NOVEMBER – Create a jazzy winter planter – get creative, cheer yourself up and impress your friends.


Its been a long, mild autumn but now winter has arrived, even in my quite sheltered London garden. Which got me thinking about easy ways to create a bright and jazzy display without much expense or, if I am honest, effort. I also realise that a lot of you don’t have the luxury of space and might well be limited to a window ledge or doorstep.

The answer – a well chosen planter or two, with the right combination of plants.

winter containers collage
So, here’s my straightforward guide to creating a knock-out winter planter. Personally, I tend to favour a ‘contemporary’ look. It’s just my thing.

My general rule – plain is good. Go for something in either a charcoal grey or black (goes with everything, shows off the plants well and always looks tasteful). Those azure blue ones you see everywhere these days are nice too but you do have to be more careful about the colour of the plants you put in them.
Polyresin, clayfibre, zinc are all lightweight, robust materials, available in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours. Cheap terracotta pots and planters are a false economy as they are prone to chipping and cracking especially if they freeze. I also tend to avoid wooden planters as they tend to rot.
Regarding size and shape, depends on where you are going to put the planter – if you only have a window sill, measure the length and width in advance, troughs are best. By a front door or on steps, cube planters look great. Make sure the planter has at least one hole in the bottom to avoid getting waterlogged.
Bigger is generally better (as long as it will fit and it’s not too heavy) to make a more striking feature, plus you can get creative with plant combinations.

Obvious point here but make sure you get more compost than you think you will need to fill the planter. It’s really annoying to have to schlep back to the garden centre half way through your creative masterpiece. Yep, happened to me, more than once…

Important point – contrast is what you are going for here. Contrast in colour, size, shape, texture. A single plant can look very elegant but what we are aiming for here is something eyecatching. Most plants grow very slowly through the winter, so buy ones that are already the size you want.
Here are a few jazzy combinations that work well together and look great in winter:
Cornus Sibirica or Midwinter Fire (many varieties, these two are particularly bright) / Senecio cineraria Silver Dust / Ophiopogan planiscapus Nigrescens.
Cornus (as above) / Heuchera Silver Scrolls / Carex oshmensis Everillo.
Phormium Bronze Baby (many varieties available but this one has bronze/russet leaves) / Helleborus x hybridus (many varieties and flower colours)/ Vinca Illumination (to trail over the sides of the planter).
Juniperus squamata Loderi (dwarf blue spruce) / Cyclamen coum (a white or deep red flowered variety) / Hedera helix Glacier (trailing over sides of planter).
Thuja aurea Nana (small golden conifer) / Heuchera Obsidian or Fire Alarm / Carex buchananii
Visit a garden centre and try out others, just group them together, aim for one tall plant and a couple of smaller ones in contrasting colours and forms, use multiple quantities of the smaller plants.

To avoid getting compost everywhere, put some newspaper or a bin liner down before starting. It will make tidying up much easier.
Put a few handfuls of gravel or small stones in the bottom of the planter to help with drainage.
Then fill the planter about half way with your compost.
Position the plants in the planter, move them around until you are happy with how they look (general rule, tall plants at the back or in the middle, smaller ones around). Let plants overhang the edges, drape down the outside, whatever you think looks good. Make it look abundant, bursting over the sides.
Have a bit of fun and get creative with it !
Fill the planter up with compost around the plants, firm it down well and add more until there is just a 2 cm gap at the top.
Give the plants a little water to help them settle in and also clean any bits of compost off the leaves.

Finally, put your planter into position, somewhere you will see it easily from indoors so that you can enjoy it from the warmth and comfort of your home all winter.

Carex buchananii, Carex oshmensis Everillo, Cornus alba Sibirica, Cornus sanguinea Midwinter fire, Cyclamen coum, Hedera helix Glacier, Helleborus x hybridus Red Lady, Heuchera Fire Alarm, Heuchera Obsidian, Heuchera Silver Scrolls, Juniperus squamata Loderi, Ophiopogan planiscapus Nigrescens, Phormium Bronze Baby, Senecio cineraria Silver Dust, Thuja aurea Nana, Vinca Illumination.

FEBRUARY – reasons to be cheerful

Reasons to be cheerful !

After a bit of a break – yes, even I don’t do a whole lot in the garden in January – I decided it was time to have a good look at what’s happening in the garden this month. This is the ideal time to take stock of your garden and see where there are large gaps that could do with a bit of winter interest. It doesn’t take a lot to transform your garden from ‘winter wasteland’ to ‘winter wonderland’. Well, maybe not wonderland but certainly there is a wide choice of plants that will add some much needed colour and interest at this time of year.

Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' looking elegant in midwinter

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ looking elegant in midwinter

I was really pleased to see that several of the plants I put in to jazz up the garden are doing well. This has definitely inspired me to add some more tall grasses to my borders because they really do look fantastic all year round but particularly now when the pale seedheads are blowing in the wind.

Take at look at the pictures and see if you can get inspired to add a few choice plants to your garden. And let me know if you have any special favourites in your own garden that you would recommend (visit my facebook page at if you want to see what other people are suggesting).

Best wishes


Helleborus niger with loads of lovely flowers starting to open in midwinter

Helleborus niger with loads of lovely flowers starting to open in midwinter

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' with hundreds of fragrant flowers on bare branches throughout winter

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ with hundreds of fragrant flowers on bare branches throughout winter