Winter gardening ideas from Petersham Nurseries in Richmond

Thomas with some of his potted containers at Petersham Nurseries

Thomas with some of his potted containers at Petersham Nurseries - Credit: Archant

Brighten up your garden this winter by planting up some pots and containers. Leigh Clapp visits the experts at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond to pick up some tips

As gardens go into dormancy now, you may like to think about injecting some colour by placing containers on the patio, pots by the door or by creating some window-boxes.

There’s an array of plant options, ranging from lovely foliage to bright berries and even flowers, to add some winter cheer to the garden. Tuck in a selection of bulbs and you’ll also have some surprises come spring popping up through the foliage.

At Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, they hold regularly demonstrations and workshops on the theme, and I’m there today to meet horticulturalist Thomas Broom to pick up some tips.

During my visit, he demonstrates some wonderful combinations, showing how to balance colours, textures, fragrances and aesthetics.

From simple bowls of bulbs topped with sheet moss to troughs of violas and silver cinerarias trailing with ivy, or augmented with topiary, to large tubs of shrubs underplanted with seasonal plants, there is much to inspire.

“Container planting to me is like arranging a large vase of flowers, so I follow the same principles,” says Thomas. “However, I love to spruce up a container by using branches. Branches from the garden or florist add romance to a planted container.

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“At Christmastime, I insert branches of brightly coloured cornus or larch festooned in lichen and delicate pine cones. Twiggy branches will also provide support for leggy bulbs and look far more attractive than a bamboo cane.”

One combination that particularly catches my eye is a large wooden tub arrangement that Thomas calls ‘Firework Twist’; designed to be viewed from the front, so perfect against a wall. You may like to try this at home, so here’s a step-by-step guide…


Materials and plants…

• Large wooden tub

• Crocks, gravel, grit, compost

• Plants: One cornus for red stem interest and height, and ornamental grasses of two heights; two taller Stipa arundinacea and three shorter Carex buchananii; three Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ for scent; three russet and purple violas; optional ivy to trail

• For the ‘hidden surprise’, a selection of bulbs: five apricot Hyacinth ‘Gypsy Queen’, 11 tulip ‘Orange Favourite’ and 11 white Narcissus ‘Thalia’

What to do…

1. Place crocks in base, then the gravel and compost half-way up

2. Soak a root ball of cornus for around half an hour, then plant, set to the back of the pot

3. Add some bone meal feed

4. Layer a small amount of compost

5. Plant the stipa on each side of the cornus

6. Plant the three carex in front of the cornus

7. Add the tulip bulbs amongst the grasses (not in root ball of cornus)

8. Layer in some compost with grit for free-draining

9. Plant the narcissi bulbs and add another layer of compost

10. Plant skimmia at the front, leaving spaces for the violas

11. Add a bit more compost

12. Plant violas at the front to allow softening trail to edge of tub

13. Plant hyacinth bulbs near the front

14. Add ivy to trail over the edge of the pot (optional)

15. Finish with a layer of compost, but don’t fill to top of tub or may spill out when watering


Tom’s top five plants

• Violas – robust little plants that will last the winter and also accompany spring bulbs

• Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’ – provides lush foliage and delicate clusters of buds through winter, with wonderfully fragrant flowers come spring

• Hellebores – there are many varieties to choose from and they are great for pots in small gardens

• Euphorbia x martini ‘Rudolph’ – features dark green foliage with red tips in winter

• Sarcacocca confusa – has adorably fragrant tiny white flowers during winter


Need to know:

Petersham Nurseries Church Lane, off Petersham Road Richmond TW10 7AG.

Workshops held throughout the year on a range of topics. See website for details: