MyGardenSchool – Week 3 Planting Pots for Winter Interest and Spring Joy

I have now completed week 3 of my free online course with MyGardenSchool.  This is not an advertisement for MyGardenSchool, they are not able to edit this post, my views are entirely my own.

Week 3 was planting a 24″ wide x 12″ deep pot to give winter interest and spring joy.   Coming at the time of year we are beginning to decide and order/buy bulbs for our spring joy, doing the assignment this week virtually and not actually proved quite tough.    Not only was a 24″ pot larger than I would normally use, mainly because I like collections of plants that I can move around, it was no mean feat to keep my purse closed. Designing on paper is something that doesn’t come easily to me.

I am fast realizing I am a ‘go with my gut feeling’  gardener, rushing in with my heart rather than my head.   The Container Gardening course tutored by Harriet Rycroft is teaching me to think, investigate technical issues and plan plan plan BEFORE planting or even buying anything.  Assignments are critiqued by Harriet giving constructive help and advice.  Whilst I was proud of my virtual planting, Harriet made important points which made me realize it was not going to be a successful one.

Sitting in front of my laptop with my student notepad I thought, investigated and saved photos of winter plants and spring bulbs to my Pinterest board.   I chose a purple/orange color scheme, starting with a skimmia ‘rubella ‘ as my key plant (I know it is red in the winter but it is a subtle red), with heuchera ‘paprika’ and erysimum ‘winter orchid’ with a wonderful peach and purple flower.

Erysimum Winter Orchid

Any gaps I would then fill with the cheerful faced Viola in a bronzy/yellow which I think will sit quite comfortably with the other tones in the container. I love Violas and much prefer them to the larger pansy. Their little happy smiling faces make me just want to smile back at them.

Choosing bulbs was not so difficult, it was deciding how any of each I needed that was hard.  Keeping to the peaches, I chose three tulip varieties to be planted at the bottom of the layer of bulbs. The first tulip is one that Harriet introduced in her video lecture – ‘Prinses Irene’. It is ideal for the peach/purple design, and is slightly shorter at 30cms (12″) than the other two, ‘Request’ and ‘Brown Sugar’, I deliberately choose similar coloured tulips as they are different heights giving a layered look – that was the idea anyway.

Prinses Irene
‘Brown Sugar’

Mistake Number 1 

Then I had a mad moment and decided to plant three Fritillaria ‘Imperialis Rubra Maxima’ bulbs.  I have never grown these and thought they would give impressive height to my spring joy.   This is what Harriet had to say on my choice:

“I think the Imperial Fritillaries might be a step too far in a 12″ deep pot. The bulbs are very big, so in order to have 6″ of compost above them (which they’d need for stability) you really need to plant them at about the same level as the tulip bulbs. This would reduce the number of tulips you could fit in. And you need to remember that the fritillaries send up very big, thick shoots, and send down a lot of vigorous roots, so will demand plenty of elbow room. Also they grow to about 3 feet tall, so might look top heavy in a 12″ deep pot. I wouldn’t put Fritillaria imperialis in containers less than 18″ deep really, in fact I usually use them in even bigger pots. Fabulous plants though! And Bold and Brave is definitely to be applauded! If you can get a really big pot, you should go for it.” 

Fritillaria Imperialis Rubra Maximus

I had a little search to find the right  Narcissi, wanting to keep away from yellows. I love brightly coloured yellow daffodils and narcissi and these will certainly have a place in my garden pots but not in this planter. Eventually I found Narcissi ‘Trepolo’, ‘Fragrant Rose’ and ‘Vanilla Peach’. The one thing I have learned from this assignment is that I don’t know how to work out how many bulbs to plant within a confined area. The larger bulbs were not too difficult but I was stumped with the Narcissi trying to plant virtually taking into account the key plant, Skimmia, the Heuchera and the Eyrsimum.  I think I wouid probably plant 10/12 bulbs of each variety.

‘Fragrant Rose’

Mistake Number 2

It could be that come the spring I would have to remove the Heuchera, having done its job in the winter to give colour, into other pots to make room for the spring shoots.

Harriet made this obvious point that I had not taken into account:

“It would be hard to remove any of the surface plants in the spring as they will have put down roots – and you risk damaging emerging bulb shoots if you try to dig or pull plants out. Better just to plant the bulbs a little less densely” 

Finally, the top layer of my spring bulb planting will be Iris Retinulata. Many of these are blue and I wanted to plant purple shades, these will be the first to flower introducing bright colour alongside the orange toned Violas and I want them to look ok when the Eyrismum starts to flower. I had no idea there were so many varieties and I have fallen in love with the pale lilac ‘Sheila Ann Germany’ and the bright ‘Purple Gem’.

This is what Harriet said:

“Iris reticulata are great for a shot of properly early colour, but as you say prefer deep planting, which takes them down to similar levels with the tulips etc, a level which is getting pretty crowded in this planting. I would usually use crocuses (eg C. tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’) in a planting which has lots of deeply planted bulbs, because these only need to be about 2” deep and can be put in swathes or groups near the edge of the planting. I reckon the little iris prefer to have less root competition, so it might be worth having them in separate pots (I tend to use “long toms” which are deep but narrow) and dressing the top of the compost with some nice grit. Then they can also have the space to flower without being crowded by the foliage of other plants and bulbs, and air circulation around them is better. Mind you, I do also try them in mixed plantings – but with mixed results.”

Iris Reticulata Sheila Ann Germany

Armed with a lot more technical knowledge and some important does and don’ts I will now start to order spring bulbs and find a suitable 24″ pot for my winter interest and spring joy planting which should look spectacular.

Next week is the final part, Summer Luxuriance.   I have thoroughly enjoyed this online course and am learning a lot.  The initial website issues have been sorted out and any frustrations in connection with that are over.

9 thoughts on “MyGardenSchool – Week 3 Planting Pots for Winter Interest and Spring Joy

  1. Helen Johnstone October 1, 2015 — 8:05 pm

    I enjoyed this post lots although I apologise for laughing out loud at your idea of including fritillaries! I didn’t know Iris reticulata liked deep planting, maybe this is why I struggle to get them to come back year on year.


    1. You are quite welcome to laugh Helen, I do too now. I will be buying some bulbs but they will be in a pot of their own, you wait till you see my summer planting ideas 😄😄😄 I keep meaning to question Harriet’s comment about the iris, I planted the dwarf variety last year at a depth of about two inches and they were successful maybe other varieties do need deeper planting, I must ask.


      1. Helen Johnstone October 2, 2015 — 6:35 am

        Hi Ronnie
        I was reading Bulbs by Christine Skelmersdale last night and she says that planting deep in a cool dry place does mean they do better year on year. If you plant them in a hot dry place and not deep then the corms split and it takes years for them to bulk up again.


        1. Ah hah! That makes sense, heres to long living Iris. Thank you. 👍


  2. How interesting to read both your thoughts on your choices and Harriet’s comments. I thought I was quite good at containers but this makes me realise I have a lot to learn!


    1. I certainly hadn’t taken on board all the technical issues which probably why my containers look such a rag tag bunch!


  3. Never heard of this school before but your flower photos are just beautiful colors.


  4. Harriet Rycroft is such a great teacher. I am learning a lot just from the tricks and tips you are passing on in your posts. These are things I have been putting into practice this fall.


  5. I moved 300 pots/containers when I last moved – needed a furniture trailer! Trying to curb my plant-a-holic-ism! At moment lots of pansies and bulbs smiling at me!


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