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Plant an autumn-into-winter container

Martyn Cox

Some gardens will look a little bleak over autumn and winter, but plant some pots or window boxes for a show of colour that will banish the winter blues.

Autumn-into-winter container
Heather, ivy and grasses can all add interest to an autumn-into-winter container

What to grow

There’s no shortage of plants that can be grown in pots over autumn and winter. Heathers, box, skimmia, choisya, euonymus and hebe are just some of the shrubs that can be combined with bedding plants, such as violas, pansies, primroses and polyanthus.

Grasses are ideal for softening planting schemes and adding texture. Try Carex buchananii, Carex flagellifera or Carex elata 'Aurea'. 

Although not a true grass, dark and dramatic Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' can be used in the same way.

Extend the spectacle by underplanting with daffodils, crocus, dwarf iris, grape hyacinth and other spring flowering bulbs.

Plant combinations

The best way of coming up with a plant combination is to head to the garden centre, pick a centrepiece for the container then take plants from the shelves to see what looks good together. Don’t be afraid to arrange and rearrange plants until you are happy with the way they look.

Alternatively, here a few tried-and-tested container recipes. Underplant a half standard bay tree with Stipa arundinacea and Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant' - plant creeping thymes around the outside so they cascade down and soften the edges of the container. 

New Zealand cabbage palm (Cordyline australis) looks great in a pot with a skirt of black dragon grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') and orange pansies.

For a low-growing, but eye-catching display in a window box try combining black dragon grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') with variegated ivy (Hedera helix 'Glacier') and a yellow-leaved heuchera (Heuchera 'Key Lime Pie'). Dot white crocus bulbs in gaps to give the display a lift in spring.

How to do it

Start by adding a layer of soil-based compost, then arrange your plants. 

When you’re happy with the display, fill the gaps with more compost, leaving a 5cm gap between the surface and the lip of the pot.

Looking after your display

To ensure the container continues to earn its keep until spring, water regularly and dead head flowers as they start to fade. 

Containers are best placed on pot feet to ensure excess water can drain away.

Read our tips for perking up a winter garden.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.