What would be some good container planting combination ideas for the winter?

A bit of extra info: I live in Bristol, UK. And the containers would be in a courtyard on the North-East side of the house, but in front of a very busy road. On the other side of the road there is the river.

The amount of space available is reasonably big, and I have about a dozen of 15 litre pots.

  • How much space do you have available or would like to dedicate to this planting? What size containers? How permanent would you like it to be?
    – Niall C.
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 19:49

2 Answers 2


So, exposed to north easterlies and all that frequent soft Bristol mizzle and rain...with some morning sun, and in individual pots rather than window boxes or larger containers...I'd go for evergreens, smaller ones, a mix between variegated and green leaves. It'll be difficult to make an arrangement or combination of plants in pots that size, so you'll need to group the pots to create that effect. The only flowering things you could consider are really Pansies or the little Violas - there are also little cyclamen available, but they stop flowering around Christmas. Ornamental cabbages are quite striking, but again, past their best by Christmas, and because of the amount of rain you get, would need protection from slugs and snails. You'll find primrose/polyanthus/primula available as box bedding, but they don't start flowering till at least February.

Here's a few suggestions:

Pieris Little Heath

Pieris 'katsura'

Skimmia japonica (they'll be in flower when you buy them in autumn and the flowers last practically till around February)

Euonymus japonica microphyllus aureus

Euonymus japonica 'luna'

Euonymus fortunei varieties - 'emerald'n gold' and others - these have a more spreading habit compared to E.japonica varieties

Topiaried or clipped Box

Dwarf conifers - a large garden centre should have a wide selection available, with variously coloured foliage from blue to greyish green to green to yellow, but check the height listed on the labels, usually means after ten years, to make sure its not a rapid growing very tall one.

You'll also find (in September) fairly cheap small versions of what will be large shrubs eventually - these are intended for use in pots and containers over winter, usually combined with ivies and pansies, so things like Choisya sundance, tiny versions of conifers, very small Skimmias, small hollies or Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki'. These will do for a year or so but will then need to be moved into larger pots, planted out in the ground or disposed of. Sometimes Ophiopogon nigrescens (looks like black grass) is sold, that's worth buying - it's evergreen and provides a good, low growing contrast to yellow or greyish plants. It will spread and can be planted in the garden later or divided and kept in pots.

Work out where you're going to stand the pots (best in groups, preferably with taller plants mixed with shorter ones, or groups of three of the same) and then work out whether you want two or three plants the same in a group, or a mix between what you buy.

If we happen to have a winter like the one in 2010, move the pots somewhere sheltered so they don't freeze solid.


Whatever you do, most of the pots should have something in common such as material (clay, metal), square, round...something that shows they belong to a 'family'. They should (all or mostly all the pots) have bits of the same plants in common, ie) use two or three vines to droop over the pot edges...like the lime green potato vine, at least half the pots should have that vine planted in them to help tie these pots together. Minimize the differences in these pots, maximize the unifying of similarities. Lots and lots of room for surprises, a few specimen plants, but do not go crazy. The human brain LOVES uniformity and can only bear incoming stimulation of THREE. Just a basic rule of art. The rules deal with TEXTURE, FORM, RHYTHM, COLOR, LINE, MOVEMENT, (SEE ATTACHMENT). Choose one maybe two of these to CHANGE and keep the rest the same. For example, keep all the greens close to the same green and vary the textures. For flowers, get a color pallet going and stay within the lines somewhat. Warm reds, yellows, mixed with lime greens...Rich mauves, purples and chartreuse is to die for...If you don't know the rules of art very well, find pictures, note what is similar and what is dissimilar. When watching movies, notice how the cinematography uses a palette of colors...how when turquoise is splattered throughout the entire picture to tie that picture together. Or the use of ochre, reds...purples. When an artist paints a picture, trust me, using JUST 3 or 4 colors is what makes that picture beautiful. Otherwise a human gets 'too wigged out' even though they don't know why they don't like it, the THREE thingy is what is causing them to turn away. Enjoy...the process! And GROUP the pots into little families...3's, 5's, singles. Different heights...use unplanted pots as bases to raise other pots. If all your pots are the same you'll definitely want to get ways to change the heights! I could go on and on with super plant choices but when I go to the nursery I drag the client along and find what colors they like, whether or not they love the grasses (hope you do, find Mexican Feather Grass, super pot softener), and I start pulling in lots of the plants they like in the colors that will go together. Never purchase JUST ONE!! Get at least 5 or 10's!! I purchase an incredible SPECIMEN focal point plant or two such as gorgeous fern, palm plant, small trees (I love Katsura and Red bud, which get planted out in the yard after the season is done). Look up each plant, as they should all be amenable to the same water requirements, sun, shade, pH of soil, that kind of thing.

Shoot, I just noticed you want WINTER display...GRASSES will be your best friend! Do you want privacy? Don't forget to check out Contorted Filberts!! No flowers will be able to grow that I can think of but that contorted filbert with its catkins are precious. I'd use Maiden Hair Grass, great for privacy as well and in the spring (if the winter wasn't too cold) cut the grasses down to 4-6". Fountain grasses and the reeds for even more texture. Make sure if you use an evergreen grass such as Blue Oat Grass careful with chopping it down. Check out this link:blue oat grass, evergreen grasses

rules of beauty and art

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