It makes sense, though, to use a water-retaining compost such as New Horizon Tub & Basket Compost, to group plants in large pots rather than small, which dry out faster, and to use a moisture-retaining mulch of grit, pebbles or seashells.
Keep to a colour scheme so the resulting display isn't a visual hotchpotch. If you're planning a few pots for this Jubilee and Olympic year, the Garden Centre Group is stocking up on Calibrachoa Cabaret Best of British, Verbena Sovereign Mixed and Royal Jubilee Sweet Peas, all in shades of white, scarlet and purple-blue.
What would also proclaim your patriotism in a crisp, fresh way is navy-centred white osteospermum, scarlet pelargonium, and cascades of blue lobelia. The truest blue, if you can find it, is Anagallis monellii, the non-scarlet pimpernel, with dainty flowers of an astonishing true gentian.
Calibrachoa, sometimes billed as Million Bells, is my summer star, performing through all weathers, and delivering countless pretty-as-a-picture veined, fluted flowers. The prettiest of all have darker throats: peach with deep apricot, sugar pink with crimson.
A close relative of the petunia, calibrachoa is an altogether daintier flower that is so well-behaved it practically deadheads itself. Although a good mixer — the orange tones look wonderful with purple verbena sprays — calibrachoa is ravishing on its own, cascading perfectly over the edges of the plainest pot.
For shade, forget busy lizzies, which are currently having a disease crisis, and consider the much overlooked and underrated fuchsia. If shocking pink doesn't grab you, bypass bawdy Mrs Popple & co, and seek out more elegant specimens such as ice-pink, slim-flowered Annabel.
You don't need, however, to restrict yourself to summer bedding. Use containers to grow what you might grow in a garden, but look for compact varieties of favourite plants. Clematis with soup-plate flowers, for instance, look wonderful in a pot on the patio: look for the compact Boulevard varieties by Raymond Evison, such as 120cm-high violet Parisienne; cover bare stems with a frill of violas planted around the edges.
If you have no room for an obelisk of sweet peas in the garden, grow dwarf varieties that just reach a foot or so and have just as much flower power and that familiar delicious fragrance.
Grow single impact plants, too, such as oleander, a terrific drought plant that even thrives in the ground in some sheltered London gardens, and lends a touch of Mediterranean magic to the dullest patio. Banana plant Ensete ventricosum Maurelii grows huge paddle-like, plum-tinted leaves in a season and makes the perfect contrast in shape and shade to frilly bedding flowers.
If you're growing veg in containers, make them decorative: strawberries and applemint in terracotta towers, trailing tomatoes and basil in hanging baskets, Suttons' compact cucumber Quatro — in garden centres now — scrambling over a wigwam, producing crunchy fruits.
Look out, too, for aubergine plants which have gorgeous, lilac-fluted flowers and the familiar purple fruits; even the foliage is suffused with aubergine. All you need to do is plop one in a terracotta pot, and look forward to Melanzane alla parmigiana come September time.
Pictures by: GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss