Throughout the summer I have visited gardens locally and made a special point of looking at the containers that are part of their displays, analysing the plants they have used and trying to understand what works and what doesn’t.
This summer has been particularly challenging as the long, hot weeks meant that the containers had to be watered daily to keep them fresh. Looking at them now, I think my own are near exhaustion so I’m preparing to empty them a little early and fill them with Tulipa ‘Exotic Emperor’ for an early show next year.
I have a variety of large containers. Some, like the large Italian Terrace terracotta pots, are permanently planted with olives or Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Little Lime’ underplanted with Narcissus ‘Cotinga’.
This summer, for the first time, I planted up two very big copper pots from Architectural Heritage and I have been keeping a critical eye on them as they filled out so that I can benefit next season from lessons learned.
The two gardens whose container planting has made a particular impact are Kiftsgate Court Gardens (always a favourite of mine) and a new discovery, Bourton House Garden, just outside Bourton-on-the-Hill.
This Kiftsgate container is placed near to the hot borders and complements them beautifully while not searing the eyeballs. Trailing over the front of the pot is Lotus berthelotii (Parrot’s Beak) – its silver foliage set off by the helichrysum plants to the sides; in the front of the pot, red verbenas catch the eye and these are backed by a red variegated geranium. The pillars of the arrangement are a lipstick-red salvia and Melianthus Major. This planting is a wonderful example of how very hot colours can be brought together by the use of grey and silver.
Bourton House Gardens have used a somewhat different approach with their hot containers, strategically placed in front of complementary hanging baskets right at the entrance to the gardens. Here the dark colour of the container is picked up in the deep colour of the Aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf’ glowing in the middle ground. The remaining greens are dark with a peachy-orange Phygelius, a modest pink Begonia fuchsioides and a variegated Phormium tricolor providing the backdrop for the strong red ivy-leafed geranium that tumbles over the front of the container – a very happy combination.
The second Kiftsgate container shows just how well cool colours can be put together. Once again, silver helichrysum and white argyranthemums provide the lift against which the blues and mauves of the salvias, mallows and convolvulus sabatius planting are set.
Look at this splendid collection of exotics at Bourton House Gardens, set off beautifully against the warm tones of the terracotta. At the back the brick red abutilon echoes the warmth that runs through the outer edges of the fleshy-leaved aeonium. Two delicate plants in the foreground planting - a small yellow calceolaria and a white geranium – lead the eye back down to the lovely pot. I think the zing of the hot pink salvia has crept in from another planting but it just seems to add to the exuberance of the whole area.
Finally, my own copper pot; my first attempt to plant a really large pair of containers to carry me through the whole summer. They have, in large part, provided the wow factor that I wanted at the end of a path leading from the house and positioned either side of the entrance to an outdoor dining room.
What would I do differently? Well, I clearly got carried away planting the tiny cerinthes that I had grown from seed! I love their purple-green foliage and flowers but, in the rich soil of the container, they put on far more growth than I expected and dominate one side of the container. Although dahlia ‘Bright Eyes’ gives the zingy colour that I wanted, the delicacy of the flowers was, at times, a little overwhelmed by the strong growth of the other plants – I might try a strong orange, such as ‘David Howard’ next year. I am very glad that I put in stakes as I planted, they were soon hidden by the larger plants and have provided support for the whole container.
The three varieties of verbena, the helichrysum and the melianthus major all performed beautifully despite the trying dry conditions and intense sunshine that demanded daily watering. When I take out the summer bedding (I shall save the dahlias and the melianthus major and compost the rest – our 3 bay composter is now in full production and we are mulching the hedgerows with this year’s harvest) I shall plant each container with 100 ‘Exotic Emperor’ tulip bulbs.
Next time, I shall return to a perennial favourite – the peony. It was the desire to provide sturdy but elegant supports for my own peonies that first led us to start designing our own plant support range and I still manage to squeeze a few more plants into the garden each year.