Gardening: Container plants add colour and help stop the spread of weeds

Orange bouquet lily, geraniums and an Echium brighten up a seating area.
Orange bouquet lily, geraniums and an Echium brighten up a seating area.
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The greatest gardening sin is a bare patch of soil in my opinion – it will only get colonised by weeds – that’s where a collection of container plants comes in handy.

Potted plants can slip into gaps in the border, bulking it out and giving much-needed colour. If you’re using plants at the front, black pots blend in more easily.

Sempervivums flowering in a collection of old pots and pans.

Sempervivums flowering in a collection of old pots and pans.

The number one rule is group pots together. They look better and will create their own microclimate – and you won’t forget to water any. I’m also not a pot snob – I’ll plant into anything. I’d rather save money on plastic containers from Wilkinson and spend it on plants, which will grow over them anyway or be hidden in a group.

Also, when it’s so easy to rearrange pots, even sun-lovers like geraniums (Pelargoniums) won’t mind a month or so out of full sun – make sure they do get some – they will hate dark shade.

Here are my potted garden life-savers and how I use them:

Geraniums (Pelargoniums): Some are in plain black plastic pots to bump out the front of a spring border which loses its lustre after May, while others in large decorative ceramic containers are grouped together to jazz up the area where we sit, relax and eat.

Potted geraniums backed by Campanula carpatica.

Potted geraniums backed by Campanula carpatica.

Scented-leaved varieties are placed next to paths where people will brush them, releasing perfumes as diverse as Turkish Delight, lemon, orange, cedar, and cola.

Lilies: Bouquet lilies are planted in tall zinc planters and form an early summer centrepiece to the geraniums. I aim to have the colours clashing as much as possible.

When finished, I stash the pots out of sight so they can die down with dignity.

Succulents: A mix of hardy, rockery, and tropical succulents sit well together – Sempervivum, Echeveria, Aloe vera, Aloe humilis are my favourites.

Yellow bouquet lily.

Yellow bouquet lily.

They work well planted in quirky containers – I use a selection of old pans with plenty of drainage holes and a gritty compost.

Canna, Yucca, palms: Cannas need to overwinter indoors so I keep them in large containers.

Their huge purple leaves and deep orange/red flowers are in my new tropical bed this summer.

The Yucca is the houseplant type and really benefits from a spell outdoors, lending height and an exotic air, as do the Canary Island and Windmill palms, although they will be staying out all winter.


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Inspect lilies for the scarlet lily beetle whose larvae can strip plants in days and Vine weevils can also be a problem at this time of year.

Deadhead flower borders regularly to prolong flowering. Disbud and dead-head dahlias if growing for large blooms. Leave roses that produce attractive hips.

Mulching borders can help retain moisture, and keep down the weeds – this will save a lot of work. A really thick layer of mulch (5-7.5cm/2-3in all over) works best.

Treat any black spot on roses and scab on Pyracantha.

Fast-growing hedges such as Leyland cypress should be clipped as necessary throughout the growing season, but avoid birds’ nests.

Neat circular areas removed from the edges of rose and other leaves are telltale signs of leaf-cutter bees at work. These fascinating creatures are best tolerated since damage is rarely severe.

Inspect any yellow patches on the lawn: if they contain small pinkish-red strands, then you may have red-thread in the lawn. This is a fungal disease, common on light soils after heavy rain, when the nitrogen is washed out of the soil. A nitrogen-rich fertiliser should remedy the situation, and the damage is rarely long-lived.

By mid-summer some lawns may be heavily infested by ants. Brushing out the nests on a dry day is the best method of control, and should be done prior to mowing.