideas for all year round interest
Pot 1

Pot 1

  • Rosmarinus officinalis – upright (and also evergreen), so great as the backbone of a container. Aromatic shrub, with needle-thin leaves, and pretty blue flowers in spring.
  • Salvia superba (late spring to late summer) – forms a mound of foliage, with vertical spikes of flowers.
  • Anemone hupehensis ‘Praecox’ (Aug to Oct) – Japanese anemone is an upright perennial, with late deep pink flowers.
  • Geranium endressi (May to October), semi-evergreen mounding perennial.
Pot 2 - heuchera, uncinia rubra, gaura and dianthus - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Pot 2

Pot 2

  • Gaura Whirling Butterflies (June to Oct), a real ‘thriller’ for pots, with masses of fluttering flowers.
  • Uncinia rubra (evergreen, ornamental grass) – has gorgeous red-brown linear leaves.
  • Heuchera (evergreen) – superb mound of eye-catching foliage, with delicate sprays of flowers in late spring and summer.
  • Dianthus – mine was unnamed, but has bewitching dark pink-red markings, with a pale pink outer petal. Compact, prolific bloomer and scented.
Pot 3 - lavender, iris, geranium sanguine, Achillea millefolium and lemon thyme - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Pot 3

Pot 3

  • Lavandula (evergreen) – bushy, evergreen lavender with wonderfully fragrant summer flowers and aromatic foliage.
  • Thymus × citriodorus – lemon thyme forms an aromatic mound, perfect for flavouring roast vegetables and chicken.
  • Iris germanica ‘Accent’ (May, June) – has beautiful yellow and dark red flowers in spring.
  • Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ (summer) – upright perennial, with flat-topped flowerheads, magenta with white centres.
  • Geranium sanguine (May to September) – low mound of foliage and masses of flowers all summer long.
Pot 2 in April - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Pot 2 in April

The containers were a picture through the spring and summer. Within a month, the heuchera had put on fresh new leaves, the gaura was growing strongly and the dianthus was flowering prettily.

Iris germanica Accent - flowering in May. Spring garden ideas from Weatherstaff
Iris germanica Accent

In early May, the iris began to flower, its soft yellow standards and dark red falls echoing the dark heuchera and the purple and yellow pansies in the adjacent containers.

Salvia and heuchera flowers - late spring garden border ideas
Salvia and heuchera flowers

By the end of May, the salvia was throwing up spikes of deep blue, two-lipped flowers, contrasting with delicate sprays of pink heuchera flowers.

Early June - geranium, salvia and gaura. Summer planting ideas for containers.
Early June – geranium, salvia and gaura

In early June, the vertical stems of gaura, salvia and rosemary (with the tall iris leaves still showing behind) created vibrancy and movement, while the mounds of heuchera and geranium kept the containers grounded.

Lemon-scented thyme - herbs for summer containers, Weatherstaff garden design software
Thymus × citriodorus
Roasted carrots with lemon scented thyme - planting herbs from the PlantingPlanner garden design software
Roasted carrots with lemon scented thyme

Planting herbs in your all-season containers provides a ready source of fresh flavours to add zing to your cooking. The zesty taste of Thymus × citriodorus is perfect for flavouring roast meats and vegetables. The edible flowers have a lemony flavour too.

Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ - ideas for summer flower beds,from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’

Into the autumn, the late flowers of Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ and Anemone hupehensis ‘Praecox’ took over from the fading summer bloomers, while the evergreen plants continued to work their magic in each of the three pots.

Muscari armeniacum for spring containers from Weatherstaff garden design software
Muscari armeniacum

During the winter, I added some winter-flowering pansies, which did a great job of keeping the pots looking good through the cold months and into early spring. The muscari popping up through the over-wintered planting was a delight. Next year, I’m going to multiply this effect by adding more bulbs of tiny spring flowers.

New growth on the uncinia rubra -grasses for container gardening by Weatherstaff
The red hook sedge pulls through

Uncinia rubra will only tolerate full sun if kept constantly moist. I thought I had lost it, but this spring, it has fought back and is putting on new growth.

New pink leaves on the heuchera - container planting in spring. Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
The heuchera keeps on going

The wonderful heuchera has fresh, soft pink leaves now, which darken to a deep red purple. Its foliage looks fantastic all year round and in a few weeks’ time, it will send up sprays of tiny pink flowers again.

Planting pots for year round interest doesn’t mean that the pots will continue to look good forevermore. Over time, some plants will grow too big for the space and some will need dividing to keep them in good flowering form. But it does mean that you won’t have to ditch a whole container of planting every time the seasons change. Of course, you could use a slow-growing shrub or dwarf-evergreen, which will last for several years without needing much effort on your part. If you enjoy watching the seasons change in your garden, though, you might well prefer to watch them change too in your garden containers, where new plants push up into the limelight as other quietly fade away.

All Season Pots - spring update - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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The Weatherstaff Team

How to apply a spring mulch

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The spring bulbs are a picture. Early winter aconites and the valiant, little snowdrops are giving way to the first cheery daffodils, flashes of purple crocuses and creamy primroses, huddled low in their blanket of foliage.

Purple crocus in early spring Weatherstaff garden design blog
Crocuses light up the spring border
Cyclamineus narcissi - early flowering daffodils for a spring display
Early Cyclamineus narcissi
Primroses (Primula vulgaris) in an early spring border
Scented primroses in early spring

A splash of sunshine on an early spring afternoon is enough to entice you out into the garden, pulling on the gardening gloves, on the look-out for an excuse to potter.

There are plenty of jobs to do. Winter-flowering shrubs can be pruned when they have finished flowering. The grasses can get a bit of tidying up too. Any deciduous grasses left to provide winter interest can be cut back in early spring, while dead foliage on evergreen grasses can be pulled away. The wisteria gets its second cut in January or February. Those whippy shoots which were cut back in the summer after flowering can be cut back to 2 or 3 buds in late winter or early spring.

Wheelbarrow of well-rotted manure for a spring time mulch
Well-rotted manure makes a great spring time mulch

It’s almost time for the spring mulch – but don’t be too impatient to get it done. The best time to do this is mid to late spring, when the soil has had a chance to warm up a bit, but is still moist from the winter rains.

If you are planning to lift and divide perennials, do that first, so the mulch is left undisturbed as much as possible once it’s down. Tackle the weeding first too.

What is mulching?

Mulching means to apply a thick layer of material over the soil in garden beds. Between 5-10cm (2-4 inches) of mulch will prevent annual weeds from germinating. Any weeds which make it through will be weakened and easier to remove.

Tulip leaves emerge in spring garden beds
Leave room for new growth to emerge

Spread it carefully, leaving a gap around existing or emerging plants. Piling mulch up too close to the stems can cause them to rot.

Why mulch?

As well as suppressing weeds, mulching also helps trap in moisture, reducing the need for watering later on. If you choose to mulch with organic matter, there are additional benefits, as it acts as a great soil conditioner and improves the structure of the soil.

Chipped bark used as a mulch in flower beds Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
A layer of chipped bark covers the soil around perennials

Mulching also gives garden borders a tidy appearance, covering the soil between plants with a neat, homogenous surface.

What should I mulch with?

The two choices for mulching are organic or inorganic material. If you are mulching to conserve moisture and reduce weeds, you can use anything which will allow rain to permeate through, yet reduce evaporation. A layer of straw will help or even bits of old carpet. Woven landscape fabric is particularly useful when planting up a new border, because you can lay the weed-suppressing material down first, then cut crosses and plant through the gaps. Gravel, slate or pebbles can be an attractive addition to flower beds or containers.

Pebbles, slate and gravel can be used as an inorganic mulch in spring
Slate, gravel or pebbles make an attractive mulch

However, if you want to benefit from improved soil condition and structure, your best choice is to use an organic mulch. All soil types can be improved by adding organic matter, which helps the soil to retain moisture and nutrients. Adding well-rotted organic matter to heavy soil improves its structure, making it more crumbly and easier to work with.

Apply chipped bark to borders as a spring mulch
Decorative chipped bark can be bought from garden centres

Organic matter includes well-rotted manure, garden compost, leaf mould, chipped or composted bark and spent mushroom compost. Dig it in when first preparing the ground for planting and then add layers around the plants (mulching) every year if possible.

If you have a lot of garden, it can be expensive to cover every bed. Making your own leaf mould or compost is a good start, but if you need to supplement it with something extra, it’s worth trying to find a reputable source. My first delivery of well-rotted manure contained more than I bargained for and I spent hours sifting through it, removing bits of string, electrical wires and weeds!

How to apply a spring mulch - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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The Weatherstaff Team

Coffee, Baguette and a Living Wall

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Driving down through France at the end of October, we pulled into the motorway services near Troyes for a bite to eat. The planned quick pit stop took longer than expected, though, as I was side-tracked on the way in by an unexpected horticultural delight!

Living wall at the motorway services in France- from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Living wall at the motorway services in France

The entrance was enlivened by 4 vertical panels of planting, still looking fantastic despite the gloomy weather and lateness of the season.

Living wall tapestries - Weatherstaff garden design software
Living wall tapestries
Grasses and ferns on a living wall - Weatherstaff planting ideas
Grasses and ferns with blue campanula
The living wall at Siam Paragon, Bangkok - from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
The living wall at Siam Paragon shopping mall, Bangkok

I was lucky enough to get a close-up view of the living wall installations at Siam Paragon and EmQuartier, both in Bangkok.

These are indoor plantings in a tropical country, though, so the outdoor living wall at Troyes was inspiring for providing an example of vertical planting that could work well in my own temperate climate.

Living wall plant containers - ideas for vertical planting from Weatherstaff
Living wall plant containers

Earlier in the season, the fullness of the planting would have obscured the systems and structure used to create the wall, but at this time of year, it was possible to make out how the plants and growing medium were assembled.

This one was obviously a professionally installed, large scale system, but it’s becoming easier now to create a more manageable version of living walls in our own back gardens.

As vertical gardening has become increasingly popular, there are now several products on the market to enable gardeners to create living walls in their gardens, courtyards or even indoors.

You can buy panels of pouches to suspend on fences or walls. These pouches, often made from felt or plastic, can be planted up with plug plants. Take care that the material the panel is made from is sturdy enough to support the weight of the pouches when planted up.

Dobbies now sells living wall systems which can be used both indoors and outdoors. Each sturdy plastic planter has 3 pockets and can be slotted together to create a living wall. The modular system means that you can build it to suit the space available, and I also like the fact that it has a self-watering system. The planters can be fixed directly to a house wall or garden fence or to wood panels, which can be moved from place to place. Pots of compact plants can be dropped into the planters so that they can be easily changed later.

If you are planting up plants yourself for your living wall, think carefully about the potting mixture. A high quality compost gives the plants the best chance of survival, but it needs to be reasonably lightweight, to keep the weight of the plants and soil on a living wall to a manageable level. Try incorporating polystyrene beanbag balls to reduce the overall weight of individual pots. You want the mix to be well-draining but also to hold on to enough moisture to avoid the soil drying out too quickly. Slow release fertilisers can help as well.

Choosing plants for living walls

The best plants are those that will knit together to form a tapestry of contrasting textures and colours. Go for compact plants or ones that can be cut back regularly to keep them within their allotted space.
Remember to take account of whether your living wall will be in sun or shade and pick the plants which will do best in those conditions.

Bronze Carex comans - grass for containers and vertical plantings
Bronze Carex comans

Ferns, such as Cyrtomium fortunei and Asplenium, and small grasses, like Carex comans Bronze form and Ophiopogon nigrescens, are good choices.

Tiarella Iron Butterfly - a shade-loving perennial for gardens and containers
Tiarella Iron Butterfly

Heuchera, Heucherella and Tiarella, with their colourful foliage and delicate sprays of flowers, are an excellent choice for vertical plantings.

Tiarella Iron Butterfly is a shade-loving perennial, with mahogany-blotched leaves and sprays of fragrant flowers in early spring and late summer.

Campanula portenschlagiana and Erigeron karvinskianus - planting ideas for living walls
Campanula portenschlagiana and Erigeron karvinskianus

Small, spreading ground cover plants, like Ajuga reptans, Galium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff), Erigeron karvinskianus and Campanula portenschlagiana, are useful for creating blocks of colour.

Grow strawberries on your living wall - planting ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Grow strawberries on your living wall

You can grow edible crops on your living wall too. Herbs are perfect, but also consider salad leaves and strawberries.

The key is to plant in vertical or diagonal drifts, repeating the plants at intervals to create a pattern of colour and texture across the display.

Coffee, baguette and a living wall - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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The Weatherstaff Team

6 Thrillers for Fantastic Container Plantings

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The Thrillers are usually the tallest plants in the display, the eye-catchers and head-turners. They provide structure to the planting group.

Here are my 6 choices for plants with superb thriller qualities.

Acer palmatum

There are hundreds of varieties of Japanese maples and they are a popular choice for container plantings as well as for garden borders.

Acer palmatum Bloodgood - Japanese Maple from Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Acer palmatum Bloodgood

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is a small, deciduous tree or large shrub, grown for its beautiful autumn colours. The deeply dissected, dark reddish-purple leaves turn a brilliant red in autumn.

Acer palmatum Katsura from Weatherstaff garden design software
Acer palmatum Katsura

‘Katsura’ has wonderful spring colour. The attractive foliage opens pink-orange, becoming green in summer, before taking on yellow, orange and red autumn tints.

Acer palmatum Ukigumo - container planting from Weatherstaff
Acer palmatum Ukigumo

The small, deeply lobed leaves of ‘Ukigumo’ are mottled green, white and pink

Phormium

A stunning architectural plant, with arching, strap-shaped foliage. An evergreen perennial, phormiums provide all-year round interest in the garden.

Phormium Evening Glow - container plants from Weatherstaff garden design software
Phormium Evening Glow

‘Evening Glow’ has bold clumps of soft sunset-pink leaves, with dusky bronze stripes and margins.

Phormium Pink Panther - eye-catching container plant from Weatherstaff garden design software
Phormium Pink Panther

‘Pink Panther’ has coral leaves with bronzed grey-green margins.

Phormium Dusky Chief - thriller plant from Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Phormium Dusky Chief

‘Dusky Chief’ has deep burgundy foliage, which makes a great foil for chartreuse planting companions.

Pennisetum

Many grasses do well in pots, creating a fluid, tactile backdrop to the rest of the planting.

Pennisetum x avena Rubrum - grasses for container planting
Pennisetum x avena Rubrum

Pennisetum x avena Rubrum (Purple Fountain Grass) is a spectacular centre-piece when in flower. It has burgundy red, strappy foliage, with 30cm long, purple bottlebrush plumes from mid-summer to mid-autumn. It isn’t hardy, so be ready to move it into a greenhouse or a sheltered spot for the winter.

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ - grasses for flower pots from Weatherstaff
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ is more upright, with white to soft pink plumes, fading to buff. It is a little hardier and should survive in mild areas of the UK.
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ has bright green leaves and soft plumes with purplish tinges

Gaura

Long-flowering and graceful, gaura is a pretty perennial with starry flowers fluttering on long, airy stems.

Gaura Whirling Butterflies - thriller perennial for container gardening
Gaura Whirling Butterflies

Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’ has 75cm tall, waving stems of floating white flowers from May to September and takes on pretty autumn tints later in the year.

Gaura Crimson Butterflies - perennials for container plantings
Gaura Crimson Butterflies

‘Siskiyou Pink’ (1.5m tall) has dusky pink flowers. The fabulous Gaura lindheimeri Rosyjane (‘Harrosy’) (75cm tall) has white flowers with a pink-flushed edging. ‘Crimson Butterflies’ has bright pink flowers on red stems but is shorter at only 60 cm height.

Achillea

Achilleas are upright perennials, with flat-topped flowerheads from early to late summer. Deadheading will encourage further flowering, but if you leave the flowers on the plant, you can enjoy a pleasing tapestry of muted colours as the flowers fade.

Achillea Walther Funcke - container plant from Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Achillea Walther Funcke

Achillea millefolium ‘Walther Funcke’ grows to 60cm. Its flowers are orange-red with yellow centres, fading with age.

Achillea millefolium Cassis - great plant choice for container gardening
Achillea millefolium Cassis

‘Cassis’ (60cm) has wine-red flowers, fading with age. ‘Terracotta’ (1.1m) has pale orange flowers, which fade to creamy yellows.

Penstemon

A charming and popular summer perennial, penstemons have upright, leafy stems carrying spikes of foxglove-like flowers from mid-summer to mid-autumn. Deadhead to keep the flowers coming.

Penstemon Schoenholtzeri - gorgeous perennial for containers
Penstemon Schoenholtzeri

‘Schoenholzeri’ (also called ‘Firebird’ or ‘Ruby’) has crimson flowers, with white-streaked throats. ‘Raven’ (100cm) has rich dark purple, tubular flowers, with white throats streaked purple.