Water logged pot plants have to go Water logged pot plants have to go

As we all know the wettest winter on record has played havoc with our gardens. A fresh start might be the only way forward, says Pattie Barron.

After one of the wettest winters on record, your balcony and courtyard container plants are almost certainly waterlogged and both  pots and plants will need a major spring clean. First, check over each plant: If there is no sign of life, not so much as a tiny shoot or unfurled foliage – then bin.

Do not even be tempted to save any compost left in the pot. Clean inside and out thoroughly with hot soapy water. Next, on plants you want to keep, remove any dead or diseased stems, flowers and foliage, which is an especially important step for roses that might be harbouring blackspot. Trim roses back to the next visible bud, making a slanted cut away from the bud, so that water runs off easily.

If your plants have outgrown their pot but are too tricky to move, do the next best thing – scrap off the top layer of compost as deep as you are able to go without damaging the plant, scatter a little organic fertiliser onto the surface and top with a layer of fresh compost. Finally, prop all containers on pot feet to allow excess water to drain through. And when you do start a watering programme – which might be sooner than you think, because pots dry out quickly even in a short burst of spring sunshine – add a little liquid seaweed to the watering can, to give your plants a kick start.

Rosa persica
Lavandula stoechas - French and Spanish lavender growing in galvanised metal pots

What to buy for your empty pots?

The spring and summer bedding is seductive, but before you rush out and fill your pots with flowers, take a leaf from this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show designers, who are giving a major shout-out to shrubs. Why? Because shrubs are  sustainable (sustainability is the theme of this year’s show): they go the distance, whereas annuals are one-hit wonders that need to be discarded and replaced every season. Shrubs  need less care but larger pots that  dry out more slowly – and of course, less deadheading.  For people who simply don’t have the time to pamper their plants, shrubs – both evergreen and deciduous – are the way forward, either as the main event or as a strong, architectural backbone to seasonal annuals.

There is plenty of choice. If you like vibrant colour Photinia Red Robin makes a popular front garden hedging, but used solo, in a pot, is an outstanding all-year-rounder: the new spring foliage is a striking flame red, and is followed by sprays of white flowers with an encore of deep red berries. Like many evergreen shrubs, it responds well to clipping, especially early next spring, when cutting the stems low will result in more fresh, fiery foliage. For a sharp contrast in silhouette, snap up another evergreen that is perfect for pots: phormiums have impressive sword-like foliage which make strong, sure outlines in colours ranging from apricot to black and all shades in between, including rainbow stripes of olive and pink. Buy big specimens for a big impact.

You could put on a spectacular late spring show with Exochorda The Bride, which has graceful, arching sprays laden with white flowers from May onwards. In the border, it can get large; in a pot, it will stay within bounds. Follow on with another white-flowered and fragrant beauty, Philadelphus Little White Love, which is a smaller version of the classic mock orange blossom  and much loved by bees and butterflies. If you’re going to have just one rose, make it a real showstopper. Award-winning rose For Your Eyes Only is a glorious patio rose in sunset shades from peach to crimson that blooms constantly through summer.

Phormium 'Maori Queen' in plastic pot
Lavandula stoechas 'Papillon'

Include lavender in your shrub collection, but grow it as a small-scale field in a large trough or tub for maximum effect and knockout fragrance, enjoying it next to a seat in the sun. Two of the best for looks as well as scent: the tall, tapering, violet-flowered English lavender Grosso and the shorter French lavender with fluttery, tufted flowerheads, Lavandula stoechas pedunculata.

Forgo space usually reserved for bedding with a weigela or three that, with regular watering and feeding, will last for years. Compact shrub Weigela Picobella Rosa, shortlisted a few years back in Plant of the Year by the RHS, pumps out rosy pink funnel flowers from late spring to autumn, making it a must-have for every balcony or courtyard.

Photography by GAP Photos