Colourful Containers Outdoors

It is easy to create a wonderful eye-catching display if you first plan the overall design of your plant grouping, choose a colour scheme and then plant up your container to achieve your desired effect.

Plants grown in a container look most effective if they are grouped together to make a coherent shape. Choose a group of plants that includes one or two tall ones, some medium-sized bushy varieties and some smaller plants that will spill attractively over the container, softening the hard edge. If your container is to stand against a wall, put the tall plants at the back. But if the grouping will be seen from all sides, place the tallest plants in the centre.

Take into account the shape and colour of the leaves as well as the flowers, and contrast large leaves with small or feathery ones.

Choosing colours

You will achieve the best results if you keep to some kind of colour scheme. Bear in mind the surrounding plants and surfaces when you are deciding on your scheme. A pot full of one variety of plant in just one colour can look very effective, but if you plant a mixture of varieties you extend the flowering period. You can still keep to one colour if you want to, bringing in a range of tones, or you can add some white flowering varieties that will show off your chosen colour. Choose colours that blend for a muted effect, such as blue and pink, or yellow and orange. Or for a more strident effect you can use colours that contrast, such as yellow or red with blue.


Planting up the container

To create an overflowing effect you may need a surprising number of plants, but take care not to overplant, as this will result in thin straggly plants fighting each other for light and space. A 40cm (16in) diameter container could easily hold 11 or 12 plants.

Extending the season

By using perennial plants you can pick varieties that flower in turn, possibly adding a few annuals like pelargoniums for extra colour.

Small evergreen shrubs and ivies make a good permanent planting, and a background for a changing group of annuals and springtime flowering bulbs. Such an evergreen planting also ensures that you are not left with an apparently empty box in early winter. Wallflowers will also give background greenery, but they flower just when you want to put in the summer annuals.

Choosing containers

If you are going to group your container with others, make sure it harmonizes either in material or shape. A series of identical pots lined up against a wall, or up a flight of steps, and holding identical plants, can look stunning. But you can also make effective groups of containers by mixing sizes and heights (you can add height by placing one pot on another upside down). Low saucers filled with tiny plants like violets, campanula, pansies, lobelia or pinks look very effective in the foreground.

In most cases you will want the pot that holds your plants to be simply a container, that practically disappears into its surroundings. So when choosing a container, take into account the colour and materials of the surrounding surfaces. A terracotta pot, for instance, will mix well with a brick patio or look good against a brick wall. Concrete or stone will blend with paving in those materials. A wooden tub placed beside the front door could be painted to match it, or you could use a plastic pot in a matching colour. The shape of the container is important too, so pick a design that is in keeping with the surroundings; rustic, classic or modern.

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