Plants for a purpose: winter containers
Discover perfect plant ideas to add wow to your winter pots, chosen by the Gardeners' World team and our friends in the gardening world
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An attractively planted container will bring colour and interest to your garden even in the depths of winter when all around is dormant, waiting for the spring. A winter container can be squeezed into almost any garden space, whether a small balcony or patio, or they can take pride of place on your doorstep. Here we share some of our favourite plants for containers, guaranteed to brighten up the darkest of days. Our choices include recommendations from the Gardeners' World team and familiar faces from across the gardening industry.
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Chosen by Adam Frost, Gardeners' World presenter
For winter flowers and delightful scent you can’t go far wrong with a witch hazel (Hamamelis) and they come in an array of sizes, from medium shrubs to small trees. You will find one that is happy in a pot. Most flower in winter and provide a real hit of colour with their spider-like flowers which cover the branches. When planting into a container, I use a soil as the base for the compost, then add peat-free compost and composted bark. I tend to pot on over a period of time, getting the plant to the biggest pot possible. You will find growing them in pots will restrict their size. Most are happy in sun or part shade, just don’t let the pot get water logged over winter.
Chosen by Frances Tophill, Gardeners' World presenter
Skimmia japonica – the female one. I love the bright, red berries on this shrub, and its glossy, green leaves. People usually go for the male plants, with pink spires of flowers, but for me the red berries are so cheerful and the stems are really lovely in Christmas wreathes.
Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis
Chosen by Arit Anderson, Gardeners' World presenter
Winter containers need to battle the cold and lower light levels. Sarcococca hookeriana var. humulis is great as a background foil for any combination with its glossy evergreen leaves giving good structure. With the bonus of a highly scented white flower, it is perfect for a pot near a back or front door.
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Chosen by Ashley Edwards, Horatio's Garden head gardener
Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius) is a hardy evergreen with leathery blue-grey leaves. It adds dramatic texture to your container, with lime green flowers held high above the foliage from late winter into spring.
Leucojum vernum var. vagneri
Chosen by Chris Beardshaw, garden designer
Large pearl-white, pendant lampshade flowers, tipped with lime green on stout stems amongst rich strappy foliage are the selling points of this characterful winter-blooming plant. Often mistaken for snowdrops, leucojum are more bold, statuesque and solid in stature. Plant densely, with bergenia, under the canopy of the classy Ribes sanguineum 'Albescens' in a large container for an orchestrated winter blooming experience.
Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'
Chosen by Isabelle Palmer, The Balcony Gardener founder
Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' is a slow-growing, compact conifer that makes a perfect dwarf shrub for containers. The foliage has a silver-blue sheen and is perfect for a winter pot as a base of evergreen colour. Its form also adds wonderful shape to a container and can be grown in most aspects except full shade. It has a delicate scent that reminds me of this season and woodland walks.
Helleborus (Rodney Davey Marbled Group) 'Anna's Red'
Chosen by Emma Crawforth, horticultural editor
Hellebores are fantastic in winter pots as their foliage is bold and attractive, plus you get subtly beautiful flowers, which somehow tone in beautifully with other winter plants. Do go for a long-flowering one though, as a winter pot needs to provide interest over several months, when the garden is more bare than usual. I've chosen 'Anna's Red', because not only does it produce masses of gorgeous crimson blooms over several months, it also has wonderfully marbled foliage, providing decoration even when there are no flowers. Our gardens tend to be more shady in winter than other months, and 'Anna's Red' is perfectly happy not to see the sun.
Chosen by Jo Cloke, art editor
I always have winter pansies in my garden, they are my 'smily faces'. I usually go for a purple and white combination and it's great that they will last into spring, and sometimes into the summer, to grace the garden and make me feel happy!
Chosen by Catherine Mansley, digital editor
At a time of year when everything else feels drab and dull, camellias are an unexpected joy, with their big, bold flowers. I love varieties like Camellia sasanqua 'Crimson King', with bright magenta flowers in the depths of winter. They like ericaceous soil, so if, like me, your soil is too alkaline, grow them in a large pot of ericaceous compost.