Our expert advice for container planting

Containers bursting with floral interest are a welcome addition to gardens of any size

Containers are extremely versatile and can liven up even the most woebegone corners of the garden. We've asked garden designer Stephen Woodhams for advice as to which plants thrive in containers and how they can best accent your outdoor space.

grass field with purple flower in pots and hand shovel

(Image credit: TBC)

In the autumn, we plant up containers with spring bulbs. I mix hyacinths with tulips, which tend to flower in that order; if we add crocuses, they are the first to bloom. For winter interest, I often plant Viola (winter pansies) around the edge of containers. Always mulch the pots with gravel in a co-ordinating colour, to make the look pots more attractive, to deter squirrels and mice from digging up the bulbs, and to keep moisture in and help prevent weeds.

Summer planting can range from hanging baskets and the planting of Geranium, Impatiens and Nicotiana, to the sowing of annuals which, together with summer-flowering lilies, give a riot of colour through to the first autumn frosts.

Dahlias are one of my favourite summer flowers as they produce a long succession of blooms; the more you cut them, the more flowers appear. I also pot up whatever is in season at the time, to place in the centre of a dining table.

Use overscaled pots wherever you can as they always add a wow factor and a sense of drama. Introduce an unexpected element, such as playing with scale; try planting tall, clear-stemmed Magnolia grandiflora in very tall, skinny terrazzo pots and underplanting them with seasonal colour. Use containers to draw the eye and define the space. A line of pots can lead the eye along a path, divide one area from another, define a boundary or echo linear planting elsewhere. Choose your containers to tone in with other elements or to add bursts of accent colour. Shape is also important; tall and skinny creates a sense of height; large and broad take up more space and work best in larger spaces. Arrange containers in pairs or odd numbers; three in a row is perfect. Detailing on containers can add further personality and coherence to your whole garden.

Stephen Woodhams is the author of Garden Design Solutions (published by Jacqui Small, £25).


Tamara was Ideal Home's Digital Editor before joining the Woman & Home team in 2022. She has spent the last 15 years working with the style teams at Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home, both now at Future PLC. It’s with these award wining interiors teams that she's honed her skills and passion for shopping, styling and writing. Tamara is always ahead of the curve when it comes to interiors trends – and is great at seeking out designer dupes on the high street.