Stylish container planting using autumn colours

Gardener Jacky Mills creates a stylish container display using plants that celebrate the array of colour in autumn. 


Autumn extravanganza

Autumn is the time of reds and oranges; rich burnt colours, mingled with pinks and purples… anything goes at this time of year. As the sun lowers in the sky, the changing light levels intensify the colours even more. This display will get bigger and better as the season progresses – culminating in a crescendo of fireworks – until cut down by the first frosts. I hope this will inspire you to create a dazzling floral pyrotechnic display of your own.











1 Tagetes ‘Burning Embers’ A tall, half-hardy annual with single, deep-red and orange flowers. 40-70cm. June – October.
2 Crocosmia ‘Harlequin’ A striking cultivar with multi-tonal flowers. 50-60cm. August – October.
3 Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’ A single orchid type with contrasting yellow anthers. 60cm. July – October.
4 Salvia confertiflora A tender shrub that takes easily from cuttings. 1.5m. August – November.
5 Dahlia ‘Jescot Julie’ A double orchid dahlia. Lift after first frosts. 75cm-1m. July – October.
6 Tropaeolum majus ‘Hermine Grashoff’ Double, orange flowers. Treat as an annual and propagate from cuttings. 30cm. June – October.
7 Salvia splendens ‘Jimi’s Good Red’ A tender perennial with bright-red calyces. 1m. August – November.


How to achieve the look

My partner Ian made this container using a discarded tailgate as the frontispiece. The rest was built using offcuts of plywood screwed together. We added drainage holes, covered these with polystyrene chips, and placed it in position in a sunny spot before filling with a loamy compost.

Cultivation and care
Salvias are extremely versatile species coming in a wide variety of forms and colours. S. confertiflora gets very tall, and is best grown each year from cuttings, which are great for container planting as they will flower within a season.

The dark-purple stems of both salvias pick up on the moody, almost black petals of Dahlia ‘Verrone’s Obsidian’. The orange petals of D. ‘Jescot Julie’ are backed in red, giving a stripey effect – a combination repeated on the trumpets of Crocosmia ‘Harlequin’. Its lance-like foliage contrasts well with the ferny leaves of Tagetes ‘Burning Embers’. This annual is great for borders and pots alike, with a long flowering season and I’ve previously teamed it with the tangerine dahlias ‘Nicholas’ and ‘Autumn Fairy’. Collect seed each year to develop your own strain and sow indoors, February to March.

The double-flowered apricot nasturtium will clamber through everything but is sterile, so take cuttings in late summer. A weekly high-potash feed will encourage flowering, but watch out for earwigs on the dahlias.


For a suppliers of interesting plants and pots, see Jacky's recommended list.

Words Jacky Mills

Photographs Andrew Montgomery

This article was taken from a longer feature in the September 2016 issue of Gardens Illustrated (issue 238). 

The best designs for house numbers
previous feature Article
How to add rural appeal to a contemporary garden design
next feature Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here