07 Dec Winter Container Ideas
The secret to creating great winter containers is the same as in any other season – focus on creating a vignette that includes a variety of color, texture and form. Same concept as when you’re creating your summertime scenes, just calling on a different cast of players. You’re striving to achieve a harmonious tension: a balance of enough variety to keep it interesting, against enough repetition to hold it all together.
To compensate gardeners for what, at first, seems like a smaller palette of plants available for winter container use, nature has provided us with a few additional tools for our tool belt – stems, berries and greens for starters. Cut foliage like this would never last in summer containers, but in this chilly time of year, stems, berries, and cut greens can last for months in the cool winter air – kind of like the florist’s cooler.
In addition to the non-plant players mentioned above, the number of plants that may be a called into service is vast: a myriad of conifers, several evergreen grasses work well (cultivars of acorus and carex, for instance), hellebores, phormium, heuchera … to name but a few. Pay attention to foliage, color and texture in particular, for the most memorable scenes.
So here’s an idea for starters, to get your creative juices going. I recently did a container a lot like this one:
- Phormium ‘Shiraz’ (or another dark bronze variety) – the strong, strapping foliage provides drama and serves as a focal point for the arrangement
- Carex testacea – a fine-textured, soft, downward-draping grass with orange tones that are especially pronounced in winter
- Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ – the colorful variegated foliage looks great with the carex
- Curly willow stems – for architectural drama; select stems with orange tones if you can
- Helleborus argutifolius – toothy, bold, silver-blue foliage provides a nice contrast to the deep bronze of the phormium
To add a festive, seasonal flair, you might consider including holiday lights or ornaments.
Or you might be drawn to the simple but striking arrangement shown above, featuring mahonia (my best guess, Mahonia ‘Charity’) and a bronze carex in this richly colored stoneware container. This photo was taken at the 2004 Northwest Flower & Garden Show; it was one of the many fabulous containers that were on display as part of the annual Container Show, which features the creations of top designers and nurseries from the area.
If your container starts to look tired before it is time for a spring or summer update, offending elements can be removed and replaced with something fresh. For example, in late winter (around February or so) we will start to see the early bulbs and generally more variety in winter color spots at our local nurseries.
Look for small pots of the early daffodils, such as Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’ and N. ‘Jack Snipe’, which can easily be tucked into your containers to enliven them. You should also find a wide variety of pansies and primula, late winter stalwarts, that offer an easy and much needed boost of early color.
Although I often find that winter annuals can feel somewhat ordinary, many nurseries have been doing an impressive job of bringing into their late winter inventories more creative offerings and some beyond-the-norm cultivars of these standbys, so keep your eyes open and be prepared to have some fun!