It’s a busy time of the year as there’s so much to do in the garden. Ensuring the containers are looking the best they can be is one of the priorities for Tom Cole, Head of Faculty for Land & Environment at Writtle College.

This weekend will see me mostly revamping pots so that they look fabulous from now through to the spring. I’ve moved away from really traditional schemes using ‘spring bedding’; forget-me-nots (Myosotis alpestris), wall flowers (Erysimum cheiri), polys (Polyanthus cvs.) and good old daisy (Bellis perennis) and have instead moved to combining these good old favourites with perennials for a longer and more sustainable planting scheme.

Now, whether it is a hanging basket or floor mounted pot/ container do re consider your choice of plants and go for using hardy perennials and some woodies wherever possible. In between the gaps of these plants use conventional bedding to give splashes of colour. Whatever you do don’t forget to underplant ALL with bulbs and or corms to extend the season of interest.

Daffodill bulbsIf using bulbs or corms pick your varieties carefully. Consider height and spread as this is key to success and ensuring your planting scheme is in scale with the container and location. There’s no good adding daffodils such as Narcissus ‘Carlton’ to a 12-14” (30-35cm) hanging basket as it reaches the lofty heights of around 18” (45cm).

Best to use those bulbs that reach no more than 6” (15cm), preferably less than this…say 4” (10cm). Examples such as ‘Tête-a-tête’ (easy to grow, and always a mass of flower plus good in the lawns or around trees), ‘Minnow’ (a dwarf white but with canary yellow shallow trumpet – likes to look up – so very attractive) and ‘Rip Van Winkle’ (this is very different. It’s a golden yellow – but flowers are more like a cactus dahlia – but smaller!) Of course do try Crocus cvs, Galanthus sp., (the snowdrop) and my favourite winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) with their cup-shaped flowers held above a collar of deeply lobed stem leaves.

Take care re aftercare, during the winter baskets and pots are prone to waterlogging and can sometimes freeze solid. For winter planting it is better to use free draining baskets and liners such as a wire basket and moss, which keeps the compost drier and increases frost resistance. For free standing pots ensure excess water can escape; raise planter off ground using ‘feet’ or bricks. Also, keep deadheading where applicable by pinching out dead and dying flower heads back to a leaf as this will promote more flowering and a bushy habit.

Try these links for further information:

Good luck and happy gardening!

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Head of Faculty for Land & Environment, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at

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