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Top 10 plants for containers

Containers offer the gardener great versatility, and are a fantastic way to experiment with planting and design. From short-term bedding displays to permanent features of small trees and topiary, container planting adds another dimension to the garden, softening corners, brightening dull spots and providing instant, yet easily changeable, results.

Tips for the best pot display

When choosing your pot, stick to just one or two different materials. Take your cue from the style of the house and garden – red brick buildings are enhanced by terracotta containers, while a modern plot is the best backdrop for galvanised metal pots.

Bigger pots have more impact and won't dry out as quickly, but an eclectic group of small containers creates a quirky, ever-changing corner. Repetition can be effective, garden designers often use three or more identical containers planted with the same plants, for maximum impact.

Coreopsis tinctoria

Coreopsis looks great in a large pot combined with other annuals and perennials. Try combining with phormiums, euphorbia, nasturtiums and purple basil.


The cottage-garden feel of these daisy-like flowers adds a sense of informality and movement to containers. They work well with plants with silver foliage, but they're also effective on their own.

Impatiens walleriana

Busy Lizzies are the perfect choice for shady gardens. Helped along by plenty of deadheading, they flower well into autumn.


Some clematis are suitable for growing in containers. Evergreen clematis is often sold tied to an upright stake, but its trailing habit makes it perfect for the edge of a container. Partner with spring bulbs for a dash of colour.

Hedera helix 'Ivalace'

Ivy is one of the most useful and attractive plants for pots. 'Ivalace' has dark-green, shiny leaves with curled edges.

Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold'

Variegated foliage is a real pick-me-up all year round. For a striking display, try it with creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, tulips, golden narcissi or primroses.

Pittosporum tenuifolium

This elegant evergreen shrub has rich mahogany leaves that emerge a pale creamy colour before darkening. Slightly tender, it will need a sheltered spot over winter.

Skimmia japonica

This male form is blessed with glossy evergreen leaves, and an abundance of tiny red buds through the winter, which open to pinky-white flowers in spring.


Hostas make beautiful architectural plants, and work well in containers, either alone or with other plants. Try combining with bleeding heart, or other foliage plants, such as heucheras.

Pennisetum setaceum

Fountain grass is a real show-stopper. Grow in large pots with alliums for dramatic impact, or on its own to make a statement. 'Rubrum' has graceful stems and red-tinged, squirrel-tail flowers that fade to beige in autumn. Protect from frost in winter.

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: Top 10 plants for containers
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shize56 24/11/2011 at 15:27

It would useful to have pictures of the plants mentioned on this page.

leggygirl47 24/11/2011 at 15:28

I agree as i don't always recognise names!

Gillyons 24/11/2011 at 15:29

I really need to know what are the most hardy plants for containers. I have had my plants decimated by vine weevils and want to repot ASAP as the garden is bare!!
is ther any plants that will fare well against these evil creatures that will also produc some nice flowers??

si.rollett 24/11/2011 at 15:30

Same as the first to as just starting out.

sterelitza 10/06/2012 at 10:07

My green tennax phormium has flowered this year. Is it possible to grow more plants from the seeds and how can I do this please. Thanks

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