from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software
With leaden skies and the days getting shorter and colder, it was time to inject a splash of colour on our front door step!
1. Skimmia, heuchera and winter pansies
A trip to the local garden centre is a great pick-me-up at any time of year, but on a chilly November day it was a heart-warming experience! Fairy lights twinkled and deliciously cute, fluffy rabbits waved from their glittery warrens as I passed through the Christmas grotto and out into the plant sales area. Of course, there wasn’t the huge array of colourful flowers you’d find at other times of the year. Still, there was plenty of choice for garden lovers hoping to cheer up their winter flower beds – or front door steps!
Pots of young trees and evergreen topiary are superb for creating structure at the time of year when many of the perennials are fast retreating underground. I also spotted a good selection of autumn/winter flowering and berrying shrubs. These included both white and red berried Gaultheria and Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’, which has colourful autumn leaves and violet berries.
Plants don’t grow much during the winter months, so to make an immediate impact, it’s important to choose enough plants to look good right from the start. The first step is to choose the focus plant. After that, it’s relatively easy to create an effective arrangement – just keep pottering around the shelves, picking out plants and trying out different groupings, until you find the perfect combination!
For structure, I chose a striking Skimmia japonica, dripping with red flower buds, together with a couple of ornamental grasses. I picked up a heuchera with dark purple evergreen foliage, which would look stunning in my slate grey pot. It wasn’t labelled so I’ll have to wait till summer to find out what the flower looks like! Finally, a collection of winter pansies found its way into my trolley. There was a huge choice of cheerful colours, both single and bi-coloured, but I liked the sultry deep red-purple ones, that complemented the other plants in my trolley.
Back in the warmth again, I got side-tracked on the way to the till by the spring bulb collections and ended up throwing in a packet of Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’, which also included some free Iris reticulata bulbs. Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’ only grows to about 15cm so is perfect for small pots. It has slightly reflexed, golden petals, with deeper golden cups. Twin flowers, sometimes triplets, are carried on each stem in early spring. The beautiful iris reticulata flowers in late winter to early spring, growing to 12cm high.
I found some small stones to sit over the pot’s drainage holes, to prevent them from getting clogged up with soil, and added a layer of compost. Then it was time to be creative. The Skimmia japonica went in at the back, flanked by the two grasses.
Before adding the smaller plants, I planted a handful of the bulbs as deeply as I could. Bulbs need to be planted at 2-3 times their depth and one bulb width apart. My container wasn’t as deep as I would have liked, but I’ll hope for the best!
To finish off my winter pot, I added the remaining plants. The heuchera went in front of the skimmia and the pansies squeezed in around the edge, where I hope they will flower their little socks off in milder spells throughout the winter.
2. A collection of winter interest shrubs with white Helleborus niger
Gaultheria’s red berries, purple-red Skimmia flower buds and the fiery winter foliage of evergreen Nandina domestica line this weathered stone trough. Trailing variegated ivy softens the edges while the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) adds a splash of winter white.
3. Cyclamen, Senecio cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ and Gaultheria mucronata ‘Pink Pearl’
Gaultheria is an acid-loving plant, so to do well will need ericaceous compost. It’s easy to give plants the conditions they need in containers, so if you love a plant that won’t survive in your garden soil, planting up a container is a good way to fit it in.
Senecio cineraria and cyclamen are happy in all soil types, so they make good companions for the Gaultheria. Not all cyclamens are hardy, so it’s best to choose hardy Cyclamen hederifolium or Cyclamen coum for your winter pots.
4. Ornamental cabbage, cyclamen and heathers
There were plenty of ornamental cabbages in the garden centre, which I passed by without too much hesitation. They just seemed a bit too clunky for my liking. However, in this collection of winter containers, the delicate spires of heather and the fine filigree of senecio balance the heavier purple cabbages. The cyclamens and ivy help to tie the display together.
5. Evergreen topiary
For the easiest of winter pots, try some box balls, cones or pyramids. Box (Buxus sempervirens) grows from mid-spring to early summer. It will need trimming in mid-summer to maintain its elegant shape but will provide year-round structure in the garden.
Looking for more ideas? The RHS has more advice here on suitable plants for winter containers.
Tips for Winter Containers
- Plants don’t need feeding in the winter months, but they will need watering in dry, mild spells.
- Standing pots on bricks or pot feet will improve drainage and may help protect pots from cracking in icy conditions.
- Deadhead flowers when necessary.
- Place the container where it will get the best of the winter sun. In severe weather, move pots to a sheltered spot or wrap in horticultural fleece or bubble wrap.