Summer baskets and containers: Tips for the most beautiful pots in the block

By Veronica


The sun is (finally) pointing out and it is time to prepare for the Summer. Let the colours burst from every corner and fill containers full of plants upright or cascading. Containers can be a real garden feature and uplift areas of the garden provided they look at their best year-round. Lit topiary in the winter has made space for spring bulbs and it is now time for lush greenery and extravagant colours.

So, what is the secret for fabulous containers: pack them up! Be very generous and put a lot of plants in your pots and baskets so they’ll soon start growing out creating mounds of blooms. It means that you will need to water frequently and feed regularly so that they look healthy and happy.


Soil: the compost you need depends on the plants you will have. For example, box topiary will do better in John Innes no.3 while lavender needs grit added to the compost. In general, for bedding plants, the multipurpose compost is still your best option with an ideal texture and pH that will suit most plants.

Fertiliser: Feed your annuals with Tomato food (it contains a higher percentage of potash to promote flowering). It usually comes in a liquid form, meaning that you will need to fertilise your plants every 2 weeks after watering. The forgetful gardener might prefer the slow-release fertiliser. Just mix the granules in the compost when potting up, these will feed your plants for up to 6 months, so you only need to do it once a year in Spring.

Water: Plants in pots and baskets dry out faster! Make sure that you water regularly, it might mean every day in Summer if your pots are in full sun. If you don’t have so much time or if you are going away, mix some Stay Wet crystals into the soil (respect the recommended dosage as the crystals expand when you water!).

Maintenance: a regular deadheading (removing spent blooms) encourages repeat flowering. Try to get into a routine of a weekly tidying, this will make a huge difference!


Best Varieties for the seaside

Pots in containers have the difficult task to give you colour while withstanding salty winds. They, therefore, need to be extra tough! In general, plants with hairy/velvety leaves are the best for the task. Very popular nowadays, the Senecio ‘Angel Wings’ is grown for its eye-catching silver, downy foliage. Once established it is drought tolerant and should be planted in well-drained soil or compost. Provide a spot in full sun to achieve the best colour. You can combine it with ornamental grasses for an interesting mix of textures and movement. The Libertia with its grass-looking appearance and its white flowers from May to July will be a perfect partner. Sea holly will add the final (prickly) touch of blue for a very contemporary look. 


Senecio 'Angel Wings', Libertia Grandiflora, Armeria and Eryngium


On a more traditional side, Hydrangeas are simply unbeatable when it comes to showstopping flowers. White, pink, red or blue, the choice is yours. To be honest, they are so exuberant, they don’t really need other plants and will look just fantastic on their own.


Other options include:

  • Armeria: a low-growing alpine with airs of chives and flowers in pink or white.
  • Pittosporum for an evergreen centre piece. Amongst the smaller varieties: Irene Paterson with white in green foliage, ‘Tom Thumb’, the dark purple-leaved one also more tolerant of shadier corners, and ‘Bannow Bay’, the new comer with pink and green foliage.
  • Erigeron: whether you chose the Mexican flea bane with its tiny daisy-like flowers or the ‘Sea Breeze’ variety bearing pink blooms with large yellow centres, you are guaranteed profusion of flowers.
  • Snapdragons: The Anthirrinum is very generous when it comes to flowers and colours. It self-seeds too, unless you opt for new hybrid varieties, they are more compact which is an asset for containers.


Best varieties in full sun

Pots in full sun will dry out faster so they need plants that can tolerate the heat! The choice is vast if you can keep your plants well-watered, whether it is by hand or if you have a watering system on a timer. If you don’t, well, you might consider these drought tolerant plants. They will still need a bit of minding in the beginning, but they will be resilient once established.

First, the sun-loving lavender is semi-evergreen and produces very fragrant flowers in Summer. From white to deep-purple flowers that are very attractive to pollinators too. There are 2 main types: French and English. The first is a little bit smaller so the choice might depend on the size of your container.  Although they are perennial, replace your plant every 5-6 years or so, as they tend to become woody as they age. They look very good with most summer bedding. You may plant them with African daisies and Geraniums for a very floriferous mix for a minimum effort.

Back: English lavender. Front: Lobularia and Osteospermum. Right: Standard Argyranthemum, Surfinia, double-flowering Petunia, Verbena and Lobularia


Other plants to consider:

  • Marguerite: The Argyranthemum flowers over a long season as long as it is regularly dead-headed. As a standard, it can be underplanted with low or trailing varieties such as the bacopa and carnations.
  • Surfinias and Million Bells excel as trailing plants and they remain favourites in hanging baskets along with lobelias and trailing geraniums. Deadheading can be quite of a task but well worth it! Plant them around a colourful cordyline for a more modern look.
  • Alpines like the sedum may not trail as far down as the above, but they are very low maintenance, consequently a great choice for someone who wants the best results with the minimum effort. It can be grown with mediterranean herbs like thyme, rosemary or the curry plant for an aromatic mix.


Best varieties in shade

The offer of plants for shade can be quite limited if you look at annuals only. In full shade, very few plants will thrive. If your pots get a few hours of sunlight per day, Begonias, Fuchsias and Violas are your best options. Begonias come in an upright form with bold, large, double flowers or in trailing forms with smaller but attractive none-the-less flowers. They do not need to be deadheaded, which is another great advantage.

For options out off the beaten track and if you have large containers, Hostas are real showstoppers. With variegated leaves or simply huge ones, they are majestic, on their own or with other shade-lovers like ferns or heucheras. Add vincas around it for that evergreen trailing look, which also produce flowers in pink, white and blue hues.

Pot on the left: Heuchera, Hosta and ajuga. On the right: Fuchsia, Tiarella, Begonia, Ajuga.


Other options for lush pots:

  • Coleus: trailing or mounding, this perennial is tender and most often grown as an annual. The foliage is extraordinary, from deep red to chartreuse green, with colourful veins and interesting patterns, who needs flowers with leaves like that!
  • The hydrangea again will perform well in pots in shade where its need for moisture will be easier to manage.
  • These evergreen perennials will make great container plants. Try planting them with ajugas and tiarellas for a rich mix of textures and colours.


Best varieties for scent

Greet your hosts with fragrance at your front door. Most scented plants require full sun to exhale their perfume. Choose one or two varieties that you can combine with other unscented plants for best results.

If the lavender is renowned for its powerful scent, other varieties deserve a try. The Salvia for instance has a pleasing smell, especially the microplylla type like ‘Hot Lips’ or ‘Royal Bumble’ to name only two. The fiery flowers can start appearing as early as late March and well into Autumn. It is not the smallest salvia, but it can be trimmed to maintain an even form. As for annuals, let the alyssum and lobularias bewitch you with their sweet, honey scent unless you prefer the vanilla aroma of the Nemesia. Add the finishing touch with the woody undernotes of the Heliotrope, the flat, deep purple flowerheads are ravishing and will complement beautifully any of the above.

Green pot: Choisya 'Sundance', Mint, Nemesia and carnations. Back: Other scented plants: Rosemary, Lemon thyme, Lavender and Sweet pea. Front: Pittosporum 'Tom Thumb' (although it rarely produces honey scented flowers, it is mainly grown for its attractive foliage)


  • Choisya or Mexican orange blossom is a perfect option if you are looking for an attractive evergreen shrub. ‘Sundance’ is certainly the most popular thanks to its bright yellow foliage but all have an exquisite perfume. With the same notes, the Philadelphus, Mock orange, is deciduous but the pure white flowers are larger and double on some of the varieties.
  • The prostanthera will add fresh notes. The tiny leaves emit a mint scent when crushed. The flowers are white with a flush of lilac-pink. If you like this scent, you may use mint but make sure you contain it in a plastic pot within your container as it spreads and could take over. There are so many varieties available nowadays like Mint basil, Mint chocolate and so on. They would look superb with some calendula and chamomile for a pollinator and kitchen friendly option.
  • The sweet pea is another classic. Grow tall varieties in large pots with an obelisk and underplant with another all-time favourite, the carnation for a mix that will give you loads of flowers for your vases.


Baskets and containers are traditionally planted with annuals, and these are the champions at providing flowers all summer long. They can also be used as fillers while the main plant grows, until it fills the pot. However, to add a twist and for original pots, do not hesitate to mix things up and use perennials. You can plant them out in the garden if they become too big but either way you will get a few years out of it. The most important thing is that your containers reflect the style of your garden.

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