Potted Gardens that Shine Even in Winter

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Potted Gardens that Shine Even in Winter

When it comes to container gardening, we have lots of options to carry us through winter.

Gardening in pots affords me more opportunities to experiment with colors, textures and blooms, using plants that I don’t have room for in my garden. If something doesn’t work out, I can try something else next year.

I’m fortunate to live in Zone 7 in the southeast. While it’s true our summers are long and hot, our autumns and winters are usually mild. When it comes to container gardening, we have lots of options to carry us through winter. Gardening in pots affords me more opportunities to experiment with colors, textures and blooms, using plants that I don’t have room for in my garden. If something doesn’t work out, I can try something else next year.

In general I think several pots grouped together make more of an impact than a single container. I like to grow shrubs and trees in decorative containers to add seasonal color. On my front porch I have a dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Orange Blossom Special’) in a large pot with a chartreuse sweet potato vine for summer.

Next to it is a pot of lavender which I leave for year-round interest or until it doesn’t look good, at which point I will probably replace it with another lavender. Some plants like lavender are worth growing even when they don’t live for a long time in my garden. October is the perfect time to plant violas or pansies at the base of the pomegranate tree. Mostly evergreen, my pomegranate, which reaches 2’ to 3’ at maturity, produces miniature flowers and fruits over a period of months.

I enjoy it for its ornamental appeal but, if you are looking for pomegranates to eat, there are better selections like ‘Wonderful.’

Another combination that appeals to me in autumn and winter is one I spotted at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in the fall. In one pot, a specimen of the Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’ with striking yellow bark , is surrounded by autumn fern, Rohdea japonica and a selection of Heuchera – all perennials. Once the maple drops its leaves, its bark stands out against an evergreen carpet. Growing nearby, also in a pot, is Camellia sasanqua ‘October Magic Series,’ still pumping out flowers in mid-November and is underplanted with perennials, Farfugium japonicum and Carex ‘Evergold.’ This combination promises to please for months.

Containers with Japanese maple, Camellia 'October Magic series

Sometimes less is more, and I always look forward to seeing what David Ellis, a friend and garden designer in Atlanta, has come up with. Last winter he had a large wide bowl planted with masses of hellebores, a stunning site in late January.

Helleborus x hybridus January 17, 2012

In another more ornate container he chose to feature just one hybrid hellebore.

Hellebore in Container Jan 2012

My friend Anne, a voracious gardener, has a collection of potted plants near her front door that changes with the seasons. A winter group in late January features Swiss chard, pansies, a single boxwood, Euphorbia and a few other perennials too. In this case, the Swiss chard is both ornamental and edible.

Containers, Anne Sheldon garden in late January 2012

For evergreens that offer four seasons of interest, a combination of broadleaf types and conifers makes for a handsome display.

Grouping of Potted plants

Other favorites for winter flowers and foliage that are happy in containers include Daphne odora and boxwood. For winter berries, it’s hard to beat deciduous hollies. Pictured here, Ilex x ‘Sparkleberry’ is underplanted with parsley; I love the green and red!

Ilex decidua 'Sparkleberry' in container and parsley

Go forth and plant some container gardens to get you through the winter doldrums!