At this time of year, it’s the pots by the back doors that give me most pleasure.
The wonderful thing about containers is that all but the largest are easy to move and can be used to create an ever-changing scene throughout the year, including the winter months. Different containers can take on different roles – some providing a dark or neutral backdrop while others take centre stage for their moment of floral glory.
Starring roles at this time of year will, of course, go to plants whose leaves, stems or flowers are especially attractive in winter. This might mean hauling a potted camellia out of the wings so you can watch its tight spherical buds burst into bloom, or bringing some smaller tubs of crocus and other early spring bulbs you planted in autumn to the front.
I have been known to root around in hidden corners of the garden for clumps of snowdrops and primroses that are blooming unseen and unappreciated, dig them up and give them a temporary home in a pot pretty enough to bring inside.
Such evacuees can also be snuck in at the base of larger potted plants outside, with trailing ivy woven in among them to hide that ‘just-dug-up’ look, and can be returned to the garden – perhaps in a place where they’ll be more visible – when the flowers have died down. I do this regularly and the plants never seem to resent the disturbance. In fact, if you want to move snowdrops and aconites now, when they are ‘in the green, is the best time to do it.
It can be great fun to plant a winter container from scratch. If you choose the plants with care, it can give pleasure well into spring. As a centrepiece, I’d choose a winter-flowering shrub – such as witch hazel or a deciduous daphne whose flowers, on the bare branches, are best set off by a backdrop of dark evergreens.
Skimmia japonica and Viburnum tinus both work well – with the surrounding planting chosen to complement the colours of the buds. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ has the darkest red, which looks dramatic with purple-leafed heucheras and pretty white cyclamen; while the greenish yellow buds of others such as ‘Fragrant Cloud’ would be lovely with white and yellow crocus or violas. All open to pure white flowers in spring, when brighter bulbs or early bedding can fill any gaps around the edges.
Water in, raising the pot on small feet to ensure good drainage, sit back, and enjoy the show.