Wouldn't it be great to have continuous colour on our patios and decks over the winter months to lift our spirits on those particularly bleak winter days?
With so many new plants becoming available, it's getting easier to create some neat combinations that will stand the stress of winter weather. To be fair though, when the temperature dips below minus eight degrees C, most containers and baskets will have to be moved to a sheltered area out of severe cold winds. They can be brought back out when the thermometer goes up to zero degrees C or above.
There are, however, a few things I've learned about winter planters that can make a difference. First, choose containers or baskets that are at least 45 centimetres in diameter. The effects from freezing and thawing is less dramatic on plants in larger containers.
Secondly, make sure you have very well drained soils. I always use a good container mix, to which I add about 25 per cent more fine fir or hemlock bark mulch to improve both the drainage and air movement to the roots.
The secret in creating any good container is to remember that it's nice to have a proportion of two-thirds plant height and one-third pot. Nothing looks more goofy than a few low plants in a large pot.
You also need a bit of flair and style, which can be easily achieved with a great focal plant.
My winter favourites are contorted filberts, Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus auellana `Contorta') and neat looking conifers like Pinus parviflora Pinus strobus pendula or Picea abies pendula. These are all hardy plants that not only create interest but also look sensational.
The next thing to remember is that none of the plants in your containers will grow much over the winter and must be snuggled together a little closer than usual to achieve a nice full look.
Evergreen perennials fit this bill perfectly. My favourites for hardiness and colour are bergenias, heucheras, heucherellas, tiarellas and euphorbias, especially all the new colourful foliage varieties.
Each of these perennials has terrific winter colour and an attractive habit. Some are more stiff and upright, while others, like the heucheras and tiarellas, will droop gently over the edge of your container. There are many other evergreen perennials, like the golden sedum Angelina', that have such an attractive look.
The secret in creating any good container is to remember that it's nice to have a proportion of two-thirds plant height and onethird pot.
To add a little flair, a few evergreen grasses can make quite a difference. Yellow and green variegated varieties, such as Acorus gramineus `Ogon' and Fescue `Golden Toupe', are my first choice because of their spiky appearance.
They are especially useful in the smaller 10-centimetre potted size. The semi-trailing form of Carex `Evergold' is fabulous to drape over the edge of a basket or container; its variegated yellow and green colouring looks fabulous next to some dark-leafed heucheras.
It's very important to get some trailing plants that spill over the edge of your container. For a little winter colour, Search out the ground cover section in garden stores for some 10 cm potted cotoneasters. Evergreen varieties, like Cotoneaster dammeri, not only droop nicely over the edge of baskets and containers, but their red berries also add a nice touch.
All of these plants will give you a great winter look that you can depend upon right through the colder months.
But there is still a little spark missing flower colour.
winter pansies will sort of do the job, but the hardier and more resilient violas are best. Violas have improved dramatically over the years with better colour ranges, flower size and more consistent blooming.
Speaking of colour, remember when using all the foliage colours I've mentioned, group them in one of two ways for the best effect. First, use warm colours like gold, bronze, burgundy and yellow tones at this time of year for a more comfortable look. Secondly, the most effective combinations use analogous colours, that is tints and hues of those colours next to each other on the colour wheel. Believe me, it does make a significant difference.
Whether you choose wall pockets or patio containers, I would encourage you to try this potentially wonderful new way of adding warmth to your winter decks and entrances.