Pot plants for winter colour
GROW:Container-grown plants can provide splashes of colour and interest in the winter gardenLATE AUTUMN. It seems to have come almost overnight, its arrival heralded by the sudden tumble of toffee-coloured leaves that has blocked up house gutters, covered city pavements and carpeted the country’s roads, shrouding parks and gardens in a cloak of fallen foliage.
Only a few short weeks ago, the unseasonably mild weather meant that short-lived summer bedding displays had held their own, creating strangely vivid splashes of colour in the October garden. Now those same defiant stragglers look doleful and frost-bitten, prompting a non-gardening friend of mine to quizzically inquire why gardeners expend so much effort on summer containers, pots and tubs – but so little on their autumn or winter equivalents.
She’s right, of course. A couple of generously-sized containers filled with a handful of plants chosen for winter interest can make all the difference to the late autumn and winter garden, lifting our spirits and reminding us that spring isn’t really all that far away.
The secret to their success lies in placing the emphasis firmly on colourful stems, bright berries and evergreen foliage, rather than on flowers.
Play around with contrasting textures, leaf shapes and growth habits and they’ll be that bit better again. As always, there are a few other things to keep in mind.
A jumble of mismatching colours is rarely going to be as pleasing to the eye as a carefully thought-out combination. Start off with one key specimen plant and build the rest of the planting scheme around it, using plants that either harmonise or offer dramatic colour contrast.
For example, the tall, twiggy crimson stems of Cornus ‘Baton Rouge’ will make a long-lasting centrepiece to any winter container, offering height and colour but not bulk. It looks especially lovely surrounded with a skirt of evergreen grasses such as the lovely low-growing sedge, Uncinia rubra ‘Everflame’, whose chocolate and cherry-striped leaves will echo the dogwood’s fiery coloured stems.
For extra sizzle, add some pops of colour in the shape of orange winter pansies. If your preference is for containers that are ultra-sleek and contemporary in style, replace the sedge and pansies with a skirt of the sooty-black Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, a very low-growing grasslike plant with evergreen foliage.
Alternatively, underplant with the white-flowering winter heath, Erica carnea ‘Whitehall’ which blooms from January to March.
For a brighter, lighter colour combination, consider a yellow-and green themed planting scheme. In this case, the centrepiece could be the lovely yellow-green dogwood, Cornus ‘Flaviramea’, or the golden-leaved, shrubby evergreen, Choisya ‘Sundance’. Underplant with a mix of yellow, chartreuse and green-leaved Heucheras such H. ‘Lime Marmalade’, H. ‘Green Spice’ or H. ‘Lime Rickey’, whose colourful leaves form low mounds of evergreen foliage. Trailing ivies and evergreen ferns such as Asplenium scolopendrium will also work well with this combination.