As summer draws to a close and plants in pots start looking tired, it’s time to give your containers a fresh new look for autumn and winter.
As well as making new plantings, consider brightening up existing containers. Give wooden troughs and windowboxes a good sand before repainting them in whatever colour takes your fancy, but just make sure it complements the area rather than standing out like a sore thumb.
Retro lovers may like to recycle items like food cans and tins, colanders, old metal buckets or bread tins, old wooden crates or even brightly coloured plastic trugs (with drainage holes in the bottom) to use as containers.
If you only want to replace certain plants which have gone over, dig them out carefully with a hand fork and then replace the old compost with fresh, preferably the type which contains slow-release fertiliser and water-retaining gel. Fill in the gaps with temporary colourful autumn plants such as autumn cyclamen, pansies and violas, combined with dwarf marguerites and berried winter cherries.
Alternatively, once your summer annuals in pots are truly spent, plant up a cool mix of autumn stunners, combining flowers and fruits with ivies and other hardy foliage plants. Include colourful ornamental kales and cabbages, heucheras and cape heath and, when the weather really cools down, shelter displays as much as possible to keep them frost-free.
Chrysanthemums, which went out of fashion for years as they have a reputation for being time-consuming and needing tlc in the greenhouse, have improved. There are many varieties which come into their own in the autumn, producing masses of flowers from August until November, including C. ‘Mei-kyo’, a pink variety.
Hopefully the hardy pansies and violas should last right through autumn until the beginning of winter. All this should be complemented with eye-catching evergreen foliage plants as well as spring-flowering hardy primroses, polyanthus and winter-flowering heathers.
If you’re planting up containers in autumn, don’t forget to add some bulbs which will give you colour from late winter through to spring. The bulbous Reticulata irises flower in late winter and early spring and, being mainly blue, combine effectively with white and yellow Crocus chrysanthus cultivars.
Dwarf narcissi such as ‘February Gold’ and ‘Tete a Tete’, also brighten up spring planters, as do snowdrops and grape hyacinth, while tulips will carry the flowering season into late spring. Pint-sized blue Scilla siberica can be used to fill in around the base of deciduous pot-grown shrubs but also make good plant partners for dwarf, early flowering daffodils and Wanda hybrid primroses.
Cool planting schemes might feature purple, pink and silver, combining ornamental cabbages with white cyclamen, purple-leaved heucheras such as H ‘Cajun Fire’ or ‘Shanghai’ and silver foliage plants such as Cineraria ‘Silver Dust’.
Ornamental grasses such as carex and festuca can also be added to drape over the edge of containers to add both colour, texture and movement.
And don’t forget to use berries to brighten any patio display, from Callicarpi bodinieri ‘Profusion’, whose lilac flowers in summer precede pinkish autumn foliage and masses of dazzling purple berries in winter, to the winter cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum), whose shiny orange-red berries will last several months. Many people buy them to add to their pots in autumn, when the berries are at their best.
Another great plant to include in autumn and winter pots is the Skimmia japonica subsp. Reevesiana which produces long-lasting clusters of bright pillar box red berries in winter, nestled among dark evergreen leaves. This hard-working evergreen shrub goes on to produce deliciously fragrant white flowers in spring.
The end of summer doesn’t have to signal the end of colour on the patio. With a little imagination, you can be enjoying your containers well into autumn and beyond.