Container audits in the garden

Andrew Hellman at RHS Garden Hyde Hall gives you tips and ideas to keep your containers looking their best through the seasons

I am always thinking a year ahead and planning the changes and tweaks for the garden. This is most true with the containers' plantings as they change several times a year and we need to be prepared with the plants to fill them.

The best container plants

The summer containers have to perform well for at least four months in a mix of weather and still look great into October. Sam Everiss and I assess what plants have performed well and what have not over the course of the season. We take into consideration what got too big, what hardly grew at all, what didn’t flower well enough and what required too much deadheading or grew so large that it took a bashing from the wind. But as well as those practical considerations our primary focus is considering what containers looked great with good structure and colour combinations and what ones left us feeling a bit underwhelmed.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Whirling Butterflies'The four containers which we tried something new with this year are the ones outside of the Visitor Lounge, where we used a combination of purely hardy perennial plants.

As much as I love the riot of colour that tender perennials provide, hardy plants have the potential to carry on for another year and celebrate the change in the seasons. Although planted with a selection of plants the stars of the containers have turned out to be the Gaura lindheimeri 'Whirling Butterflies' and Verbena rigida.

Andrew's tips for planting a container

I like to keep the number of different plants in a container quite low, usually two or three varieties and rarely more than four. It is important to keep the combination simple and not aim to create a miniature garden. This is particularly important with a large pot as you want to take full advantage of its size. When using a large pot you should be aiming to scale everything up but keep the varieties low and most of all aim to hide all of that compost.

We had a bit of trouble with containers planted up with argyranthemums as they became top-heavy and collapsed with the wind. Our only solution was to carefully position canes along each plant but you don’t have to look all that closely to spot them.

As a result of these alterations, a bit of the compost is showing and bare compost is an absolute magnet to our younger visitors to RHS Garden Hyde Hall. They can’t resist filling the pots with any stones they can find.

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