Now the skies are getting greyer and the garden is short of colour it is a good time to brighten things up with winter containers either in pots for the terrace or troughs for window-sills.
The principals will be the same whichever type of container one uses. I am doing something simple with easily available plants at this time of the year but one can have fun doing more imaginative things and also prepare something festive for Christmas.
Choosing a container.
Terracotta or wood are probably best as they are not as cold as plastic . To help with insulation one can line the inside of the container with sheet plastic remembering to make drainage holes in the bottom.
Pots standing on the ground are better raised up with terracotta feet, wood blocks or flat stones, this lets air circulate and raises the container from the cold ground also helping drainage.
In the bottom of the container put some crocks, stones or pieces of polystyrene to help with drainage.
Make a mixture of potting compost and grit .
If using bulbs in a mixed arrangement put a layer of this in the bottom of the container.
Having worked out a selection of plants, arrange them in the container and note spaces around them for the chosen bulbs, in this case small daffodils tête à tête and purple and white crocus.
Remove the plants and place the bulbs in desired position and then fill the container to within 5 cm. of the top of the container. Now dig in your plants being careful to avoid the bulbs and fill soil firmly around them. Place the container in position and spray lightly with water.
When choosing your plants remember that they grow very little in winter so have them big enough to make an impact.
Look for plants with complementary colours, interesting blends of leaf shapes and textures and have height variations. On the other hand one might want to make a splash of colour with one type of plant such as cyclamen, pansies or polyanthus.
The plants used were in the bottom layer Crocus and Narcissus 'Tête à Tête, then after another layer of earth in the middle at the back a bright green Chamaecyparis for height. It should have been a taller specimen but unfortunately could not be found, then the rest of the trough was filled up with Pansies and Cyclamen finishing off with ivy lin the front, hanging over the trough.
For a different look instead of the Chamaecyparis a red Cordyliine and then fill up the trough with deep pink heathers, silver leaved Senecio and Calocephalus 'Silver Bush\.
If you are doing a round container and it will be against a wall put the tallest plant at the back, but if it is open to view all the way round put the tallest plant in the middle and arrange shorter plants around it.
Remember to place the container where it will get the best of the winter light.
The plants will grow slowly and do not need feeding as this would encourage new growth which would be soft an susceptible to frost.
Check soil regularly and water carefully neither over or under watering.
As plants grow remove dead stalks, leaves and flower heads.
Remember that many of the plants I will list can grow on in the garden after the winter container is over.
When planting it is a good idea to put your container in a tray. When filling up with earth the spillage will stay in the tray.
List Of Suitable Plants
Bulbs and Corms
Tulipa 'Red Riding Hood'
Narcissus, small (like Daffodil tête à tête),
Muscari ( Grape Hyacinths),
Scilla bifolia or similar small varieties,
Tulipa, small tulip varieties.
Ajuga reptans 'Atropurpurea', the leaves of Ajuga come in green or reddish tints
Viola, Pansies large or small varieties
Glechoma hederacea 'Variegata' ( variegated ground ivy)
Calocephalus 'Silver Bush'
Erica - Heathers
Calocephalus 'Silver Bush'
Salvia officinalis 'variegata'
Salvia - Sages (variegated) Parsley
Helichrysum - Curry plant
Presentation, text and photos by Mavis McQuade
Some photos from the Web