Gardens Illustrated
Pots of Style, September, designed by Jenny Barnes, Head Gardener at Cottesbrooke Hall gardens. © Richard Bloom

An early autumn pot for a shady spot

Published: September 22, 2022 at 3:34 pm
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Cottesbrooke’s head gardener Jenny Barnes creates an early autumn container display for a a shady area. Words Jenny Barnes, photographs Richard Bloom

My local nursery has a fantastic collection of shade plants, and when I visited in early autumn, I was struck by how healthy and lush these plants looked. This is in complete contrast to both the garden and the wider landscape, which, as we enter the autumn are dominated by warm, rusty, autumnal hues. Cornfields are golden and the trees are beginning to turn. I wanted to create a container that used these fresh verdant greens, to add a bit of energy to a shady corner.

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Pots of Style, September, designed by Jenny Barnes, Head Gardener at Cottesbrooke Hall gardens. © Richard Bloom

How to achieve the look

Container and composition

The plants that I have chosen, such as the Liriope and Pachysandra, are relatively small, and I wanted a container that was appropriate in size. I chose this aged, wooden wine box, which is deep enough to accommodate the rootballs of several plants, but small enough that it doesn’t dominate the arrangement. Most of these shade plants would grow happily in a woodland environment and by choosing this wooden box, the natural, rustic aesthetic is continued. This planting could be replicated in a longer container, such as a window box. You could add additional foliage interest by including plants such as Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, pulmonarias or heucheras.

Pots of Style, September, designed by Jenny Barnes, Head Gardener at Cottesbrooke Hall gardens. © Richard Bloom

Cultivation and care

To protect the wooden box from the damp compost, I lined the inside using an old compost bag and used crocks to create a good layer of drainage in the base. Because these plants thrive in woodland conditions, I added a huge handful of leaf mould to a multi-purpose compost, which helps to open up the soil structure, improving drainage while retaining moisture. Arrange the plants within the box, and firm the compost down around them. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, while the plants are growing. In winter, all the plants can be cut down, leaving just a few centimetres above the surface. A mulch of bark chippings helps lock in moisture and these can be topped up in the winter to add a layer of protection.

Plants

Pots of Style, September, designed by Jenny Barnes, Head Gardener at Cottesbrooke Hall gardens. © Richard Bloom
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1 Tricyrtis formosana A vigorous, rhizomatous perennial bearing many mottled-purple flowers through summer. Ideal for woodland conditions. 50cm x 1m. RHS H5, USDA 4a-9b.
2 Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’ Evergreen ground cover, with leathery leaves and spikes of cream flowers in summer. Copes well under trees. 1m x 1.5m. RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b.
3 Dryopteris dilatata ‘Crispa Whiteside’ Partially evergreen fern with triangular fronds. Segments are toothed and crinkled. 1.5m x 1m. AGM. RHS H6.
4 Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Glencoe’ Very floriferous. Pointed, arrow-shaped foliage with large white trumpet flowers. Prefers moist soil.
1m x 1m. RHS H4, USDA 8a-10b.
5 Blechnum penna-marina Evergreen, mat-forming fern with dark-green fronds. 50cm x 1m. RHS H4.
6 Liriope muscari ‘Super Blue’ Narrow, bright- green, strappy leaves with spikes of violet flowers. Copes in dry shade. 30cm x 30cm. USDA 5a-10b.

Authors

Jenny Barneshead gardener

Jenny Barnes is head gardener at Cottesbrooke Estate and is leading the way on new techniques of rose pruning and training.

Richard Bloom travels widely, photographing gardens, plants and people. He was the Garden Photographer of the Year in 2016 and Garden Media Guild Features Photographer of the Year 2018.

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