Winter hanging baskets – planting ideas

Red berries look glorious against a variegated silver leaf for the winter season
Image: dogwooddays

Once the last of summer’s flowers have faded, it’s tempting to discard the plants, store the baskets behind the shed, and give up until spring. But that would be to miss out on the colour, texture and form offered by dwarf evergreen shrubs and winter perennials, annuals and bulbs.

My own hanging baskets are limping sadly towards the end of autumn. The trailing Nasturtium ‘Milkmaid’ is still blooming bravely in the face of the chill November breeze, but my petunias are disintegrating and the verbena has just closed its final flower spike. Replacing these fading blooms is a quick and easy November task that will ensure cheerful colour and interest during the chill months to come. Here are two of my favourite winter hanging basket schemes for inspiration.

Lime green and gold hanging basket

The striking dwarf lemon cypress adds structure and texture
Image: dogwooddays

Create a warm atmosphere on even the coldest day with bright lime green and variegated gold foliage. Dwarf Lemon Cypress (Cupressus ‘Goldcrest’) adds height to the centre of a hanging basket with striking lime green foliage and a conical shape. Slender sweet flag grass (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) is another option to add height to a container display. Its soft semi-evergreen lime leaves cascade from the centre of the basket and blend beautifully with other lime foliage or darker colours, like the smaller black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’.)

Add heuchera foliage for interesting shapes and colours – one of my favourite varieties is ‘Marmalade’ which has lime green and brown leaves that mature to warm oranges and pinks. Or try the heucherella trailing collection for a mix of lime, red and purple leaves that will cover the edges of the basket and soften the display.

Ivy is also ideal to trail over the edges of any hanging basket and Hedera helix ‘Goldchild’, with its olive-green lobed leaves edged in gold, will pick out the lime and gold highlights elsewhere in the display. You can add more colour for early spring by planting some Crocus ‘Yellow Mammoth’ bulbs now for a hanging basket that will really light up your entrance until the warmer weather returns.

Red, white and silver hanging basket

A winning combination
Image: Thompson & Morgan

This vibrant colour combination spreads a little Christmas cheer throughout the entire holiday season. As a central focus, choose the evergreen Checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens) whose luscious scarlet berries follow delicate white bell-shaped flowers. Or try Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ – another dwarf shrub with red berries and glossy dark green leaves. Both of these shrubs prefer acid conditions, so fill the basket with peat-free ericaceous compost and water with rainwater where possible.

Red cyclamen complement the scarlet berries of the shrubs perfectly, or go for a mix of white and red to create more variety. Snowdrops bring a touch of class to this display and have the advantage that you can look up into the exquisite flowers rather than having to lie on the ground to explore their intricate patterning! Finally, add the shimmering beauty of Heuchera ‘Prince of Silver’ to enjoy its large silver-green leaves patterned with dark purple veining.

For a flash of excitement come the spring, try adding lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor f.alba ‘Gertrude Jekyll’) with evergreen foliage and starry white flowers for trailing interest. Or choose another ivy – Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ with dark green and silvery grey leaves.

Selecting primarily shrubs, perennials and bulbs for your container displays is a sustainable option as, in late spring, the baskets can be put to one side to rest until the following autumn. Alternatively, transplant the plants and bulbs to a position elsewhere in the garden for another burst of seasonal colour next winter.

Find hanging basket care guides and more great seasonal planting tips at our hanging basket hub page. What do you like to plant in your winter hanging baskets? Share your pics over on our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram.

Green roofs: the only way is up

The top of Nic’s green-roof bin store in all its glory.
Image source: dogwooddays

So your flowerbeds are full, the greenhouse is overflowing, there’s no more room for pots on the patio and every vertical surface in the garden is covered in foliage. How do you find space for new plants and enjoy the thrill of a fresh challenge in the garden?

The answer? A green roof bin store. As well as screening your unsightly plastic monstrosities from view, a custom-made green-roof bin store provides the perfect place to grow attractive, scented and edible plants for instant kerb appeal and a lasting first impression. Here’s how I designed mine…

How to build a green roof bin store

Nic’s bin store was inspired by this version in the RHS Community Garden at Hampton Court.
Image source: dogwooddays

Inspired by the RHS Greening the Grey Community Garden at Hampton Court Flower Show back in 2015, I fell in love with their fabulous bin store with a thyme and wild strawberry green roof.

Working with a local carpenter, I created my own version of a green roof store that would accommodate two bins and give me room to grow plants on the top and up the trellis sides. I also planned a selection of different sized holes in the side panel for solitary bees. Over the last three years these holes have been used regularly. I often see bees going in and out with their mud pellets blocking the holes.

Once the bin store was complete, I lined the top with heavy duty plastic sheeting and covered this with 20mm gravel to improve the drainage. I left a hole at the back through which the water could drain down a hose to the ground and screwed an upturned tea strainer over the hole to prevent blockages. I filled the rest of the top with a low-nutrient green roof substrate based on crushed recycled brick and green waste compost – and I was ready to plant it up.

Best plants for a green roof

Miniature succulents look stunning on a sunny ‘green roof’.
Image source: dinodentist

The bin store is in full sun, so I chose plants that prefer sunny, well-drained conditions like alpines, succulents and herbs. The sunniest side is filled with lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) and Thymus ‘Silver Queen’, salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) and winter savoury (Satureja montana). All have thrived and they are self-seeding on the roof, so I know that the conditions are right for them. Thrift (Armeria maritima) has also done well and self-seeds all over, but perhaps the most successful planting has been the succulents. I positioned them at the front so their delicate foliage and tiny flowers are at eye-level when I pass to empty the bins or get in the car.

In the spring, Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ and Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ have small starry yellow flowers and Saxifraga ‘Buttercream’ adds its soft milky flowers to the mix. During the summer months, Sempervivum arachnoideum sends up pink starry blossom spikelets and I grow annual climbers up the sides of the bin store – this year the trellis has been covered in the apricot shades of Thunbergia ‘African Sunset’ mixed with the deep purple bells of Rhodochiton atrosanguineum.

More than just a screen

Holes for solitary bees have been put to good use.
Image source: dogwooddays

The bin store has been a practical success, but it’s added more than just a screen to the garden. I’ve been able to include plants which struggle in the shadier conditions of the back garden and bring some miniature succulent treasures into the limelight.

Although sedum matting is a great way to cover a green roof, if you’re hankering after extra growing room I’d encourage you to be ambitious and experiment with a range of species – perhaps herbs, alpines and different succulents, or even an elevated wildflower meadow – the sky really is the limit!

Some like it hot

A summer heatwave is ideal for chillies
Image source: Nic Wilson

It’s been a hot year in the greenhouse and the chillies have enjoyed every sweltering second. Sown in early January, they developed into sturdy seedlings by March and were ready to go out in the greenhouse by late May. I chose fewer varieties of chilli seeds this year in an effort to fit all my plants in the available space alongside the cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and cucamelons, and it worked – just!

Best chilli varieties to grow at home

A jar of pickled chillies to enjoy over the winter
Image source: Nic Wilson

I picked varieties based on their heat, flavour and uses – some for chillies and curries, some for our spicy homemade chilli jam and pickles, some for their ornamental value, and others for stuffing.

Prairie Fire’, described as an ‘ornamental edible’, and the stunning ‘Numex Twilight’ add interest to the kitchen windowsill or patio table with their upturned chillies ripening from green through cream, yellow, orange, red and purple. They produce hot fruit – great for curries and for extra-spicy jam.

Hot Lemon’ is an attractive variety with prolific yellow fruits and an aromatic citrus flavour. It suffuses my pickled chilli liqueur with a sweet tang, works well in Thai soups, and is delicious stuffed with cream cheese for those with an adventurous, heat-loving palate. Another prolific cropper this year is ‘Joe’s Long’. My plants have produced many long fruits which look like curled cayennes and are fabulous dried and hung in the kitchen ready for winter chillies, stews and broths.

Chillies to bake

Sweeter, mellow-flavoured chillies are ideal for stuffing and baking
Image source: Nic Wilson

Baked chillies stuffed with cream cheese is one of my favourite autumn suppers: for this I tend to use varieties with sweet, fruity flavours and less heat. The mellow ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ and the mild but flavoursome ‘Trinidad Perfume’ are particular favourites, along with ‘Ubatuba’ and ‘Bolsa de Dulce’ (both Capsicum baccatum rather than the more common Capsicum annuum). Baccatum means ‘berrylike’ and ‘Bolsa de Dulce’ translates as ‘bag of sweetness’.

This variety certainly produces fragrant, large fruits rather like sweet peppers but more aromatic and productive, and we’ve had more chillies from these varieties this year than ever before.

Try a chilli tree

Chillies come in a variety of colours, shapes, heat levels and harvesting times
Image source: Nic Wilson

Tree chillies (Capsicum pubescens) are an another unusual type that require a long growing period and plenty of heat to mature. I grow ‘Albertos Locoto’ and use the extremely hot fruits for baking, frying or slicing into salads, as they work best fresh.
One advantage of tree chillies is that they tolerate lower temperatures which means they’re well suited to over-wintering and can continue fruiting for up to fifteen years. I’ve had tree chillies in the house fruiting on Christmas Day in previous years.

Extend the chilli growing season

The glossy dark ‘Hungarian Black’ chilli ripens to a scarlet red
Image source: Nic Wilson

It’s possible to kick start the fruiting season early by growing varieties like ‘Vampire’, and ‘Hungarian Black’. These dramatic chillies have deep purple flowers and relatively mild, Jalapeno-shaped fruits with an eye-catching purple-black shine. They both begin fruiting in July, so by growing these attractive plants alongside tree chillies, it’s possible to extend the fruiting season significantly.

We have a busy few weeks ahead: drying and pickling our chillies, and preserving them in jams to make the most of the bounty brought on by the hot weather. And, as the nights draw in, I’ll be sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of baked chillies, leafing through the seed catalogues, happily concocting my fiery chilli plans for next year…

 

Head over to our dedicated chillies and sweet peppers hub page for growing inspiration and more fantastic articles on these fiery fruits.

Dahlia Dreaming

two dahlia flowers blooming

Dahlias blaze into colour just as other flowers are going over.
Image source: Shutterstock

After weeks of hot summer days, the grass is brown and withered, the summer raspberries have shrivelled into dessicated husks and the roses have gone over, but my dahlias are only just beginning. We’ve had the first brazenly crimson flower on ‘Con Amore’.

I’ve just started reading the sumptuous monograph ‘Dahlias’ by Naomi Slade, published earlier this month, and now I’m impatient to convert my dahlia dreaming into reality. I came to dahlias quite late in the day after picking up a few tubers of the charismatic Dahlia ‘Firepot’ at the school fete and I’ve been hooked ever since. They’re such a versatile flower – working equally well in mixed borders, containers or as bedding plants. Last year I also grew dahlias in the vegetable patch, and used the blooms for cut flowers.

Cut flowers

bloomed cafe au lait dahlia

‘Café au lait’ is a favourite for cut flower arrangements.
Image source: Nic Wilson

My favourites include the sophisticated duo ‘Henriette’ and ‘Café au Lait’. ‘Henriette’ is a semi-cactus washed with apricot tones and ‘Café au Lait’, a double decorative with a soft pink blush which Naomi Slade describes as ‘rich as a cream liqueur on ice’.

Their elegant flowers last well in arrangements – either as an off-white display or mixed with the deep burgundy shades of ‘Thomas A. Edison’ and ‘Downham Royal’. These darker dahlias also create fiery contrasts with the neon punctuation of ‘New Baby’ and burnished orange of ‘David Howard’. Growing flowers in these three tonal ranges allows me to create harmony and contrast in different rooms as the mood takes me.

Borders

group of bishop of llandaff dahlias flowers

‘Bishop of Llandaff’ brings a striking scarlet accent to your borders.
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

Dahlias bring extra colour to late summer borders and their foliage is a valuable addition even before the flowers, especially with the rich chocolate purples and greens of the Bishop Series. If I could only grow one dahlia, it would be ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ – it has the same dark foliage as the more popular ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, but with luscious magenta-pink flowers.

For a more elegant border dahlia, ‘Twynings After Eight’ retains the dark chocolate foliage alongside single white flowers with a saturated yellow central boss.

Containers and bedding

dahlia scura flower

The smaller dahlia ‘Scura’ is ideal for containers.
Image source: Nic Wilson

Smaller dahlias are well suited to container growing and bedding displays. For punchy colour try ‘Scura’, one of the Mini Bishop Group, which has deep orange petals with apricot undertones, or ‘Happy Single Date’ with its cheerful tangerine flowers flushed with red at the centre.

Fire and Ice’ creates its own contrast with vibrant red and white striped flowers on sturdy plants and you can’t beat the semi-double flowers of ‘Sunny Reggae’ in all shades from buttery apricot through to vivid red to liven up any area of the garden.

Dahlia care

two happy single date dahlias

Dahlia ‘Happy single date’ is easily accessible to bees in a wildlife-friendly garden.
Image source: Nic Wilson

Whether you’re planting dahlia tubers in containers from late winter/early spring or in the ground after the last frosts, they need little attention apart from feeding and comprehensive defense against the gastropodic arts. I begin all my tubers in containers – this year’s spring rain (hard to remember now) attracted the slugs and snails who wreaked havoc on the emerging shoots. My normal barriers of copper tape and wool pellets proved futile and I had to resort to placing all the dahlias on the patio table with copper tape circling each leg.

The plants need liquid feeding throughout the growing season – a high nitrogen feed initially, followed by a high potassium feed when they start flowering. Once autumn frosts begin in earnest, lift the tubers, cut back the stems and dry upside down before storing in sand or compost in a frost-free place. In milder areas, tubers can be left in the ground and well mulched with compost, manure or straw.  Most years this works for me, with occasional losses in particularly wet, cold winters.

Anticipation

thomas a edison dahlia

‘Thomas Edison’ is a beautiful addition to cut flower displays.
Image source: Nic Wilson

In the next few weeks I’ll be waiting impatiently for ‘Karma Choc’ and ‘Daisy Duke’ to flower, both new for me this year. And I’m already planning my dahlia selection for 2019. How can I resist just a few tubers of ‘Sierra Glow’ – described by Naomi Slade as the “most gorgeous bronze, brushed with coppery pink and with hints of dusty rose”? I suspect, with tens of thousands of cultivars available, I’ll be indulging in dahlia dreaming for many years to come.

If Nic’s article inspired you, learn how to grow & care for your own dahlias using our dahlia hub page – T&M’s one stop shop for everything you need to know about growing dahlias.

Inspiring kids to love the garden

Discovering the wonder of nature is a lifelong journey.
Image source: Oksana Kuzmina

My own childhood memories of high summer are filled with light, scent and taste: my dad’s mesembryanthemums with their candy-coloured faces following the sun, honeysuckle perfume saturating the evening air and summer raspberries still warm as I popped them in my mouth.

I was lucky enough to spend my childhood summers playing in a third-of-an-acre garden with apple trees, flower borders, a vegetable plot and a wild area where I was often to be found, at the top of the Scots pine, with an apple and a book.

Modern gardens are getting smaller, and more families are living in urban settings, often with only a balcony or window ledge for outside space. So how can we engage today’s youngsters with plants, nature and the outdoors, especially during the long summer holidays?

How to create a natural den

This living willow den will grow into the perfect hideout for small children.
Image source: Peter Turner Photography

The Scots pine canopy of my childhood was a special private place – the kind of secret outdoor space that many children like to create around themselves. But there are no mature trees in our small garden, so I planted a willow den for my kids as a place where they could be alone with nature. Willow dens are created by using whips (young, thin willow rods) that will root when driven into the ground and kits can be purchased from specialist suppliers to train into wigwams, domes and tunnels. As they mature, the foliage cover develops and entirely screens the centre of the den from the outside.

My children loved their den. We have fond memories of eager faces appearing from the entrance playing ‘peepo’ and small hands thrust through the foliage to wave at us from within. Willow likes fairly damp ground and our den finally perished after six years as the soil is a little too dry, but in ideal conditions these dens will last for years.

How to sow the magic of seeds

Tomatoes you’ve grown yourself are the best tasting tomatoes in the world.
Image source: Romrodphoto

There’s nothing like the magic of watching seeds germinate and develop bright blooms for flower pressing or tasty salad leaves. Getting kids involved in growing from seed can be the start of a lifetime’s fascination with gardening and it’s easy to grow plants like marigolds, lettuce leaves or tomatoes in a container or on a windowsill. If you haven’t sown seeds with the kids yet, it’s not too late. French beans, radishes and beetroot seeds can be sown as late as July, or alternatively you can buy tomato, courgette and pepper plants which will bear fruit throughout the summer.

This year we’ve been growing nasturtiums, calendula, cherry tomatoes and peas so the children can make simple salads garnished with edible petals. We also pickle the nasturtium pods as an alternative to capers – a peppery addition to pasta and pizza. As they eat their way through the vegetable bed, the kids are definitely developing more adventurous tastes and learning about where their food comes from.

How to get up close with wildlife

Nature is filled with beauty when you take time to observe.
Image source: altanaka

There’s a whole world in even the tiniest patch of grass or flowerbed: spiders, woodlice, ants and hoverflies are all easy to spot when you stop and observe the garden close up. We’ve had tawny mining bees in our small lawn this summer, exciting visitors that we’ve been watching as a family and the kids have a magnifying pot so they can examine the patterns on a snail shell or the detail of a ladybird’s wing.

A container in a sunny spot filled with lavender, salvia, agastache, dwarf buddleja or herbs like oregano and thyme will encourage pollinators into the garden or onto a balcony. Putting food and water out for the birds adds another dimension to the garden, allowing kids to learn more about local wildlife.

One of my favourite garden moments was watching fledgling great tits emerge from the bird box by the shed with my five year old son. He’d watched the adults feeding their young for days and was fascinated by the way the fluffy fledglings kept poking their heads out of the hole before finally flying the nest. When the last great tit left the nesting box, to our amazement, it landed briefly on my shoulder and then headed off over the shed – this kind of experience is a fabulous way to ignite a child’s interest, creating the gardeners and naturalists of the future.

Disclaimer: The author and publisher take no responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Seek advice from a professional before using a plant for culinary or medicinal uses.

 

About the author:

Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2017). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at www.dogwooddays.net

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