Contain Your Winter Wonderland
Evergreen And Berried Shrubs crack
If you’re looking for colourful pots which will last a bit longer than a few shortlived pansies this winter, it’s worth shopping around for evergreen and berried shrubs and grasses.
Garden centres are now awash with winter cherries (Solanum capsicastrum), bearing large bright-orange berries which look tempting but may not last too long outside unless you give them a really sheltered spot.
A better bet for a splash of colour in a contemporary pot would be Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’, a hardy shrub which produces bright-purple berries in winter, standing out among underplantings of ivy and winter-flowering heather.
Some shrubs last well in pots and can then be successfully grown in the garden. Skimmia ‘reevesiana’, a hermaphrodite producing vibrant red berries, looks wonderful in pots, as does its relative S japonica ‘Rubella’, with its deep-red flower buds, which can be a vibrant focal point in any container.
If you transfer skimmia from their pots to your borders in spring and you want berries in future years, make sure you grow male and female plants together. ‘Foremanii’ is female and produces large bunches of berries, while ‘Fragrans’ is male and recommended for its floral fragrance.
Deep-coloured heucheras also remain pretty hardy over the winter, contrasting well with variegated euonymus and seasonal accent plants including cyclamen from the Miracle Series, which will flower for weeks and tolerate mild frosts.
Viburnum tinus is another reliable evergreen shrub which can comfortably fill a winter pot. Its buds reveal a dark pink tinge when they open, later lightening to pure white as the flowers open between late winter and early spring.
When planting your winter pots, buy a container labelled ‘frost-proof’ rather than ‘frost-resistant’, which will withstand the British weather more effectively. Line the inside of the pot with plastic bubble-wrap to prevent compost from freezing and damaging the roots, but don’t cover the drainage hole. Line the base of the pot with crocks or chunks of polystyrene to ease drainage.
Half-fill the pot with compost. For permanent plantings of shrubs and perennials, use a soil-based compost such as John Innes No 3, which holds on to water and nutrients well while encouraging good air movement and drainage. Sit the rootball of your main plant about 2.5cm below the container rim, initially sitting the plant in its pot in the container to gauge the right depth.
Knock your plant out of its pot and position it in the container, holding it steady as you add more compost to secure it, and raise the level of compost to suit the other plants.
Many people forget about grasses in the winter, but it’s a time when they can come into their own in pots, adding huge architectural value and texture to the scene. And you can always transplant them into your garden when winter is over.
Sculptural grasses such as Carex comans ‘Bronze form’ can make a striking formal feature, while tall containers look great with sword-like phormiums and sedges, mixed with the cascading foliage of carex. They are extremely low maintenance and highly visual, particularly in winter when not much else can steal the limelight.
Alternatively, use a tall grass planted in a pot on its own, such as Stipa gigantea, a densely-tufted evergreen type that’ll look great on a frosty morning and wave in the slightest breeze.
Of course, if you are a flower fan and want to make the most of winter blooms, you could plant up some hellebores in pots, which will provide a terrific display of foliage and flowers throughout late winter and early spring, in shades of white, cream, yellow, green, pink and purple through to almost black. They do particularly well in partially-shaded areas.
There’s really no reason that you can’t have beautiful winter containers of plants which you can transfer to beds and borders at a later date to give you pleasure in years to come.
Best of the bunch - Gaultheria (Wintergreen)
You may see a lot of these small shrubs in garden centres bearing their colourful red or purple berries at the moment, and they can be easily grown in pots of ericaceous compost or in a garden with lime-free soil in partial shade.
Gaultheria is most commonly seen as ground cover under rhododendrons or camellias, but if you want a taller variety you can choose G shallon, which grows to 1.5m, producing dark purple berries.
Others, such as G mucronata, are more suitable to add low-growing interest to containers or borders, with their large porcelain-like berries in shades of dark pink, red and white appearing in November.
Male and female flowers are nearly always borne by different varieties, so you need to plant more than one type to be sure you will have berries. Female varieties include ‘Cherry Ripe’ and ‘Lilian’, while male types include ‘Thymifolia’ or ‘Male’.