Cram colour into your container pots

Plunder the plant store and drag our your houseplants - this is your chance to show off your brightly-coloured summer sizzlers.
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Hibiscus with callibrachoa
© Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos
Hibiscus with a ruffle of callibrachoa sets the scene for a long hot summer
Celebrate summer with flamboyant flowers and foliage that make a sensational container show. Throw good taste out of the windowbox and look for head-turning plants in all kinds of places: florists, supermarkets, DIY stores, street markets as well as garden centres.

The tasteful violas of late spring and early summer are no longer on offer, which is just as well, because high summer calls for more dramatic, bigger-bloomed offerings that are better suited to hot, dry conditions. Pastels look washed-out in bright light; colours that sizzle in the sunlight are deep, dark velvety shades as well as primary brights.

'Humdrum houseplants become exotic when brought outdoors and set alongside tropical flowers'

Busy lizzies are useful gap fillers, but their jazzier relatives, the New Guinea impatiens, make more of a splash in fire-engine red, tangerine, sugar pink and cerise.

You only need one plant per average-sized flowerpot to make an impact. They wilt quickly - but revive even faster. Humdrum houseplants - the leafy kind you barely notice indoors - become exotic when brought outdoors and partnered with tropical-type flowers.

Philodendron suddenly resembles a jungle escapee. Even mother-in-law's tongue, Sansevieria, makes a great vertical statement when you see it in a new light - sunlight - and as part of a roll call of glamorous plants.

Bougainvillea, banana and oleander
© Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos
Bougainvillea, banana and oleander create a tropical feeling on a sunlit terrace and need little maintenance all summer
This is the moment to pull on to the patio the yucca, zebra plant calathea and - handle with gloves - the cowboy cactus. To set off luscious greenery, tuck in a pelargonium here or there, in a vibrant scarlet or fuchsia. And talking of fuchsia, the one that is sultry, not suburban, is Fuchsia Thalia, with slim, tubular trumpet flowers in Day-Glo vermilion. The statement begonia is Bonfire.

Consider everything, dismiss nothing. In an identity parade of real plants it is hard to pick out the fakes, so you can bring out the plastic birds of paradise stems with impunity. Pushed into compost-filled pots and placed among the rank and file, nobody will guess they aren't the real thing.

Florists are stocking potted flowers with attitude: daisy-like gerberas in paintbox shades, butter-yellow dwarf sunflowers, bougainvillea, tropical hibiscus with huge, crimson-throated apricot flowers, even brugmansias, angels' trumpets with double-fringed trumpet flowers in menacing, deep aubergine that open to dusty lilac.

© Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos
Bring out foliage houseplants such as yucca to add to the exotic display
Pump up the purple with an aubergine plant, decked with oval fruits and turban-type lilac flowers, from any good garden centre. No matter if you didn't grow peppers from seed: buy fully-formed chilli plants and add fiery heat to the mix.

Baby orange trees can be bought at a florist or market for around a fiver. They may not last longer than the season, but you'd pay the same for a bunch of flowers that last a week or less.

Push your potted plunder together to resemble a border; range them on bricks, a set of steps, anything to give them different heights so that, as in a group photo, every head is seen. Let colours clash and complement; place foliage plants such as stripey-leaved phormium Maori Queen or majestic red banana, Ensete meurellii, where they are backlit, so the burnished paddle leaves gleam-like stained glass.

This is about smart styling, not skilful gardening, though there are a few horticultural basics to follow: use soil-based compost that is more water-retentive than multipurpose; mulch pots with grit, stones or seashells; water right at the roots of each plant, every day; feed foliage plants with liquid seaweed extract, flowering and fruiting plants with tomato feed, once weekly. Follow these few rules and your spectacular display will deliver colour and thrills from now until autumn.

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