The finished container display from Ben Preston with persicaria

Evergreen foliage and purple tones flower display with Persicaria microcephala

Ben Preston indulges his fondness for dark, inky tones and evergreen foliage in three striking early summer compositions exuding mood and texture. Words Ben Preston, photographs Eva Nemeth

Dark, striking foliage and loosely arching stems in this display are brought to life as the rays of early summer sun hit the soft eggshell walls of the summer house. Being partial to dark-purple foliage and bold combinations, I’ve chosen some of my favourite performers: Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’, with its inquisitive, creeping habit, and Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’ will intertwine with the lancewood (Pseudopanax ‘Dark Star’) and cascade over the sides as the display evolves.

Pot-et-fleur with Jacky Mills: an aspidistra display
© Jason Ingram

How to achieve the look

Container and composition

You can’t go wrong with a trusty terracotta pot; it looks great with just about anything. The ornate detailing of this one has an Arts and Craft style I enjoy.

Pseudopanax ‘Dark Star’ has amazing, evergreen, bronze leaves that shimmer as they catch the light. It is also slow-growing, so fantastic for a pot. Placed in the centre, with long-flowering perennials at its feet, it will provide interest all year. Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’ is an exceptional plant. Flowering from early summer through to late autumn, it continues to creep through other plants and doesn’t need a summer cutback. Its attractive, deeply dissected foliage and intense, magenta flowers will interlace beautifully with other plants.

Ben Preston creating his container display
© Eva Nemeth

Cultivation and care

Airy sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is a useful, short-lived perennial that can be treated as a biennial. Sow seed in June, as you would with foxgloves, and it will provide you with attractive purple blooms the following May. It can be used in pot displays and threaded through borders to provide early summer colour.

When using shrubs and perennials in pot displays, I use a mix  of two parts peat-free, multi-purpose compost (Melcourt Syvlamix) to one part John Innes No.3. I have found a loam-based mix grows stronger plants and has better water-holding capacity than multi-purpose compost alone. We use an organic seaweed feed every fortnight, to keep the displays looking their best all summer.


Plants in Ben Preston's container display with Persicaria
© Eva Nemeth

Left: Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ Red, arrow-shaped leaves with silver borders and delicate, white flowers in late summer to early autumn. 50cm. RHS H5, USDA 6a-8b.

Right: Pseudopanax ‘Dark Star’ Evergreen shrub with attractive, metallic-bronze foliage. 2m. RHS H5.

Plants in Ben Preston's container display with Persicaria
© Eva Nemeth

Left: Geranium ‘Tiny Monster’ Clump-forming perennial. Cerise flowers from late spring to the first frosts. 20cm. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.


Right: Hesperis matronalis Short-lived perennial with sprays of lilac flowers in early summer. 90cm. RHS H6, USDA 3a-8b.