Your garden or outdoor space can start to look distinctly dull and bedraggled at this time of year, with those vibrant colours of summer beginning to fade away.

But the onset of autumn and winter doesn’t have to mean a colour-free garden.  Instead of emptying out all those pots and window boxes and putting them away until next year, the quickest way to instant colour is simply to re-plant them with varieties that will give a great display through the darkest days of the year.

For instant dramatic effect, choose bold and shaggy outdoor chrysanthemums, which are available in full flower about now and will keep on delivering their vibrant colour right through the autumn.  While they will last outdoors only until the first frosts, they can keep going for much longer in a conservatory or enclosed porch.

“the onset of autumn and winter doesn’t have to mean a colour-free garden”

A more delicate flower choice is the bedding cyclamen, which comes in gorgeous shades of red, pink and purple as well as white, and offers those distinctive butterfly-shaped flowers as well as pretty marbled leaves.  They look good in a container on their own, but also combine well in a display with ivy and flowering heathers.

Another favourite choice for instant colour in the autumn is the ever-popular pansy.  Despite their fragile looks, these plants are surpisingly hardy, and the real winter-flowering ones will actually keep blooming until late spring, with only short breaks during very cold spells. As with most things, though, you do get what you pay for, so the more expensive varieties (which have often  been  specifically bred for hardiness)  will tend to last longer.

The vast range of colours, from whites and yellows to oranges, blues and burgundies, make these flowers among the most frequently used in autumn and winter displays.

If using containers for the winter, be sure to choose ones that won’t crack in freezing weather, and line them with hessian or some other insulating material to lag the inside, and prevent the compost from freezing. Also ensure there are plenty of drainage holes in the base, as too much water will tend to pool and may then freeze.

Use a free-draining compost, and place your containers in a sheltered spot, raised up on pot feet to allow excess water to drain away. 

Colin Clarke
Author: Colin Clarke