Patio pots:why you should experiment with height but stick to one colour scheme

Arrange your pots at different levels to showcase your display and avoid the dolly mixture effect for a smart rather than a messy look

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Summer containers need little horticultural know-how — just some creative flair, along with good-quality compost, deadheading on demand, daily watering and weekly dosing with tomato feed.

Pots also need to be displayed rather than plonked on the patio, unless you want a perpetual aerial view of plants at your feet. You will need to raise them, so consider some scaffolding to showcase your efforts. A tiered metal or wooden plant stand, stone plinths, towers of bricks or even upturned terracotta pots are options that will enable you to pull the containers together and arrange them at different heights as you would plants in a border.

Think about the TLC you are able to provide before you buy. A series of violas in identical teeny pots might look charming on Instagram but in real life will be a nightmare to maintain: all that watering, all that deadheading. Bedding geraniums all in a row, scarlet and pink, are a more realistic and just as effective bet.

Avoid the dolly mixture look — dots of colour all over the shop — by thinking through a colour scheme and sticking with it. Whites and lemons, for example, look city-smart in a window box or front garden so you might seek out navy-and-white Osteospermum Silver Sparkler, white-flowered, silver-leaved Convolvulus cneorum, lemon argyranthemum and lacy-leaved Cineraria Silver Dust.

Mexican daisy adds flirty froths of white and rose pink. Alternatively, you could turn up the heat with rich, warm shades from rust Osteospermum Serenity Bronze, Orange or Black Cherry calibrachoa, scarlet geraniums, cherry red and yellow lantana, which butterflies adore, and perhaps a foliage splash from pewter-leaved Ricinus communis Carmencita.

One large tub in splendid isolation, with a carefully orchestrated selection of plants, can look wonderful but a tight group of pots, each with a different story and colour combo, will look plain messy. For ease, keep to one kind of plant per pot — a mass of cherry-pink daisy argyranthemum, a trio of apple blossom geraniums, half a dozen sprays of violet verbena — and move them around to get the best effects. Less effort, more impact. 


Don’t be a plant snob. Marmalade African marigolds, derided in the borders, are just the job to create highlights of gold here and there in a group of hot-coloured containers. Begonias might be brash, but put just one in a pot and watch it bloom like blazes, right through summer and autumn, without missing a beat.

Include a few high spots, literally, with flowering annuals that reach dizzy heights... well, the top of a three-foot obelisk. Climbing fuchsias such as Lady Boothby or new Pink Fizz look the business on a tall, slender metal frame. Pop three seeds of sunflower Claret or Vanilla Ice in a large pot right now and see them soar through summer. You can still buy sweet pea plants for potting up, but give them a six-foot wigwam — they’ll need it.

Foliage is as important as flowers. Phormiums are tricky to place in the border, but are terrific in pots and make celebratory fans of colour — burgundy, chocolate and striped pale green, cream and pink — that take on stained-glass tones when sun shines through the sword-like leaves.

Houseplant yuccas can be wheeled out for a summer holiday to add a touch of spiky glamour. Red Abyssinian banana Ensete ventricosum Maurelii offers tight funnels of deepest plum foliage that unfurl and stretch out into enormous plum-tinted leaves, rather like paddles.

Quiet, restful pauses from the occasional box ball or gold-and-lime euonymus will restore harmony to colour combinations that would otherwise turn into a clashing riot.

Textural herbs such as thymes, oreganos, rosemaries, upright and trailing, add tactile, fragrant notes in sunny sites, while in the shade, dark-leaved chocolate mint and furry, apple green-and-cream pineapple mint make pleasing foliage contrasts for flowers.


Succulents offer a wealth of leaf shapes and shades from ice green through to blue-grey, although Aeonium Zwartkop, like small-scale palm trees, has heads of a glossy liquorice black that look stunning teamed with bright geraniums.

However, if you want succulents that can stay outside all year round, then plant up a few wide, low pans of sempervivums which suit the patio table to a tee, because this is one plant group, with its fascinating tapestries of rosettes, that looks best viewed from overhead.

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