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10 best plants for pots for an all year round container garden

Transform your outdoor space into a foliage-filled oasis with these evergreen shrubs

Eva Waite-Taylor
Friday 22 April 2022 12:57
<p>Having released our inner Monty Don, we’ve curated a round-up of robust, easy to care for fauna</p>

Having released our inner Monty Don, we’ve curated a round-up of robust, easy to care for fauna

When it comes to your garden, flowers and plants are great decorations, adding different colours and dimensions. If your outdoor space is small or isn’t equipped to house flora in the ground, plants in pots offer the perfect solution.

“Though plants often grow most easily in garden soil, in many cases this is not possible,” Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), tells The Independent. If you’re looking for an alternative, “containers are a great option for a balcony, rooftop or patio garden”. The benefits are plentiful; most importantly, they “quickly add structure and style”, he adds.

In terms of what you should look out for, Barter recommends that within reason, “the larger the container, the better as this will make watering and feeding less of a chore”. He notes that “trees, shrubs, succulent plants and the more robust perennials”, similarly, “rudbeckia make great choices”.

If it’s colourful flowers you’re after, opt for “pansies for winter and petunia for summer”. And although roses, climbers, grasses and bamboos are “more challenging”, they can give excellent results with care, adds Barter.

To help you create the perfect container garden for your outdoor space, we took Barter’s advice on board and went on the search for the best plants for pots we could find.

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How we tested

When it came to testing, we looked for robust plants that offered all year round appeal, as well as those that flowered seasonally. We paid close attention to how easy they were to care for and how they looked on our balcony. Happy potting.

The best plants for pots for 2022 are:

Beards & Daisies dianthus bundle

Best: Overall

Rating: 9.5/10

  • Pet/baby safe: No
  • Care: Water when soil is dry
  • Sun exposure: Full sun or dappled shade

This dianthus bundle from Beards & Daisies is a brilliant way to add colour and a light fragrance to your outdoor space. As we’re all about container gardens here, we’d recommend buying this one with the trough because it arrives ready to put on display on your windowsill, balcony or anywhere outside – it does like the sun, so consider this when deciding its home. The different species arrive in separate pots, ready for planting in a larger container (but order the bundle with the trough, and they fit perfectly). The best thing about this one is that it will also attract bees and butterflies. When it comes to pruning, it’s important not to deadhead it to make sure the flowers will return year after year.

Sarah Raven cottage garden pot collection

Best: For a variety of flowers

Rating: 9/10

  • Pet/baby safe: Yes
  • Care: Water weekly, feed monthly
  • Sun exposure: Dappled shade

Flowering from April until November, this cottage garden collection requires some green-fingered potting since they arrive in individual pots and need to be planted in a large container. But it’s easy to care for – it requires watering weekly and feeding with fertiliser once a month – and provides plenty of blooms. On arrival, the plants are in bud but soon flourish into a mixture of daisy-like flowers (Erigeron karvinskianus) and penstemon apple blossom (Penstemon hartwegii), which work together to create a beautiful, colourful scene. This is a great choice if you’re looking to add greenery and vibrant flowers to your garden.

Beards & Daisies lavender tree

Best: For pollinators

Rating: 9/10

  • Pet/baby safe: Yes
  • Care: Weekly watering
  • Sun exposure: Full sun

If you’re looking for a plant with a strong fragrance that also preserves the wild habitats of pollinators, lavender is the ideal choice. This bee-friendly shrub arrived in its full glory, already in bloom. It’s incredibly easy to care for – just water weekly – but it can tolerate drought, so it won’t mind too much if you forget. Lavender provides “all year round interest”, according to Barter, making it excellent for having on show in a pot.

Unfortunately, but understandably, this popular plant is currentely out of stock. Sign up with your email to be notified when it’s available to buy again.

Patch Plants fats

Best: For shady gardens

Rating: 9/10

  • Pet/baby safe: Yes
  • Care: Regular watering
  • Sun exposure: Shade

Barter recommends Fatsia japonica as “a great medium shrub for shade”. This one in particular from Patch Plants has deep green, glossy leaves that arrived looking rich and healthy. We found it easy to care for; just water regularly to make sure the top 2in of soil are kept moist and shelter it from the wind. To allow it to really flourish, the brand recommends feeding it with liquid fertiliser once a month during spring and summer.

It’ll likely bloom small white flowers during the summer months, but its main appeal is its perennial nature – thriving at all times of the year. It’s happy during warm periods and can also withstand the cold, making it the ideal plant to house on British soil. If you’re unsure about what container to go for, we’d recommend the brand’s loft pot (£17, Patchplants.com) – it has a hidden reservoir to make sure your plant is kept adequately watered.

RHS Plants pittosporum tenuifolium silver queen

Best: Shrub

Rating: 8/10

  • Pet/baby safe: Yes
  • Care: Regular watering
  • Sun exposure: Full sun or part shade

Duncan Mclean, a senior plant buyer at RHS, recommended pittosporum for a container garden. This “evergreen shrub responds well to pruning”, he notes, adding that the silver queen variant is “particularly well suited to pots”. For those looking for a little extra shelter in the garden, this one is the ideal choice. It arrived in a 2l pot with beautiful rich green foliage, and it’ll flower during May and June, producing a light citrus fragrance. In terms of care, it requires minimal pruning in mid-spring to promote growth; as for watering, the compost needs to be kept moist but not water-logged, so it is a relatively easy plant to add to your garden. Our only gripe with this one is that it didn’t arrive with specific care instructions.

Beards & Daisies Chinese fountain bamboo

Best: Bamboo plant

Rating: 8/10

  • Pet/baby safe: Yes
  • Care: Regular watering
  • Sun exposure: Full sun or dappled shade

Bamboo is a fast-growing plant, making it a super alternative to hedging or screens. This Chinese fountain bamboo is clump-forming, so it is less invasive than its running alternative, but it still makes a great focal point when kept in plant pots. As plants go, it’s very adaptable and robust, providing all year round foliage. This one arrived in its full glory – bushy and eye-catching, ready to be put on display. It doesn’t come with a pot, but Beards & Daisies has a fantastic collection. It will not disappoint.

In terms of care, on the rare occasion it flowers, it’s recommended that you cut these off straight away. You may notice the shoots drooping a little; this is natural and nothing to worry about. Ensure the soil is kept moist to help it flourish.

RHS Plants choisya ternata sundance

Best: For yellow foliage

Rating: 7/10

  • Pet/baby safe: Yes
  • Care: Water regularly
  • Sun exposure: Full sun or partial shade

Bearing sweetly fragrant summer flowers on scented evergreen foliage, sundance is a particularly valuable yellow-leaved form of this robust shrub, notes Barter. It produces clusters of white flowers in late spring and, according to Barter, it is “suitable for full sun or partial shade”.

This plant from RHS arrived with a slight goldenness to the leaves and a strong scent. It’s a little smaller than we expected but can grow up to 2.5m tall. It requires regular watering, but be careful not to flood the roots.

Sarah Raven digitalis panther

Best: For pink flowers

Rating: 7/10

  • Pet/baby safe: No
  • Care: Keep soil moist in summer
  • Sun exposure: Part shade

Flowering from May until August, this foxglove plant produces bell-shaped blooms, and its shorter stature makes it a fine option for your container garden. The soil must be kept moist during the summer months, so it’s advantageous to water it regularly. And after it has flowered, remember to cut back the spikes to encourage side shoots to grow for the following year. It’s perfect if you’re looking to encourage bees in your outdoor space.

Gardening Express standard bay tree

Best: Tall plant

Rating: 9/10

  • Pet/baby safe: Unsafe for cats and dogs
  • Care: Water regularly with well-drained soil
  • Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade

With their eye-catching dark green foliage, bay trees are evergreen shrubs that look outstanding on a patio or small garden. They’re versatile too since the leaves can be used in cooking. When our plant arrived, it was fairly short in height and had a ball of green foliage and a clean stem. As for how easy it is to care for, it requires well-drained soil and a sheltered sunny spot, so it’s worth bearing this in mind when thinking about where you’re going to position it in the garden. Similarly, it does require some light pruning to keep its round shape. If you’re looking for a pot to house this beauty, Gardening Express has a whole host of excellent options.

Patch Plants rosa

Best: Climbing plant

Rating: 8/10

  • Pet/baby safe: Yes
  • Care: Regular watering
  • Sun exposure: Full sun

While a slightly more challenging flower to care for, this climbing rose offers a lovely way to inject florals into your outdoor space. It arrived with no buds, but it produced beautiful pink flowers within weeks. It’s advised that this one is positioned in a sunny spot in your garden, and its soil is to be kept moist in the spring and summer by watering regularly.

While a fairly hardy plant, it’s important to apply a protective layer of mulch around it or cover it with a cardboard box during the winter; this will protect it from the elements and ensure it provides blooms year after year. Similarly, it’s best to cut away any dead or damaged foliage in mid-February and prune flowers again in the spring, so that in late summer, it blooms nicely.

It is currently out of stock but if you provide your email address you’ll be notified as soon as it’s back.

The verdict: Plants for pots

When it comes to creating a flourishing container garden, there are a whole host of plants from which to choose. If you’re looking to inject greenery in a shady spot, opt for Patch Plants’ fatsia, while Beards & Daisies’ bamboo is easy to look after.

But, if it’s flowers you’re after, it’s got to be the Beards & Daisies dianthus bundle, it allowed us to release our inner Monty Don, and it creates a wonderfully colourful display.

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Are you on the hunt for seating options for your garden? Read our guide to the best hanging egg chairs

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