This summer's best-buy patio plants

Which? Gardening have tested 56 new container-plant varieties, and can now reveal their best-buy varieties that will add long-lasting colour all summer
Patio plants
Pots, baskets and window boxes filled with plants brighten up your home throughout summer
The best patio pots, baskets and window boxes provide interest throughout the summer. Every year, Which? Gardening annually put a selection of newly-introduced patio plants to the test to see how well they perform.

This year, 56 new container plants were put through their paces - to find the pick of the crop. Fifteen new varieties stood out from the crowd that should put on a colourful show throughout the coming season.

The patio plant trial

The 56 varieties of newly-introduced plants for containers and baskets were purchased as plugs or small plants in April 2010 and were then planted into suitable containers, with upright plants in large pots and trailing plants in hanging baskets. Compost and slow-release fertilizer was added, and the plants were grown in the glasshouse until the threat of frost had passed.

In early June, the pots and baskets were arranged on a pergola and watered and deadheaded as required. The pots were liquid fed towards the end of summer.

Plants were rated throughout the summer for flowering performance, visual impact and vigour. Any pests, diseases or problems encountered were noted until the trial ended in mid October, by which time most of the plants had suffered from the ravages of frost.

The best-buy container plants

These gave a good display for 16 weeks or more, grew quickly into healthy plants and weren’t affected by pests or diseases.

Begonia 'Lemondrops'
Begonia 'Lemondrops'
Begonia ‘Lemondrops’
This gave masses of blooms throughout the trial, complemented perfectly by its dark green leaves. It happily filled its container and required minimal maintenance to keep it looking tip-top right up until the first frosts.
Weeks in flower: 19
Height x spread: 27 x 40cm
Available from: DT Brown (0845 371 0532;, Mr Fothergill’s (0845 371 0518;, Squires Garden Centres (01252 356860; and Van Meuwen (0844 557 1850;

Begonia 'Helia' mixed
Begonia 'Helia' mixed

Begonia 'Helia' Mixed
This mixed variety, which includes pink, red and yellow flowers, continued to produce its large blooms for four months, only being cut short by frost. The plants were strong, bushy and upright with attractive, glossy, deep-green leaves and remained pest and disease free during the trial.
Weeks in flower: 16
Height x spread: 25 x 29cm
Available from: Mr Fothergill’s (0845 371 0518; and Woolmans (0845 658 9137;

Verbena 'Aztec Blue Velvet'
Verbena 'Aztec Blue Velvet'
Verbena ‘Aztec Blue Velvet’
Performed excellently in the trials, giving a profusion of flowers from July to October. The plants were healthy and robust with little need to deadhead. Overall the best of the verbenas trialled.
Weeks in flower: 17
Height x spread: 29 x 33cm
Available from: B&Q (0845 609 6688;, Focus DIY (0845 600 4244;, Squires Garden Centres (01252 356860; and Unwins (01480 443395;

Sunset Lemon
Gazania Sunbather 'Sunset Lemon'

Gazania Sunbather ‘Sunset Lemon’ & ‘Toptokai
Gazanias adore sun and have a tendency to close in overcast weather. These have been bred with a double centre to prevent the flowers closing fully on dull days. Two of the available colours were tested and they did try to close, but are worth growing as they flowered consistently well. They would provide a welcome ray of light on any sunny patio or balcony.
Weeks in flower: 18
Height x spread: 31 x 36cm
Available from: Mr Fothergill’s (0845 371 0518; and Woolmans (0845 658 9137;

Verbena Magelana 'Blue Eye'
Verbena Magelana 'Blue Eye'
Verbena Magelana ‘Blue Eye’
This verbena produced an abundance of flowers which seemed to look blue in dull light. The plants were flat and spreading, with feathery foliage that trailed well over the sides of the pot.

The Magelana ‘Blue Eye’ benefited from regular deadheading to keep it looking neat. In all, an excellent performer over a long period.
Weeks in flower: 16
Height x spread: 20 x 38cm
Available from: Mount Folly Nurseries (01329 832294;

Begonia 'Pear Drop'
Begonia 'Pear Drop'

Begonia ‘pear drop’
A real star. This stunning begonia, with its contrasting, coloured flowers and foliage, gave a good display from day one. It flowered consistently well until the trial ended in October, requiring only minimal deadheading to keep it looking pristine.
Weeks in flower: 19
Height x spread: 29 x 40cm
Available from: Brookside Nurseries (0843 289 6689;, DT Brown (0845 371 0532;, Funky Flora (0845 330 4164;, Homebase (0845 077 8888;, Mr Fothergill’s (0845 371 0518;, SGC Squires Garden Centres (01252 356860; and Woolmans (0845 658 9137;

Gazania Sunbather 'Toptokai'
Gazania Sunbather 'Toptokai' adore the sun and flower consistently well

How to get the best from container plants

* When buying patio plants, make sure you select only healthy-looking examples which aren’t pot bound.
* Gently separate plants and tease out roots before planting.
* Always use our best-buy composts for containers: New Horizon Organic & Peat Free Multi-Purpose Compost and Westland Multi-Purpose Compost with added John Innes.
* Add a slow-release fertiliser at planting. Our current best buys are:
Chempak Yearlong, Miracle-Gro Slow Release All Purpose Plant Food and Miracle-Gro Controlled Release Plant Food.
* Use deep pots or baskets to improve root development and water retention; we recommend using cone-shaped baskets because of their extra depth.
* Water plants at their base; soaking the roots not the leaves helps to avoid fungal
problems. Rather than watering little and often, it’s often best to give them a thorough soaking when needed.
* Start to give the pots a liquid feed later in the season if blooms start to fade.
* Keep an eye out for mildew, slugs and aphids.
* Remove dead or damaged flowers and foliage.

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Pictures by Paul Debois

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