Gardening: Using pots and planters to create maximum impact

Potted plants

Potted plants - Credit: Archant

Small town gardens often have dark corners in which the overhanging branches of a neighbouring tree, overgrown shrubbery or dark entranceway prohibit successful planting.

Potted plants in Hampstead

Potted plants in Hampstead - Credit: Archant

No matter how much good soil, compost and fertiliser you dig into these areas whatever is planted fails to thrive.

There is hope though. Where traditional in-ground planting fails a decorative pot with shade tolerant plants in can thrive and create an interesting focal point, turning a dull area into one that is a joy to look at.

There are so many pots to choose from that the choice can be a little boggling. Many are a matt finish (terracotta, stone, concrete) and although these have their place in the garden they will not highlight a shady space as well as a glazed, painted, reflective metal or illuminated planter. The more eye-catching the planter the more the focal point is reinforced.

Glazed ceramic pots help to bounce available light around to make the space appear larger. They generally look best planted simply with topiary such as Buxus balls. When glazed with a metallic finish they really come to life and because the glaze is thick and very strong the containers remain pristine for years. All they need is a wipe over with a soft damp cloth a couple of times a year to keep them looking shiny.

Plants in pots

Plants in pots - Credit: Archant

Mirror polished or brushed stainless steel also makes a great planter and these often work nearer to the house where they can highlight a north facing porch or recess in a building and create a striking entrance piece. They will require a regular polish to ensure that there is no limescale build-up from watering on their surface and that fingerprints are removed but other than that they are simple to maintain. Metal and cool shade works far better than metal and sun where the planters often overheat and ‘cook’ the roots of the plants in them.

GRP/moulded plastic doesn’t sound as if it would make a beautiful planter but there are many manufacturers creating high shine contemporary shaped planters that have a long lifespan and cost very little. They are available in pretty much every shade, colour and hue you can think of and really do add impact in the shade. A good clear red works very well and combines with green, silver and purple foliage plants making the combination as striking in the day as it is at night if illumination can be provided.

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For something a little out of the norm and also with illumination in mind it is possible to purchase interior lit planters, again in a form of plastic that emit a wonderful glow at night. By day they are matt and very simple but at night they come into their own. They almost cry out not to be planted but used simply to act as a highlight in their own right and with the colours of the planters as varied as the colours of the light that can be used with them there is surely a combination for everyone.

As with all planters drainage is the key. We use little spacers under the planters to create a void where water can drain out of – these can be as low as 5mm and this combines with a filter layer of a geotextile fabric and an aggregate drainage material which helps to ensure that the water draining out of the container is free of compost and therefore less likely to generate dirty patches and algae on surrounding surfaces.

All plants require water and more so in a planter so regular watering and a slow release fertiliser or liquid fertiliser in the summer months will help keep the plants looking healthy.

Kate Gould is an award winning garden designer for London and the Home Counties and a regular exhibitor at the Chelsea Flower Show. If you would like to know more about our services please contact Kate Gould at