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10 of the best plants for pots

By Hannah Stephenson
Patio plants come into their own in summer, adding wow factor to your outdoor space even on the smallest balcony or in the tiniest courtyard.

“Think of container gardening as the art of choreographing individuals into a joyous composition,” says broadcaster and multi award-winning garden designer Chris Beardshaw, best known for his regular appearances on BBC Gardeners’ World.

Beardshaw, who has just launched a new container course for Learning With Experts, says that with the right plants plus a bit of knowledge about how they thrive, you can easily spruce up your outdoor space.

Here are 10 of his favourite plants for pots…
1. Cosmos
“Annual cosmos plants bring instant cheer to your garden, with their airy, feathery stems and large open flowers. They come in a variety of colours, whites and pastel pinks being the classic options, but look out for intense varieties – such as Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Chocolate’ or Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Sonata Carmine’ – to add a bit of drama. They make great cut flowers too.”

2. Alpines
“The rarefied conditions enjoyed by alpine plants are, for most of us, best recreated in a container, where you can carefully concoct the growing media to suit and a container helps elevate them into the spotlight. Have fun combining alpines to suit your taste, but I especially like Iris hookeri, which is flowering right now.”

3. Mint
“We love to grow a wide range of herbs in containers, sometimes as single species and others as mixed herb pots, which we harvest from on an almost daily basis. Mint, due to its vigorous nature, is often best restricted within a container and I particularly love Mentha spicata for mint tea. At other end of the scale, a favourite of mine is the diminutive and creeping Corsican mint.”

4. Hostas
“The sculptural foliage of hostas adds some much needed breathing space in among all the summer flowers, although that said they do produce a rather lovely flower spike of their own. They are especially beautiful after a little rain when their dinner plate-sized leaves capture the beads of water allowing passing insects to drink. They are a magnet for slugs and snails, so I have quite a few in pots where I can keep a close eye on them, and I nestle them under the canopy of other pot plants to give them a bit of shade.”

5. Scented pelargoniums
“The aromatic fragrance from the leaves of scented pelargoniums are our annual must-have. There are so many varieties on offer, from rose, lemon, orange, nutty and even spicy scented notes to choose from. They are perfect for containers as they can popped into a conservatory or glasshouse over winter, as they don’t typically survive outdoors in the UK. Make sure you rub their leaves each time you wander past and you will be instantly uplifted.”

6. Sedum
“Succulents, such as Sedum ewersii, make great container plants for alpine bowls or troughs. We like to mix a variety of sedum and saxifraga together and display on a table or raised wall, as it allows us to get a closer view of these low growing beauties.”

7. Agapanthus
“The South African lily, as it’s sometimes called, is a prime candidate for containers as the bulbs love to be congested, so they can remain in pots for several years before you need to think about repotting. They are undemanding too and deliver a midsummer hit to the garden, with their lofty drumstick blooms. Place them somewhere hot and sunny for best results.”

8. Lavender
“Lavender is a delightful addition to any garden, formal or informal, and they work beautifully in pots. The dark blue, more compact habit of Lavender angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ is better suited to containers as it doesn’t mind being slightly restricted. It flowers from June-August, is fully hardy and also attracts bees and butterflies. They work well as a single pot plant or as a line of containers to act as a path edge.”

9. Box (Buxus)
“Evergreen box plants can withstand being grown in containers very happily and help bring structure and permanence to the garden. You can prune them into almost any form – ball and cones shapes are perennially popular but cubes with a tree stem growing through the centre and tree canopy above can look really stunning.”

10. Echium
“The intense blue flowering spikes of Echium fastuosum add an exotic flair to the garden. They grow outdoors only in the most southern parts of the UK, with most of us in colder climates needing to overwinter them in a frost-free glasshouse. So we keep ours in a pot and enjoy it’s multi branching display each year.”

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