Autumn is the season to bring nature’s wealth of berries, grasses, flowers and foliage into your containers. Forgo cool blues and tasteful whites for rich bonfire colours that reflect the bigger picture beyond the patio, and team so well with terracotta.
There is no need to have the artistry of a florist. Just pick up, say, a large potful of claret-coloured button chrysanthemums, a potful or three of orange violas and a slim Japanese maple that is already displaying promising shades of ochre and russet. Pot them up separately, push them all together and you have a small-scale autumn garden — warm, cheering and guaranteed to glow in the season’s low, golden sunlight, as well as brighten the grey days ahead.
You could make a great composition of berrying plants with an orange pyracantha and a red-berried Gaultheria procumbens, then shake up the mix with a Gaultheria mucronata, its dark green foliage studded with fat, milky magenta fruits. You could even add the extraordinary Callicarpa Profusion, which has clusters of metallic violet berries studding its bare branches.
If you just have one container to spell out the season, my vote would go to heuchera, which has large, veined ruffled leaves that look splendid en masse, and resemble a swoosh of fallen leaves that have begun to curl at the edges. Several contrasting shades would look sensational in a deep, long window box. Heucheras Marmalade, Bonfire and Autumn Leaves give you a clue as to the mellow autumnal shades now starring at many garden centres.
Fat, fleshy sedums such as Sedum Autumn Joy, its milky green leafy stems topped with broad, dusty pink flowerheads, make great solo container choices, too. The deep damson foliage and richer pink blooms of Sedums Firecracker or Ruby Glow offer dramatic colouring. Skimmia reevesiana, with its neat dome of glossy, shapely leaves and bright red, long-lasting berries, needs no accompaniment and is a classic for smart city terraces or balconies.
The extravagant fans of phormiums’ sword-shaped foliage add valuable height to an autumn display, but instead of the more usual burgundy, seek out the showier tri-striped varieties such as wine red and fir green Jester.
In a large container or wide, shallow bowl, you could make a garden-in-a-pot, teaming two, three or even more plants together. You might plant carmine and tangerine violas together and back them up with bloodshot grass Imperatica cylindrica Rubra or a lighter, feathery Festuca grass that will swish and sway in the breeze.
The fuzzy foliage of lime green Sedum Lemon Ball sets off purple asters a treat, as do bright green evergreen ferns, and you could add black-eyed yellow pansies to provide extra pizzazz.
For a delicious duo that highlights the rich rusts of autumn, team the contrasting textures of gauzy pink heather with the large blooms of a hot pink cyclamen. You could add a splashy rosette of ornamental cabbage, all frilly whorls of vanilla, pink and fir green.
Look at unexpected places to add spice to your display. Herb sections of garden centres are likely to yield purple sage, gold-tipped thyme and upright rosemary, all fragrant and decorative foliage additions. The florist is another valuable source, this time for scarlet stems of dogwood, bare branches of berrying ilex and papery orange Chinese lanterns. Just push into compost wherever you want to stoke the fires. It will be our little secret.