Top 30 Potted plants
From trees to herbs, and evergreens to trailers, you can create a whole garden of delights in little pots
Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30
For apartment dwellers and small garden owners, pots and containers are the only way to grow plants. With the right compost, fertiliser, drainage and irrigation, you can grow pretty much everything from a small tree to herbaceous perennials, bulbs, veg, herbs and fruit.
For all year-round interest and structure, evergreen shrubs and grasses will be your top choice. Plants like these can add the framework or bold structure to your garden while the florals dance around them from season to season. Good evergreen structure in a garden comes into its own during the winter months.
1 Bay (Laurus nobilis) is an elegant choice, clipped into simple topiary shapes such as cones and balls.
2 Box (Buxus sempervirens) always looks great clipped into balls and very useful as it does well in the shade.
3 Bamboo If you love bamboos but are concerned about them spreading, pots are a great way of containing them. They can dry out easily so a good watering regime is essential.
4 Evergreen sedges such as Carex can make attractive centrepieces for containers. 'Frosted Curls' has striking silvery green foliage while 'Bowles Gold' has golden foliage that curves gracefully.
Pots of seasonal colour can be placed in the garden and removed backstage when the display is over. Garden centres will have bedding plants throughout the year, from cyclamen in December, to wallflowers and primula in spring and lots of tender colourful flowers in summer. Make sure not to plant out tender bedding until the last frost is gone - usually around late April.
5 Cosmos Bring the colour and exuberance of Mexico straight to your plot. Cosmos flowers are tender, so won't go out until after the last frost, but when they do, they make a long-lasting display. Start growing from seed indoors now for planting outdoors in a sunny open position in May.
6 Nicotiana Bring scent to your garden with the beautiful flowering tobacco plant. Long white tubular flowers release a lovely old fashioned scent, particularly at night so position plants near seating areas.
7 Cleome The spider flower comes in delicious shades of violet and pink and will flower continuously during the summer months. Globes of flowers on tall stems look elegant in pots and they form interesting seed heads towards the end of the year.
8 Marguerite daisies These are one of the most beautiful and best performing of all container plants. They form a lovely rounded mound and are covered with bright white flowers with yellow centres. Ensure they are in the sun, that they have great drainage and continually deadhead for high performance.
Trees and shrubs
Gardeners often discount the notion of growing trees or large shrubs in pots or tubs. It is possible, and the rewards for a well maintained specimen tree in an unexpected place - such as framing a main doorway where's there's no access to ground soil, in a courtyard garden or on a roof terrace - are wonderful. Maintenance is all-important; keeping the trees well irrigated, giving them fresh nutrients every year through feeding and top dressing, and ensuring that if they are set in an exposed situation they are kept steady through staking or wiring will see them thrive.
9 Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai' The pint-sized early flowering cherry tree is smothered in blossoms in early spring and there's an added bonus in autumn as the leaves turn brilliant oranges and reds.
10 Hamamelis This shrub does its star turn during the depths of winter when it has the stage to itself, unfurling deliciously scented strappy-like yellow flowers on bare stems. A perfect pot plant as it's not that interesting for the rest of the year so can be moved backstage.
11 'Ballerina' apple tree For apartment and balcony dwellers who'd really love to grow some fruit, this type of miniature tree - where short flowering and fruiting spurs are produced - could be ideal. One central column can produce plenty of apples.
12 Japanese maples This is one of my favourites! We're familiar with the art of bonsai where many types of trees have their roots and shoots pruned. A less radical alternative to this is growing a specimen of Japanese maple in a tub. Some species look great with their arching framework of branches reaching lower than ground level, so elevating them in a planter allows the crown to spread naturally and beautifully. Maintenance is key - top dress without disturbing roots near the surface, and every five or six years take the plunge and re-pot.
We can dismiss the idea of perennials in pots but we are really missing out on some great opportunities. Seasonal displays of flowering perennials such as astilbe, big mop heads of dark heucheras with their panicle flowers, and even epimedium used as a carpet to compliment some upright evergreen ferns, can be beauties which return year on year.
13 Antirrhinum 'Pretty In Pink' This is a new cultivar producing masses of pink blooms which keep going throughout the summer. Group with other pots of cottage garden plants for a pleasing flowering effect.
14 Nemesia This is a tender perennial so will need to be overwintered indoors. Its small flowers are a bit like snapdragons and are beautifully fragrant. They come in an array of colours from pinks, mauves and blues through to hot yellows and oranges. They will flourish in a sunny position but don't let them dry out. To keep them blooming prolifically, don't just deadhead spent flowers, chop back the flower stalk to encourage new growth.
15 Erysimum Bowles Mauve A perennial wallflower but there's nothing shy or retiring about this bloom - its small mauve flowers will keep going from spring through to autumn and often beyond. It will perform well in sun or shade and will pair well with other cottage garden plants such as hardy geraniums.
16 Verbena bonariensis is a wonderful border plant but don't dismiss it as a pot option. It grows in a rather statuesque way, tall and slender, and a plant that can look wispy in borders becomes dramatic and architectural when selected as a specimen on its own.
There's no better way to announce our delight in the gardening process than by using bulbs. Often their display may be fleeting - two to three weeks long. Display daffodils, tulips and hyacinths gathered together, either with a single species in the same colour dominating the display, or in a "lasagna" style - layers of bulbs planted on top of each other. Or use them as underplanting for a specimen such as a topiary bay tree.
17 Agapanthus prefer to be in a pot rather than the ground as they like to have their roots snug. This bulb has robust deep green foliage, and tall strong flowering stems which bear large bunches of purple-blue or white flowers that explode out of buds like fireworks. The flowers are particularly long-lasting throughout the summer and it requires little watering. Coming from Southern Africa, it loves a sunny spot in the garden.
18 Narcissus 'TÊte À tÈte' Daffodils are a cheerful herald to the start of spring and these miniature egg yolk yellow ones are my favourite. They pop up year on year reliably and trouble-free. You need to leave the foliage die after the flowers are gone to allow the bulb to recharge and because Tète à Tète are so much smaller, they don't leave such a mess as the larger varieties.
19 Tulips - beautiful but very fleeting which makes them ideal as container plants to be whisked away as soon as flowering is finished. An amazing array of colours and varieties are available, however many of the tulip bulbs that we buy are to be treated as annuals - you'll get one good show out of them and the following year they will either not reappear or be much smaller.
If we are creating a whole garden in a pot or a container we need to consider all aspects - trailing plants can ground a display in beautifully. Traditionally, we've used ivies in hanging baskets but there are plenty of other options.
20 Bacopa This is an excellent little trailing plant with bright pink, white or blue flowers and compact foliage. It likes the sun but will tolerate a little bit of shade, making it a good bedfellow for the trailing ivies. It needs regular watering, as if stressed, the first thing that goes are the flowers.
21 Lysimachia nummularia Aurea Golden Creeping Jenny is used mainly for its bright golden foliage which looks elegant as it cascades over pots. It's best kept in a pot as it can be quite invasive in the garden.
22 Calibroachoa is also known as Million Bells and produces hundreds of flowers, a bit like mini petunias, that will drape over the sides of containers and hanging baskets. No need to deadhead as blooms will drop themselves - keep well fed and watered during the summer months to keep the display going. It's not hardy so wait until the last frost is gone before planting.
23 Nasturtium One of the simplest of plants to grow from seed and a great one to try out with the kids or grandchildren. The seeds are big so are easy to handle, the first leaves pushing up from the soil are very distinct and they thrive in poor soil. Too rich a soil will result in too much foliage and less flowers. You sow direct into pots outdoors in April or May. They are happy trailing out of pots or scrambling up a wigwam.
If your aspect benefits from sunshine, a small herb garden can be easily achieved in the smallest of spaces, even a windowsill. The beauty of herbs in pots is that they can have a dual existence - inside for a while adding to the household aroma and then in the garden on a sill or in pots. Many of them will be Mediterranean in origin, so make sure your drainage is great. Don't let them dry out - and remember that they won't need an awful lot of feeding.
24 Rosemary is the ultimate pot plant. It's tough as old nails, likes a sunny position and grows in an upright form or trailing. Just grasping a handful of the foliage as you walk past the pot releases a beautiful oily aroma, and it is the perfect accompaniment to your Easter lamb.
25 Basil is a tender herb which can only live outdoors in the summer. It should be grown freshly from seed each year. Watch out for the whiteflies which sometimes attack.
26 Mint Mint is notoriously invasive so it is best planted in a pot regardless of whether or not you have available ground space. There's a bewildering array of varieties including chocolate-flavoured ones available now, but for the original of species, go for Mentha spicata and enjoy mint tea through the summer.
Statement plants can look fantastic in pots or containers, for example terracotta urns full of gorgeous white lilies. Garden centre conservatories are full of exotics such as lemons and orchids which can venture out into the garden in pots in summer for a striking display.
27 Zantedeschias make an almost tropically dramatic statement with their lush arrow-shaped leaves and brilliant white flowers with yellow stamens. They like to be wet so keep their feet as damp as possible by placing a saucer beneath the pot to collect excess water.
28 Stipa gigantea Golden Oats looks fantastic in pots. Standing up to 8ft tall and 4ft wide, this makes a striking specimen plant. Like many grasses, it is easy enough to grow and manage. It likes an open sunny position with well-drained soil and just needs cutting back once a year to allow new foliage to emerge in spring.
29 Citrus Any of the citrus fruits such as lemon or orange that live indoors during winter will appreciate a summer holiday outdoors. Large waxy lemons dripping from glossy dark foliage make a luxurious picture.
30 Cyperus papyrus the Egyptian paper rush is a tender herbaceous perennial that needs to stand in water, so place the pot in a pond or in a basin of water. Elegant and unusual.