If you're gazing out of your window in early spring and finding your garden drab and disappointing, I'm here to offer a quick, easy solution. Planting a group of empty containers will add pizzazz to areas closest to the house, serving up a welcome pop of colour. Nurseries and garden centres are steadily filling up with goodies, so bypass the summer bedding (too early), and stock up on my top ten great plants for spring pots instead.
First of all, here are some great tips for creating an uplifting display:
- Get the wow factor by planting one kind or colour of plant per pot. It's hard to get the balance right in mixed container and we're looking for speedy results. Solo planting makes it easier to re-arrange or remove plants as they reach their peak and then fade away.
- Plant closely so that the surface of the compost isn't visible. In cold weather, plants won't grow and knit together as fast as they might in summer.
- I prefer to use classic terracotta pots, but at this time of year when plants are still small and compact, you can add considerable interest to a display by using vessels with different surface patterns and coloured glazes.
- It’s especially important to use free-draining, peat-free compost so that pots don’t become waterlogged. Add horticultural grit to bought-in compost and mix well. Keep pots off the ground using pot feet if you live in an area with high spring rainfall.
- If a plant is going to remain potted for more than a couple of months, incorporate slow-release fertiliser at the time of planting to save yourself feeding for the rest of the season.
- Choose plants with different flowering times, and incorporate varieties with attractive, long-lasting foliage to act as a background to your blooms.
- If you're grouping pots, stick to three or five compatible colours. White, blush pink, plum, pewter and a pop of sky blue work beautifully in the pots I photographed for this post. Yellow, purple and blue is an invigorating, spring-like colour palette, made easy to achieve by combining miniature narcissi such as N. ‘Tête á Tête’ with richly-coloured irises and violas.
- Where possible, elevate pots on a windowsill, steps, a low wall or bistro table so that you can look upwards into the downward-facing flowers of snowdrops, fritillaries and hellebores.
Ten Great Plants For Spring Pots
- Hellebores – some of the most enchanting and nuanced flowering plants in the garden from February until March.
- Heucheras – whilst I’m not normally a fan, their beauty and usefulness in pots is undeniable. Heuchera foliage comes in shades of silver, gold, copper, red, purple and inky black.
- Cyclamen – species such as Cyclamen coum are so tiny and delicate that they demand to be admired at close quarters.
- Ferns – many hardy ferns are evergreen. Although the foliage will need cutting back soon, last year’s fronds are still an attractive foil for flowering plants.
- Euphorbias – spurges such as E. characias subsp. wulfenii and E. myrsinites are at their most splendid in early spring, producing acid-yellow flowers over silvery foliage. Mind the sap - it can cause irritation!
- Thymes - herbs should always be grown near the house for easy picking. Thyme is neat, evergreen and there are varieties with colourful, variegated foliage. Make sure they never stand in water.
- Saxifrages – many alpines are programmed to flower immediately the snow receeds in their natural habitat. Saxifrages, with their myriad blossoms, are among them.
- Violas – pansies, violets and violas are resilient and easy to grow and deliciously perfumed. Violets can be divided in autumn, planted in pots for spring colour and then returned to the border once they’ve finished flowering. Deadhead regularly.
- Primulas – like saxifrages, primulas are heralds of spring. The plants we buy as ‘polyanthus’ provide generous colour but should be used sparingly as they can look artificial in bit swathes. I much prefer our native primrose, Primula vulgaris, which is easily grown from seed.
- Camellias – we grow several camellias in pots, valuing their glossy foliage as well as their showy flowers. They need ericaceous compost and regular watering to keep them happy.
All of the above can be planted out in the garden when your containers are ready to be refilled with summer flowers. Alternatively, they can be left potted and moved somewhere lower profile to recharge their batteries after flowering. Don't forget to water them, and most will prefer a little shade during the summer.
* I have excluded spring-flowering bulbs such as anemones, daffodils, crocuses, grape hyacinths and miniature irises as they would dominate this list. Although the bulbs need to be planted in autumn, many garden centres and nurseries sell pot-grown bulbs which are ideal for instant gratification. Although we plant thousands as bulbs each year, I usually succumb to buying one or two extra varieties when I see them in flower!
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