Plants for a purpose: autumn containers

Plants for autumn containers: dahlias, heucheras, grasses

If your garden is looking lacklustre, a container bursting with vibrant autumnal plants is the quickest and easiest way to give it a boost. There’s a host of beautiful plants that are looking their best right now, that will thrive in a container. Here, we share some of our favourite plants for autumn pots. There are options to suit every colour scheme, and plants that will thrive in sun or shade. Our choices include recommendations from the Gardeners’ World team and familiar faces from across the gardening industry.

Find more planting inspiration:


Prostrate rosemary

Rosemary chosen by Frances Tophill
Drought-tolerant rosemary thrives in containers of gritty compost

Chosen by Frances Tophill, Gardeners’ World presenter

Softening the edges of any container is so important in terms of design. But when you soften them with an evergreen, like trailing rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus), you get fantastic interest all year round, including in autumn. Even better when that plant is edible, highly aromatic, medicinal, delicious and has flowers beloved by pollinators.


Autumn crocus

Colchicum chosen by Chris Beardshaw
Autumn crocus are ideal for brightening dappled shade under trees or for pots in shady spots

Chosen by Chris Beardshaw, garden designer

Reliable old hybrids that perform well rarely go out of fashion, and this is true of the vivid amethyst blooms on Colchicum ‘Glory of Heemstede’. Usually seen colonising in open, short grass or through late borders, I find it is a great candidate for a large container, to bring a sparkle in areas where there is a colour lull. It’s especially effective when densely planted, creating a display worthy of a flower vase. After blooming, simply move the pot to a cool and sheltered spot to enjoy the lavish early spring foliage.


Cyclamen

Cyclamen chosen by Pippa Greenwood
Hardy Cyclamen hederifolium flower all autumn without any protection and return year after year

Chosen by Pippa Greenwood, Gardeners’ Question Time presenter and plantswoman

Admittedly, some cyclamen are hardier than others, but in a protected spot, such the one close to my front door, even the more fragile forms can withstand all but the harshest weather. One of the reasons I use them so much is that they provide not only strong splashed of rich colour from the blooms, but many also have wonderful foliage – silvery variegation and patterning so lovely that the flowers simply become a seasonal bonus!

How to grow indoor cyclamen


Hylotelephium telephium ‘Purple Emperor’

Hylotelephium chosen by Isabelle Palmer
Hylotelephium, previously known as sedum, grow well in pots of gritty compost in a sunny spot

Chosen by Isabelle Palmer, The Balcony Gardener founder

The dramatic, almost black, succulent leaves of Hylotelephium ‘Purple Emperor’, topped with dark red flowerheads, from August to October are perfect for pots that need interest. Their unusual form pairs wonderfully with heucheras and chrysanthemums. Place in full sun, where they provide a valuable source of nectar for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.


Violas

Pansies chosen by Kevin Smith
Violas and pansies are great for adding long-lasting colour to containers all year round

Chosen by Kevin Smith, editor

I always buy a couple of trays of violas once summer bedding plants have passed their best and my pots need sprucing up. I favour the small flowers of violas over those of pansies, which are larger, and always choose ones that are a single block colour rather than bi-coloured. Violas are great value and flower their socks off all autumn, through winter and culminate in a final spring flourish. There’s nothing not to like!


Dahlia ‘Waltzing Mathilda’

Dahlias 'Waltzing Mathilda' chosen by Cel Robertson
Dahlia ‘Waltzing Mathilda’ grows to around 75cm tall and makes a striking centrepiece in a large pot

Chosen by Cel Robertson, founder of Forever Green flower company

This open-faced dahlia is a magnet for bees and pollinating insects. It will flower right through from late summer until the first frosts, with blooms a bright blend of coral-apricot and red, offset beautifully by dark foliage. This compact variety is a great choice for containers in smaller gardens.


Alstroemeria ‘Summer Party’

Alstroemeria chosen by Lily Middleton
Alstroemerias are hardy perennials and will grow well in pots as long as they are kept well watered

Chosen by Lily Middleton, content creator

Alstroemeria ‘Summer Party’ makes summer parties last well into autumn. It’s a compact variety, so perfect for pots, and I love the vibrant pink blooms with a splash of yellow. A great way to keep the vibrancy of summer going for as long as possible.


Chocolate cosmos

Chocolate cosmos chosen by Ashley Edwards
Chocolate cosmos is a tender perennial, ideal for pots that can be moved under cover in winter

Chosen by Ashley Edwards, Horatio’s Garden head gardener

Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus), is a tender perennial from Mexico. The delicious scent of the flowers gives this plant it’s common name. The airy, burgundy blooms go brilliantly mixed with autumn-flowering grasses.


Nandina domestica

Nandina domestica chosen by Catherine Mansley
You’ll get the best autumn colour on a nandina, or heavenly bamboo, if it’s grown in a sunny spot

Chosen by Catherine Mansley, digital editor

Nandinas are easy-to-grow shrubs with a light and airy shape and they looks good virtually all year round. They’re evergreen and yet the leaves also have great autumn colour, they also have small summer flowers, followed by glossy autumn berries that last through the winter. They prefer slightly acidic soil so grow in pots of ericaceous compost if your garden’s soil is too alkaline.


Dahlia ‘White Aster’

Dahlia White Aster chosen by Emma Crawforth
Dahlia ‘White Aster’ is a great choice for a sunny pot. The blooms also make great cut flowers

Chosen by Emma Crawforth, horticultural editor

This compact dahlia variety produces masses of creamy-white pompom flowers, each only around 5cm in diameter. It’s a good size for a medium (40cm) container and mixes well with lots of other colours. Try growing it alongside pink or apricot cosmos, Salvia microphylla varieties or other dahlias. You can plant dahlia tubers in spring; they’re good value and need little care to reach flowering stage. Alternatively, buy pots in summer once they’ve grown into plants. As with all plants in containers, you’ll need to water them regularly.


Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’

Hosta Blue Mouse Ears, chosen by Miranda Janatka
Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ is a miniature variety with chunky leaves and purple summer flowers

Chosen by Miranda Janatka, senior content creator

This dwarf hosta produces lovely foliage and is perfect for pots – as not only is it easier to keep away from slugs (we know that slugs do love hostas!) but it’s also easier to see the compact leaves. Hostas cope better with shade than many other plants and provide foliage until it dies back in winter, then returning in spring. While it will flower in the summer, I cut these off as I prefer to encourage new leaves, which have a slight blue hue to them.

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