There’s no easier way to add summer colour to your garden than with a container. Planted containers are a great way of investing in your outdoor space, says Tammy Falloon, Company Director of Exeter’s St Bridget Nurseries. “Many pots are sold in sets of three – and this is because a cluster of three different-sized pots is very appealing to the eye.” 

Perfect annuals for pots include trailing geraniums, Bacopa and Diascia, and Tammy suggests planting edible pots, too; one with strawberries, one with tomatoes and another with herbs such as rosemary, which bees also love.   

Tammy says she advises customers not to just buy plants when the sun is shining. “To get a truly unfragmented garden, plants need to offer appeal throughout the year. Our garden centres have everything you need for creating beautiful garden pots and borders, or if you don’t fancy doing the hard work we have some ready-made, too.” 

For extra interest, St Bridget’s grows some less commonly found plants, including Acacia ‘Exeter Hybrid’, Erica tetralix ‘Silver Bells’ and Leptospermum ‘Crimson Glory’.  

Small is beautiful

Marilyn White, founder of Otter Garden Centres, urges everyone to get creative with their garden, even if it’s small. “Not everyone is lucky enough to have a big garden, but if you are fortunate enough to have even a small space, then why not make the most of it?”  

Marilyn says a small garden can be transformed by dividing it into areas, making beds different sizes, adding a small decking area or creating a feature growing area where you can bring on young bedding plants. “And colour co-ordinate – make one area white and yellow, another pink and blue. Choose bright colours to plant closer to the edge of the border, and muted colours further away. This can make your garden look a little bigger than it is.” 

Adding a mirror can help your garden to seem roomier, and ornaments and wind chimes add appeal. Choose from Otter’s range of strings of lights to hang on fences, trellises and branches, and invest in lots of solar lights to pop into the soil among your plants. “The most important thing is to have fun with your small garden,” says Marilyn. “Get creative, be imaginative, and invent your own space.”

Successful summer bedding

With a little care and attention, summer bedding plants such as petunias, fuchsias or lobelia will give a fantastic show of colourful flowers right the way through summer until the first frosts of autumn, says Derrick Dyer of Eggesford Garden Centre in Chulmleigh. 

“Try and choose compact plants, and don’t be afraid to trim them back at the time of planting, as this will encourage bushier growth with more flowers. Use a good-quality multi-purpose compost and mix in some slow-release plant food and water-storing granules. Baskets and containers will need daily watering, even twice a day in hot weather, and the best time to water is early morning or at dusk.”

Derrick recommends giving a weekly application of high potash liquid food such as Tomorite, as this contains the nutrients required for flower production. “Most plants will need regular dead-heading – removing the flowers as they fade to encourage more blooms. My favourite summer bedding plants are Sanvitalia, with masses of small yellow, daisy-like flowers; the highly-scented Alyssum, which is good in the early season; and Calibrachoa ‘Million Bells’, which offers lots of colour and needs no dead-heading.”

Go wild

Cheryl Chadwick of Avon Mill Garden Centre in Kingsbridge champions encouraging wildlife into the garden. “Birds, bees, butterflies, hedgehogs – visiting wildlife brings joy and an added dimension to our gardens. With gardens making up an estimated one million acres of land in this country, if all of us do just a little bit for wildlife, the combined effort could make a huge difference.”   

Cheryl advises planting a colourful range of flowers to attract bees and butterflies. Choose single-flowered varieties – as bees and butterflies can’t get to the nectar in double flowers – and plants that flower late or early in the season. “At the garden centre, our lavender, sedum and ivy flowers are always covered in bees and butterflies on warm days.”

Feed and provide water for birds. “A variety of bird seed as well as plants with berries or seeds will encourage a range of birds to visit you. Some longer grass and a log pile will provide valuable shelter for insects to overwinter. Insects in turn are food for birds, small mammals and hedgehogs.”

If you would like to take part in a bat survey for the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project, you can borrow a bat detector from Avon Mill for three days and find out how many bats pass through your garden.

Slug it out!

What if you want to encourage wildlife but are plagued by slugs and snails? Celebrity gardener Toby Buckland says: “Many gardeners wrongly believe that using pest controls means putting out pellets, which harm birds and frogs.” Toby is championing a new, eco-friendly way of dealing with slugs and snails – a deterrent spray from Grazers. When applied to leaves, it stops slugs and snails from nibbling leaves without harming pets or wildlife. Catch Toby later in the year at his Garden and Harvest Festival at Forde Abbey, on 16-17 September. 

Enjoy your garden

As our experts suggest, making the most of what you have, getting creative and encouraging wildlife will help you make the most of the summer months in your garden – and don’t forget to relax and enjoy all your work. 

Container planting tips

In each pot, place a layer of 'crocks' at the base – broken china or even large pieces of sturdy polystyrene packaging as a lighter alternative. The aim is to improve drainage and prevent your soil from washing away. Add a layer of potting compost so it nearly fills the pot. For an easier maintenance regime, choose a compost with water-retention crystals in it and add a slow-release fertiliser. Next, remove the plants you have selected from their pots and plant them in the ornamental pot. Fill the space between the root balls with potting compost. Water immediately and regularly thereafter.

Deadheading flowers
Dead-heading flowers such as these from Otter Garden Centres encourages further blooms
Pruning flowers to encourage growth
Prune to encourage growth, suggests Otter Garden Centres
Sue Cade

Published 5 May 2017

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