A Pot Display for Early March

Reading time 10 minutes

The wild weather has blown through and we’ve been blessed with a weekend of clear skies, fresh breezes and bright sunshine. It’s been the perfect opportunity to get out into the garden, assess any wind damage and discover what’s looking good right now. Here at The Watch House, the speed at which plant growth has accelerated is astonishing – bulbs seem to be emerging from the ground in front of my very eyes. We are hopeful of a good display from Geranium maderense, the giant Madeira cranesbill, a plant that requires a frost-free winter in order to produce flowers. Daffodil buds are quickly colouring up and bursting open to trumpet the imminent arrival of spring. A sprinkling of Anemone blanda has appeared in the gravel outside the French windows, cheering us up with endearing, daisy-like flowers in sumptuous shades of lilac-blue. They will continue until April before seeding themselves prolifically among the paving slabs. On warm days, there is already a sweet smell of hyacinth in the air. Soon it will be time to shift our pots around and get them in place for the main flowering season. With over one hundred waiting in the wings, this is a substantial undertaking and one for a fine, dry day. In the meantime, resident collared doves Daphne and Dudley gather twigs and leaves from their surface to build another of their precarious nests. We love to hear them cooing to one another; such gentle and trusting birds, my only complaint is how much poop they leave on the flagstones. It’s a small price to pay for such easy company.

Should you venture out and find your garden lacking in interest, then planting up a few pots now is a brilliant way to inject colour and create a focal point. Nurseries and garden centres are steadily filling up with goodies. Bypass the inappropriately early summer bedding and stock up on alpines, hellebores and spring-flowering shrubs instead.

I am not generally in favour of ‘instant’ gardening, but pots are the exception: pots and containers should only ever feature plants in their prime. Their purpose is to draw attention so if they look shabby it’s a poor reflection on the gardener. Once the show is over, it’s time to find the residents a new, more permanent home in the garden or add them to the compost heap. Grouped pots, each planted with one kind of plant, are my preference over pots planted with a variety of kinds. Rarely do mixed containers look good for very long and it’s so much easier to keep a plant happy if it’s not sharing root space with another. I like to use fairly plain terracotta pots, but at this time of year when plants are still small and compact, one can add considerable interest to a display by using containers with different surface patterns and coloured glazes. Once you have started building a collection of interesting vessels you’ll always have the right container for a new acquisition. (Car boot sales are a great place to pick up weathered pots although they’ll be snapped up in no time.)

Heuchera ‘Pewter Moon’ with sky-blue Muscari (grape hyacinth – cultivar unknown)

During autumn, winter and spring it’s especially important to use free-draining, peat-free compost so that pots don’t become waterlogged. I like to add a good shovel of horticultural grit, mixed in well. Keep pots off the ground using pot feet if you experience very wet winters and springs. Here in Broadstairs I find them an unnecessary precaution. Indeed, a lack of moisture is often the problem and we end up watering pots throughout the colder months. If the plant is going to remain potted for more than a couple of months, I incorporate a little slow-release fertiliser at the time of planting.

Fritillaria meleagris is priceless when planted in a pot, allowing its chequerboard bells to be admired at close-quarters.

When choosing plants for a pot display I tend to stick to three or five compatible colours, not including green. White, blush pink, plum, pewter and a pop of sky blue work beautifully in the pots we arranged around the outdoor kitchen sink last week. The hellebores and saxifrages are new, other plants are old friends and things we’ve raised from bulbs planted in the autumn. Alternatively, yellow, purple and blue is an invigorating and particularly spring-like colour palette, made easy to achieve by combining miniature narcissi such as ‘Tête á Tête’ with richly-coloured irises and violas.

Helleborus ‘Glenda’s Gloss’ will flower abundantly for six to eight weeks

A pot display not only provides instant gratification but also a better view of many spring flowers, particularly those with downward-facing flowers such as hellebores, snowdrops and fritillaries. Where possible, elevate pots on steps, low walls or balanced upon an up-turned pot so that you can look up into the blooms. Bees and other pollinating insects will thank you for providing an early source of nectar and pollen.

Ten Great Plants for Spring Pots*

  1. Hellebores – some of the most enchanting and nuanced flowering plants in the garden from February until March.
  2. Heucheras – whilst I’m not normally a fan, their beauty and usefulness in pots is undeniable. The foliage comes in shades from bright yellow to inky black.
  3. Cyclamen – species such as Cyclamen coum are so tiny and delicate that they deserve to be admired at close quarters.
  4. Ferns – many hardy ferns are evergreen. Although the foliage will need cutting back soon, last year’s fronds are still an attractive foil for flowering plants.
  5. Euphorbias – spurges such as E. characias subsp. wulfenii and E. myrsinites are at their most splendid in February and March, producing acid-yellow flowers over silvery foliage.
  6. Correas – a little tender perhaps, but for height and structure in a larger pot this shrub is a beauty. C. ‘Marian’s Marvel’ is a favourite.
  7. Saxifrages – many alpines are programmed to flower immediately the snow receeds and they feel the sun warming their leaf rosettes. Saxifrages, with their myriad blossoms, are among them.
  8. Violas – violets and violas are resilient and easy to grow. Violets can be divided in autumn, planted in pots for spring colour and then returned to the border once they’ve finished flowering.
  9. Primulas – like saxifrages, primulas are heralds of spring. The plants we buy as ‘polyanthus’ provide generous colour but should be used sparingly as they can look rather artificial. I much prefer our native primrose, Primula vulgaris, which is easily grown from seed.
  10. Camellias – you may find this an unusual suggestion but we grow several camellias in pots, valuing their glossy foliage as well as their showy flowers.

* I have excluded spring-flowering bulbs as they would dominate the list. Although they need to be planted in autumn, many garden centres and nurseries sell pot-grown bulbs which are ideal for instant gratification. Although we plant thousands as bulbs each year, I usually succumb to buying one or two extra varieties when I see them in flower. TFG

Categories: Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, Perennials, Practical Advice, Small Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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18 comments On "A Pot Display for Early March"

  1. Even in your impeccably designed garden, and even if, as a spring bulb, it did not make the list, there is grape hyacinth. Well, that makes me feel better about growing it in my garden.

    1. I have a funny story about those grape hyacinths. They arrived in a palette of pots that recently came from Denmark, already planted and flowering (the pots should have been empty). The only protection they had was some shrink wrap. How they made it all that way without getting squashed I don’t know. I felt it only right to give them centre stage.

      1. Of course!
        I met mine in the summer of 1976, and had tried to get rid of them for decades. They lived around a swimming pool in my mother’s garden, and survived long after I filled the swimming pool in and put a lawn over it. They would NOT die, . . . until I realized that I sort of liked them and wanted to get some for my own garden. Then, I could not find any. They were absent for a few years before a few bulbs reappeared a few years ago. I dug them up and brought them here!

  2. Thank you for this very stimulating start to my Monday morning as I sit gazing out onto my very green and slightly neglected garden on the edge of the Atherton Tableland rainforest here in wet tropical North Queensland. No one would guess from looking at it after weeks of rain that I design gardens for a living. I’ve spent a whole weekend in front of my computer designing a commercial landscape for a client and was feeling rather uninspired and sad as I looked at my own garden and my very motley collection of neglected plants in their terracotta pots. Recently I’ve been spending so much time drawing plans for other landscape projects that spending time in my own garden rarely seems to fit into the calendar. I’ve always longed to have a garden like yours but I’d almost given up on the terracotta pot fantasy.

    However, your article contained some wonderful, sensible reminders that could be adapted to any climate such as letting each pot containing only its own species and the comment about the pot feet was excellent as our poor plants are either too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold. I love your grouping and mixing. I love your clever photos. We spend so much time here on minimalist modern styles that are the current vogue and reading your articles are my secret treat when I’m fantasizing about less tropical ideas. So thank you again for a really great start to my week. You have some fantastic ideas that can be used in every style of garden.

    1. Hi Suzan. Thank you for your lovely comment. I felt compelled to look your location up and, wow, what a beautiful part of the world you live in! This brings me on to my first point – we always lust after what we don’t have: I long for the tropics, you’d like a taste of the olde English country garden style from
      time to time. It’s natural and healthy to keep an open mind about style, so often dictated by fashion and circumstances. I would love to be minimalist and modern but I’d want to do it in a much larger space than I have at my disposal. One day!

      My second observation is that it’s not easy to make your hobby your business or profession. I was originally a Landscape Architect and didn’t enjoy the large scale projects and all the strictures and constraints. Now I am facing into making gardens my work and hobby once again and wondering how I will strike the right balance. Time will tell. All I will say is not to be too hard on yourself if your garden isn’t everything you’d want it to be. There will be time for garden making in due course 😊 Dan

  3. You are showing some nice combinations. It will soon be warm enough to follow through with some of your suggestions. I can hardly wait.

  4. A wonderfully uplifting display. I am one of those gardeners whose pots reflect poorly on me! I never thought to plant Frit meleagris in a pot. A good idea, since I struggle to make them happy otherwise in my garden and miss them in the spring (I have 2 flowering bulbs, having planted many!)

    1. They are plants of damp, ancient meadows and sadly quite rare in their natural environment. I suspect they would not appreciate long hot summers or light soils. I have seen them looking quite beautiful in the meadows at Great Dixter and Sissinghurst. Perhaps if you have some grass you are happy to leave long you could plant them there? Or could it be that something is eating your precious bulbs? I would persevere as they’re such lovely flowers. Dan

      1. Thanks Dan! Yes, of course, I lived in Suffolk and remember one or two good meadows where they throve. Our soil is heavy clay, and I have always meant to try them below, where the ground is occasionally flooded. But unfortunately that means more cultivation than I have time for (at present at least!) – pushing the boundaries of the garden even further than I’ve managed so far. So enjoyed your pots!

  5. Such a joy to read. A perfect balance of information , creativity and fun.You make me feel I too can become a gardener!Thank you 😊

  6. That is a particularly handsome heuchera. I have quite a lot in my big permanent pots, I agree that they are not terribly exciting, but being evergreen and reasonable robust, they get a pass for the winter and autumn. They get removed and put in the holding bed during the summer, oddly they don’t seem to put on much growth in the open ground.

    I’ve only got the dark types, the only time I ventured into brighter cultivars ( Lime Marmalade) they turned up their toes very quickly. They did not die gracefully, either ( rust). The orange etc are a bit too pricey for someone whose pots are regularly attacked by squirrels.

    I keep meaning to try growing them from seed but……

    1. ….. such a faff! And you would end up with too many.

      I remember my dear granny when Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ was all the rage and how proud she was of her big clump. Sadly that plant quickly became woody. I always preferred the carpets of London pride (Saxifraga x urbium) that grew so prolifically for her.

      A great idea to pot heucheras up for the winter and then bed them out over the summer. Well played 👏

  7. A lovely and inspirational blog and thank you for all the tips you are sharing.
    Now I need to get myself into action and plant up a few of my very sad looking pots.

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