Planted container

Inject some colour and scent into the garden by updating your containers

It’s time again to revamp any container that has escaped you over the last few months.  Is it looking tied and sad?  Tom Cole, Head of Faculty for Land & Environment at Writtle College has decided to grab the bull by the horns and step into action and give his containers a much needed makeover.

This gives me a great opportunity to even change the container and opt for a complete change and this in turn has enabled me to putting something new in.

The one pot I’ve got to look at is a lone container residing in a dustbin corner.  Yep… where our bins live for most weeks!  Well I thought I’d jazz up the planting and bring in a few scented smellies and keep to a theme of evergreen foliage with some flowers for a bonus.

The previous pot was an old fibreglass vision around 1.5m high and had a glorious old ivy and a few crocus… slightly sad looking if I had to add anything else.  Out with this and in with a lovely new terracotta urn of around the same height and spread.  The area is light early in the day and a little shady during winter months at the end of an alley between two houses.

As a key plant I had to go with Sarcococca confusa (Sweet or Christmas Box).  This is one of the my most favourite plants for producing a vanilla-like scent which can be quite heady during the winter months.  At Writtle College we have these doted around the campus and they are just lovely.  The leaves are glossy and deeply green.  It is a great compact, thicket-forming shrub that will get to around 2m high if you let it!  A bonus is that towards the end of Winter you’ll get spherical, black or blue-black berries.

For a change in texture I love to use ferns, so what better than to use Dryopteris erythrosora (Japanese shield fern). This is a semi-evergreen producing fronds up to 75cm.  It is a clumped plant where the foliage often turns coppery-pink when young going to green.  In the same tub I’ve added another called Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Angustifolia’ (Harts Tongue) as this one has long, narrow crimped edged fronds.

HeucherellaTo break up the green I’ve added brightly coloured foliage in the form of Heucherella (a cross between two distinct plants, Heuchera  and Tiarella, and shows similarities to both parents).  Although there are many forms; check out this link:, I’ve used Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’ with deeply-lobed leaves that change with the seasons. In the spring leaves are amber-orange with a cinnamon-brown star pattern in the centre while in summer, russet, copper and cinnamon tones dominate.

Added to the melting pot try out Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) with lovely leathery foliage and perfect white flowers from winter through to spring.

Lastly, don’t forget to use bulbs or corms to give a burst of colour early in the New Year.  Check out the overall height and try and keep within the scale of the container. Try crocus, snowdrops, winter aconites and or dwarf daffodils (especially ‘Minnow for small bright yellow trumpeted blooms).

All the plants used will be perfectly fine in this sized pot for at least a couple of years…don’t forget though that water does need to escape through winter.  Either pop container on little ‘feet’ or stand on gravel; this will save your pot if terracotta and protect your plants from overly standing in water for too log leading to rots.

Good luck and happy gardening!

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Senior Horticultural Lecturer, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at

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