Now is a good time to make up your winter display, before the weather gets cold enough to discourage brass monkeys from going outdoors without their thermal underpants. Gardeners too, should take care that they don’t freeze off anything that they may need at a later date. Hip flasks and hot toddies may help but beware of operating fierce machinery after partaking of strong drink. Alcohol will make the finding of secateurs and other small tools a complete nightmare. If you anesthetise yourself too thoroughly, you may wind up in the wrong garden entirely, in which case I hope that your partner and your neighbour are of an understanding or enterprising frame of mind.
Winter pot collection
The key to success is to have a reasonably deep root run and decent drainage in the tub. I mix purchased compost with pea gravel and a little bone meal. I mulch with grit or bark, depending on what I’ve got in the shed. Keep the soil moist but refrain from overwatering. Deadhead as you would with everything else, to prolong the presentation. Anything that you pack into containers will have a little time to settle but don’t expect anything approaching luxuriant growth. This being the case, I have crammed my pots with plants, with very small room for development. If we get a warm winter and everything expands, I’m as stuffed as my pansies. In this case as always, my heartfelt cry is please don’t plump for the usual. I find that I cannot design any scheme for the hardest season, without resorting to violas. With a few excursions around the local nurseries, which is never a chore, I’m always able to find some with striking blooms. I try to get mixed sizes of flowers in a limited palette of colour, which I jazz up by adding something different. This time I’ve used cyclamen, combined with dark and white violas, under planted with lashings of lilac and purple botanical crocus. In previous years I have put Gaultheria procumbens (partridge berry) with Skimmia rubens, for a scarlet theme. Another successful show consisted of golden variegated ivies blended with daffodils, yellow hyacinth and hardy ferns for a subtle motif. All white plantings with lots of different textures always look elegant.
Senecio cineraria (silver ragwort) & ladybird
I have tried using the ornamental cabbages but found that the first frost made my porch smell like a dodgy greengrocer’s stall. Heather works OK in the background but if you use the horrible dyed varieties, I may be forced to visit your home and make my feelings known with a flame thrower. Primroses could be added for a splash of brightness when they hit the shops in February, just match them to your existing shades. Any perennial that makes a seasonal splash may be hoicked out when it has finished and then planted in a border as a permanent resident.
Fatsia japonica ‘variegata’
I’m fortunate in having a rarely used, sun drenched path in the back. I use this to store pots full of spring bulbs, so that the foliage can grow undisturbed, to nourish the next parade. Just as the buds peep above the leaves, they can be transported to the front for instant effect. Ta-dah. This system works well until Attila decides to saunter down the alley, without watching where he’s putting his feet. I can tell when there is an Armageddon of crocus and smashed ceramic, from the sound of frenzied swearing and unpleasant imprecations. I like to comfort my husband by assuring him that I can buy loads of fritillaries, tulips, narcissus and miniature iris to replace the few plants which he has destroyed. If he’s really wreaked havoc, he’ll have to pay for some new containers, as well. Sounds like a plan.