Diarmuid Gavin: Let containers add a splash of cheer to your front door
Most of our gardening this season revolves around putting the garden to bed, digging out perennial weeds, mulching planted areas with organic matter, clearing leaves and protecting furniture and trampolines, which can become missiles in the wind. Our enjoyment comes from autumnal colour and our increasing adoption of the American traditions of displaying pumpkins for Halloween (which of course originally evolved from an old Irish and Scottish custom of carving turnips and beets with grotesque faces to ward off unwanted visitors).
Along with the pumpkins, which reside on doorsteps for just a few weeks, there are other ways of brightening up the front door or windowsill: pots and containers full of interest and colour really come into their own at this time of the year. While it's not easy to fill the garden with colour from autumn to spring, you can pick your spot and brighten it using containers.
The secret to container gardening at this time of the year is to use what's available. For instance, I haven't embraced heathers in my garden plans for decades... but when bunched together in a trough my prejudice disappears and I enjoy its effects.
A trip to your local garden centre will reveal what's available for planting now and it's more than you may have thought. You can pick your theme and decide on an arrangement that's bright and gaudy, interesting in a quirky way - or quietly elegant.
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For the bright, showy plants head straight to the colour - plants such as chrysanthemums, cyclamens, polyanthus, primula, violas, bellis perennis and wallflowers and solanums covered in cherry -like berries will scream cheeriness from your pots. And as they won't grow much over winter, use as many as possible...pack them in tightly.
For something that's a little different but eye-catching, why not try ornamental cabbages? As a centrepiece to a pot or used in a row along a window box, this style will certainly become a talking point.
Some plants, such as the Hellebores, are so beautiful they deserve a pot to themselves, as do the wonderful red-berried Gaultheria, which would make a lovely gift.
Spring bulbs can be tucked underneath so don't forget to get some daffodils, anemones and dwarf iris - it's wonderful to see them peeping up in the spring.
To combine with colour or just on their own, evergreens such as skimmias, bay trees, box balls, euonymus, choisya, hebes or dwarf conifers will provide structure. There are evergreen grasses that can look great too, such as golden carex and festucas.
Heucheras come in deep shades of purple as well as fresh greens and evergreen ferns also give good textural interest to your display. Pots look great with trailing plants so don't forget trailing ivies. The white or yellow variegated ivies will look a lot brighter on a dark day than plain dark-green varieties.
So what do you need to do? First get rid of your summer bedding - dump on the compost heap.
You will need to replace the compost in your pots as this will be exhausted at this stage - also ideal material for your compost bin. It's a good idea to add some drainage such as grit to your compost to compensate for the rainy downpours that the pots will receive. A few broken crocks or large pebbles at the bottom of the pot will also help in this respect too.
There's a wide array of containers available but do check that they are frost-free as there's nothing more disheartening than seeing a pot split open overnight, its contents spilling over.
And finally, remember to be inventive - the extraordinary Helen Dillon is famous for using galvanised dustbins painted a gun-barrel grey planted over winter with a lollipop assortment of eye-popping colours. Look around and see what you can find to plant up and create your own overwinter colourful statement.
If you are placing pots under porches or eaves around the front door, they will need watering as they can dry out quickly enough in this position. Make sure they receive adequate light, too.