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
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
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.
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 dogwooddays.