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Best Plants for Small Gardens and Pots


By Naomi Jones

Whether you’re looking to spruce up your patio for summer, turn a balcony or courtyard into a lush little oasis, or even just plant up a window box, there’s potential to create a beautiful, colourful display whether your outside space is big or small. Spring is the best time to plant summer-flowering bulbs and compact perennials in pots, giving them time to settle so that they establish into strong, healthy plants in summer.

Summer bulbs in pots

Container planting in small spaces

If you have paved courtyard garden or live in a flat with a balcony, container gardening is the easiest way to create a green space of your own. Even if your garden tiny and the growing conditions are tricky, by no means does it have to be bland. You have to pick and choose the right plants to suit the conditions, but there are so many varieties that will thrive in containers and can bring light to a dull space.

Small gardens and courtyards look really quaint when they’re cleverly planted with varieties that mature and provide colour year after year. Often, there’s no open ground to plant in so a good collection of pots, hanging baskets and raised beds is what you need.

Summer bulbs in pots

Pots positioned on the ground produce low-level colour, which is great, but you’ll get an even better effect by positioning pots at different heights, which will provide colour at eye-level or higher. Plant ladders and plant stands are perfect for this, you can swap pots around and display your best-looking containers as they come into their own.

Different plants provide interest at different times of the year. With a bit of planning, you can fill pots with varieties that will provide successional colour all year round. If you don’t have room for a lot of pots, group plants together in one pot to create a mixed display. It’s best to stick to summer plants in summer pots and winter plants in winter pots so you always have a fresh display. That way you can move the move the pots that looks good to the front of the display and tuck the ones that are over away into the background until the following year.

Summer bulbs in pots

One of the great benefits of planting in containers is that doing so allows you to create a colourful, lush planting scheme that’s also portable. You can always move pots around and display the ones that are looking their best. Plus, if you live in a rented property and can’t make changes to the garden, containers allow you to create a lovely space which you can take with you if you move.

How to grow plants in containers

When you’re choosing an outdoor container, make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom. If it doesn’t have holes it’ll become waterlogged and stagnant and can make your plants rot.

Planting Begonia tubers in pots

It’s traditional to put broken crockery, gravel, or hydro granules in the bottom of a container to aid drainage, and I think it’s a good idea to do this. If you’re planting a very large container, you can aid drainage and pad out a bit of space by positioning up-turned plastic pots in them (this also saves on compost!).

Multi-purpose compost is ideal for use in outdoor containers. If you’re planting perennials, it’s best to use a heavy soil-based compost or a mixture of multipurpose compost and garden soil because multipurpose compost on its own can be a bit too light and rich.

Planting Calla bulbs in pots

It’s a good idea to mix some slow-release fertiliser granules into the compost before planting. This will feed the plants and help them flourish throughout the growing season.

Always water your plants in after planting to help settle the roots and activate them into growth. As the weather warms up, keep watering them regularly as and when the soil becomes dry. Pots do dry out quickly, so it may be necessary to water them every day in the height of summer.

Plants suitable for containers

Many summer bulb varieties are ideal for growing in pots. Not only are they easy to look after, but many of them are fully hardy and will come back again each year with very little fuss. But it’s important to be selective and choose the right plant to suit the growing conditions. For example, if your garden is shady, choose shade-loving plants. If your garden is sun drenched all day long, choose varieties that love sun and tolerate drought. Whether a plant likes sun or shade is very important to know, and this is provided in the plant description.

Callas in containers

Varieties with a compact or short growing habit are best for containers, and it’s best to avoid tall varieties that might flop. There’s limited space for roots in containers - generally speaking, the smaller the plant, the smaller the root system. Give your plants a big enough pot to suit their size and the less you will have to do to keep your plants healthy, nourished and watered.

Here are some of my favourite summer varieties for containers from Farmer Gracy:

Dahlia 'Bluesette'

Dahlia Bluesette

  • Height 50-60cm Spread 50-60cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in full sun or partial shade
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Suitable for borders and containers
  • Frost tender, cover with fleece in winter or move indoors

Buy Dahlia Bluesette →

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff'

Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff

  • Height 50-60cm Spread 50-60cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in full sun or partial shade
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Suitable for borders and containers
  • Frost tender, cover with fleece in winter or move indoors

Buy Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff →

Dahlia 'Bishop of Dover'

Dahlia Bishop of Dover

  • Height 50-60cm Spread 50-60cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in full sun or partial shade
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Suitable for borders and containers
  • Frost tender, cover with fleece in winter or move indoors

Buy Dahlia Bishop of Dover →

Begonia odorata 'Angelique'

Begonia Angelique

  • Height 30-40cm Spread 40-50cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in full sun or partial shade
  • Suitable for pots and baskets
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Frost tender, cover with fleece in winter or move indoors

Buy Begonia Angelique →

Begonia 'Samba Mixed'

Begonia Samba

  • Height 30-40cm Spread 40-50cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in full sun or partial shade
  • Suitable for pots and baskets
  • Frost tender, cover with fleece in winter or move indoors

Buy Begonia Samba →

Lily 'Night Rider'

Lily Night Rider

  • Height 70-80cm Spread 40-50cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in full sun or partial shade
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Lily Night Rider →

Lily 'Asiatic Mixed'

Lily Asiatic Mixed

  • Height 70-80cm Spread 40-50cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in full sun or partial shade
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Lily Asiatic Mixed →

Calla Lily 'Tiger Collection'

Calla Tiger Collection

  • Height 30-40cm Spread 30-40cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in sun or shade
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Frost tender, cover with fleece in winter or move indoors

Buy Calla Lily Tiger Collection →

Calla Lily 'Albomaculata'

Calla Lily Albomaculata

  • Height 30-40cm Spread 30-40cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in sun or shade
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Frost tender, cover with fleece in winter or move indoors

Buy Calla Lily Albomaculata →

Crocosmia 'Emily McKenzie'

Dahlia Bluesette

  • Height 60-70cm Spread 60-70cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in sun or shade
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Crocosmia Emily McKenzie →

Nerine 'Bowdenii'

Nerine Bowdenii

  • Height 50-60cm Spread 50-60cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during autumn
  • Grows in sun or shade
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Nerine Bowdenii →

Agapanthus 'Umbellatus'

Agapanthus Umbellatus

  • Height 1m Spread 80cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during summer
  • Grows in full sun
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Bee-friendly flowers
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy in sheltered positions

Buy Agapanthus Umbellatus →

Astilbe 'Cotton Candy'

Astilbe Cotton Candy

  • Height 80-90cm Spread 50-60cm
  • Plant in spring, flowers during autumn
  • Grows in full sun or partial shade
  • Suitable for cutting
  • Suitable for pots and borders
  • Fully hardy

Buy Astilbe Cotton Candy →

5 Great planting combinations for containers

If space is limited, you can plant more than one variety in each pot to provide contrast. Here are five planting combination ideas...

      1. Nerine, Crocosmia and Dahlia

          This bright combination is ideal for growing in a large container or raised bed, positioned in full sun or partial shade. The dahlias and crocosmias provide simultaneous colour in summer, with the nerines taking over into autumn.

          Summer bulbs for pots

          In this plant combination:

            2. Calla Lily and Agapanthus

                The almost black and orange blooms of this calla lily mix perfectly complement the vivid blue flowers of agapanthus. This planting combination is best suited for growing in a large container in full sun. The calla lilies provide colour form early summer, then the agapanthus will tower over them from August onwards.

                Summer bulbs for pots

                In this plant combination:

                3. Anemone and Ranunculus

                  Create a soft, pastel-coloured planting scheme from spring through to mid summer with this combination of ranunculus and anemones. Both produce lots of early-season blooms continuously and last well as cut flowers.

                  Summer bulbs for pots

                  In this plant combination:

                  4. Calla Lily and Lily

                    This striking black and white combination will look great throughout summer in a large container, positioned in sun or partial shade. Plant the low-growing calla lilies around the edges or at the front of the container, with the taller lily behind.

                    Summer bulbs for pots

                    In this plant combination:

                    5. Two Dahlias and Astilbe

                      This warming colour scheme will provide a long-lasting display of tropical-looking summer colour. The blooms last well as cut flowers too so you can enjoy this combination in a vase as well as in the garden. This is a selection of compact but robust plants that will require a large-sized pot.

                      Summer bulbs for pots

                      In this plant combination:


                      "Best Plants for Small Gardens and Pots"
                      is a guest blog written by:

                      Naomi Jones
                      Author of Garden Nomey blog


                      2 comments


                      • Farmer Gracy

                        Dear Krysia, our definition of a large pot is 50/60cm and up!


                      • Krysia Zagorzycki

                        When you plant a combination of plants you suggest a large pot. What is the definition of a large pot? 40 cm? More?


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