With so many of the new season’s container plants on tempting display at every garden centre, it shouldn’t be too tough to consign summer’s bedding to the compost heap, first taking cuttings of any treasured tender plants.
Consider, for example, assembling one fabulous cache of containers that celebrates autumn’s rich, fiery shades. Ordinary terracotta pots are perfect for setting the warm mood. You could blaze a trail with a russet-red Japanese maple such as Acer palmatum Atropurpureum, then stoke up the fires with the hot pink-and-bronze strappy leaves of phormiums Maori Sunrise or claret and fir green Jester.
Two or three tall prairie perennials would fit the bill, too, such as butter-yellow Rudbeckia Goldsturm and Helenium Siesta, the splashy, burnt-red flower petals, flecked with gold, decidedly less siesta, more fiesta. After the perennials have bloomed, plant them out in the border or leave them in the wings until next year.
Pick out the seasonal shades of ace foliage plant heuchera, such as Marmalade, Autumn Leaves and Bonfire, and allow their ruffled foliage to extravagantly spill over the tops of wide, low pots or tall, slimline planters. Scarlet-flowered cyclamen and the cherry-red or milky-pink berries of gaultheria that almost cover the evergreen leaves — you might have to trim them back to give full rein to the fruits — make fine additions.
Go large, for impact. There’s no point filling a roomy container with masses of teeny-headed violas that will cost a lot and look very little. Instead, invest in a shrub in a tub.
Viburnum tinus isn’t overly thrilling, but Viburnum tinus Lisarose has just started to produce its showy, large, dome-shaped flower clusters in rich pink, that will carry on through winter and provide valuable late nectar for bees and insects.
Or you could bag a camellia. You won’t have to wait for spring if it’s a Camellia sasanqua such as Rainbow, which has the prettiest red-edged, white fluttery flowers through winter, or sweet-scented pale pink Plantation Pink, but these Oriental beauties will need a sheltered spot.
PIZZAZZ ON THE PATIO
There are other ways to make the patio come alive through the cold months. Just as you’d buy cut flowers to decorate the house, spend a little on the outdoor room, too, by giving the dining table an eye-catching monthly centrepiece.
As well as those French-market pots of button chrysanthemums that make huge domes of colour, garden centres are selling four-packs of baby ’mums that, in all their autumnal shades, make great tabletop displays, grouped in small terracotta pots.
In November you could trade them in for a patchwork of marble-leaved cyclamen in heavenly shades of watermelon red, shocking pink, rose and magenta.
Window boxes show your style as clearly as any room in the house. For a sharp, urban vibe go for crisply cut grey or black window boxes that lend themselves to more graphic compositions; Bay and Box make deep clay fibre planters specifically to fit Victorian bay windows, including small ledges.
Contrast shapes and textures, as well as colours, for the most eye-catching combos. You could have filigree-leaved evergreen ferns interspersed with white cyclamen, or, still on the monochrome theme, shrubby white-flowering hebes contrasting with sensational Heuchera Black Taffeta, the floppy, frilly black leaves overlaid with a sheen of deepest green.
Or think pink — a good partner for a black window box — and plant ice-pink, slim-stemmed heathers together with chunkier, deeper-toned varieties, then settle in shocking pink cyclamen and a rosette or two of ornamental cabbage, with those distinctive frilly layers of cream, pink and winter green, for a window box with real wow.
A profusion of powder-blue pansies alone carries its own charm and shows you are up to speed with the new season’s colour predictions. Or you could add jewel-like highlights with single plants of pansies or violas in golden-yellow or garnet.
Evergreen herbs are another good textural and practical choice. Dot small prostrate rosemaries along the box to trail over the edge, and fill with palest green and purple sages contrasting with gold-tipped thymes. Leave room here and there for a few pale-faced violas in, say, two-tone lemon and lilac.
Terracotta troughs are the ideal window boxes for bright orange pansies such as Padparadja, partnered with twirly tufts of bronze carex grass. Underplant all your window box plantings with dwarf daffodil bulbs in multi-headed golden Tête-à-Tête or scented white Segovia, to pop up in early spring.