These resilient and resplendent plants will thrive in pots the whole year round.
Planting in pots and containers is a great way to get creative in your back yard. Depending on the type of plant you select, the container you place it in and the section of the garden it’s positioned, a potted specimen can soften harsh edges, add flavour to a bland border and brighten up dull corners. Larger pots can provide a focal point which draws the eye, while a collection of smaller plants add variety and activity to their background.
They’re also great for maximising the space available to you. Whether your garden’s dimensions are on the smaller side or you only have a terrace, patio or even just a balcony to play with, installing potted plants can create an illusion of expansiveness and bring a little of the great outdoors into your small corner of the world. Best of all, they lend themselves well to rearrangement and reconfiguration without much trouble at all.
On the other hand, you don’t want to plump for plants that will require substantial maintenance just to keep them alive, especially when the mercury plummets and the frost sets in. While moving more delicate pots indoors might be an option for some, it’s hardly an ideal one. For that reason, choosing a variety of plant which is adept at resisting the extremes of a Great British winter is an advisable course of action for those who wish to retain an attractive potted outdoor display all year round.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of hardy plants which grow well in pots to choose from. We’ve selected our favourites below to give you some inspiration. Happy planting!
12 year-round plants for outdoor planters
1) Bay tree
Although called a bay tree, this hardy favourite is perhaps more accurately described as a formal shrub. It’s a hugely versatile option which can be cultivated as a hedgerow, trimmed into all sorts of topiarist designs with a set of clippers and even harvested for its aromatic leaves, which will add a depth of flavours to culinary dishes like stews and casseroles. As such, it ticks a number of different boxes for gardeners of all stripes.
Best of all, bay trees lend themselves perfectly to potted planting and are tough enough to stick it out through the colder months. In the very northern parts of the UK, where temperatures spend a prolonged period of time below zero, you may wish to supplement your bay tree with some fleece to protect it against the frost, but this is only applicable in the most extreme situations.
As natives of China, Mongolia, Russia and other regions of Eastern Asia, Bergenias are quite accustomed to glacial temperatures. This means that they’re well equipped to withstand winters far colder than those we experience in the UK, making them an ideal choice for a potted plant in your garden. They’re evergreen perennials that grow to around half a metre in height, so they’re perfect for adding intrigue without hogging all the limelight in your display.
Bergenias are also known as pigsqueak or elephant’s ears (not to be confused with Colocasia) and feature large, green leaves which keep their colour all year round, perhaps taking on a slightly pink twinge in winter. However, the real star of the show is their flowers, which bloom in spring and come in bursts of red, pink, purple or white, which sit proudly atop the stems overlooking the foliage below.
3) Buddleja Buzz®
Buddleja – otherwise known as butterfly bushes – are sprawling, vibrant plants which, as their moniker suggests, attract pollinators in their droves. While these are hugely popular among garden enthusiasts, most varieties are far too large to be confined to a single receptacle. Step forward the Buddleja Buzz®, which has been specifically cultivated as a dwarf variety that will look stunning in a pot on your patio or balcony.
Like all other buddlejas, this smaller specimen is very low maintenance and will cope well in almost all soil types. All that’s require is occasional pruning to make sure it doesn’t lose its shape and become too unruly. The best time to do so is immediately after the worst of winter has passed, when dead or damaged parts can be removed and the plant trimmed into shape.
4) Golden Creeping Jenny
As a creeping plant, Golden creeping Jenny is the ideal choice for a basket or barrel, since its foliage will trail over the rim of the container in an aesthetically pleasing manner. It works especially well when placed near ponds and other water features, as the yellowish-green of the foliage can complement the darker colours of the water well. Plus, the plant naturally grows beside rivers and swamps in the wild, so it’ll feel right at home surrounded by H2O in your back yard.
Growing Golden creeping Jenny in a pot actually holds a number of advantages over planting it directly in the ground. For starters, the elevation that a receptacle lends the plant will enhance the dramatic appearance of its trailing leaves. However, it’s also more practical in a pot, since the plant will cope with colder temperatures better than in open soil, while Golden creeping Jenny is also considered invasive in some places, so potting it will prevent it from encroaching on its neighbours too much.
5) Emerald and gold
Characterised by its striking leaves, which feature a golden outer rim with shoots of emerald in the centre, Emerald and gold is another highly versatile evergreen option. Equally at home bordering a pathway as it is forming a part of a screened hedge, the variegated foliage of the plant makes it very attractive wherever it is positioned. The leaves even take on a pinkish hue in the colder months, ensuring you’ll enjoy an eye-catching display all year round.
Its resilience during winter and the low maintenance associated with it mean that Emerald and gold has been a stalwart of the gardening scene for many moons now. It generally grows up to a metre in height, but can easily be trimmed back to suit the space it adorns and will show best results when given support, such as a nearby wall or fence.
6) Hebe ‘High Voltage’
Hebes come in all shapes, sizes and colours, invariably offering an attractive and low-maintenance option for green-fingered aficionados. Also known as shrubby Veronica, this particular strain lends itself well to planting in a pot due to its smaller size. In fact, High voltage is so space-efficient that it’ll provide year-round colour to a balcony or terrace, making it ideal for spots where space is at a premium.
The plant gets it name from the fact that its lush green foliage turns an irresistible shade of bronze during the colder months, adding variety to your outdoor displays. It’s also no slouch when it comes to floral blossoms; in summer, short spikes shoot forth from the foliage with such proliferation that the rest of the shrub will be almost entirely overcome with purple, blue or white flowers.
Heuchera, also known as coral bells, are a highly resilient evergreen plant that come in literally hundreds of different shades and sizes. Depending on the existing colour scheme in your garden and the overall effect you wish to achieve, you can choose from red, orange, yellow, brown, maroon, silver, black and green heuchera, while there are even two-toned varieties available. As a result, you’re sure to find one that suits your needs.
As a general rule, the lighter the tones of the plant you choose, the more protection it will need. Having said that, heuchera as a species are very hardy and, providing they’re given a modicum of sunlight and their roots aren’t allowed to become waterlogged, they’ll survive for many years on the spin. Just be careful of pests like vine weevils, which will devour them from right under your nose if you don’t take action.
Although ivy might normally be associated with the sprawling façade of a stately home as it creeps up trellises or grills, it can look equally impressive in a pot. That could take the form of a hanging basket or a standalone container, depending upon the effect you wish to achieve. In any case, the appearance of the dark green colour and pointed foliage as it trails over the rim of the receptacle will add a touch of class to any environment in which it is used.
Beyond pruning ivy to retain the shape you desire, the plant requires little to no maintenance whatsoever. Depending on the cultivar you choose, you can select self-clinging ones which will attach themselves to any structure in their vicinity without the need for bespoke supports. They cope well with prolonged periods of drought and cold, too.
9) Lily of the Valley
Also known as Japanese Andromeda and Flame of the Forest, Lily of the Valley is a beautiful evergreen shrub which features dark green foliage that will turn different hues in the spring months depending upon the specific cultivar that is preferred. Most noticeable of all, however, are the blossoms which droop gracefully from the top of their stems in summertime, draping over the rim of their container with effortless elegance.
Although fairly hardly, you should avoid planting Pieris japonica in autumn, since it may struggle in its first winter. However, once it has fully taken root, the plant requires very little in the way of maintenance, with virtually no pruning or deadheading needed. It should also fare well in colder temperatures going forwards, making it a reliable and eye-catching addition to any garden.
10) Ornamental cabbage
These colourful head-turners take the same form as their kitchen counterparts, and although ornamental cabbages carry the same name and are even edible, they’ve been cultivated for their aesthetic appearance, not their culinary prowess. That’s because depending on the variety you choose, you’ll be treated to stunning swathes of bright pink, purple, white or yellow in the centre of their florets.
There’s very little to differentiate between ornamental cabbage and ornamental kale, apart from the fact that the former feature broad leaves with smooth edges and the latter favour serrated or fringed foliage. Whichever variety you settle upon, you’ll find that they provide an attractive focal point when placed in a container and generally won’t outgrow their environs once planted.
As a compact shrub of smaller proportions, rubella is an ideal choice for even the smallest of outdoor spaces. It won’t outgrow its pot and can easily be kept in shape, while the almost total absence of maintenance required means it’s perfect for those who like to leave their plants to their own devices.
Best of all, rubella will provide a changing kaleidoscope of colours throughout the seasons. For much of the year, it’s characterised by its dark green leafage. Come wintertime, however, you’ll see a preponderance of brilliant red buds, which will blossom into eye-catching bulbous blooms in springtime. What’s more, it’s also manna for pollinators, meaning you can support the UK’s ailing bee population and bring some biodiversity into your back yard in one fell swoop.
Much like pansies in appearance, violas are a smaller but equally colourful counterpart to their more illustrious cousins. Their delicate appearance might suggest that they have a sensitive nature that doesn’t stand up well to the elements, but violas are actually one of the few flowering plants that produce vibrant displays during the colder months of the calendar. That, alongside their diminutive dimensions, make them an excellent choice for potting outdoors.
Indeed, there are hardly any plants that can match the duration of a viola’s flowering season, which stretches almost year-round. With hundreds of different species to choose from, you can be certain you’ll find one that complements the existing décor in your back yard, adding a touch of colour and a splash of optimism just at the time when you need both the most.
Jonny is an avid writer with a background in tourism, film and literature, but has a penchant for penning articles on all kinds of topics. He's always considered himself an environmentalist to some degree, but in recent times he has found himself shining a greater spotlight on his daily lifestyle choices and how the tiny changes he can make to his routine can have a cumulatively significant impact on the planet.