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

A planting pot using Molinia caerulea and dahlias

Published: September 20, 2022 at 9:00 am
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Cottesbrooke’s head gardener Jenny Barnes combines well-established plants with bold foliage and rich colours to create a container display to help summer slide into autumn. Words Jenny Barnes, photographs Richard Bloom

At Cottesbrooke, we don’t use many red and orange plants in the garden, as they can be difficult to incorporate with the softer pastel shades that seem to dominate our borders. There are, however, a few plants that we’ve fallen in love with over the years and just had to have. As long as there is a unifying theme, in this case, the warm, autumnal colour palette, then grouping together a collection of pots is a great way of displaying a number of individual plants.

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

How to achieve the look

Container and composition

To emphasise the autumnal feeling I’ve used only terracotta pots. That way I can use a selection of shapes and sizes and still create a cohesive overall aesthetic. The banana, Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’, is several years old and so the pot had to be large enough to accommodate a substantial rootball, but I was able to squeeze some of the other plants into much smaller pots. Any collection of pots can be used, if there is at least one element that links them together: colour, size, material etc. Here the warm colours of the plants are picked up in the terracotta, but you could achieve a similar cohesive effect using white-flowering plants, complemented by silver-grey foliage in galvanised planters.

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

Cultivation and care

Plant dahlias in spring, 10cm deep. Once flower buds develop, feed once a week with a multi-purpose feed. Ensure you keep pots watered well throughout the summer. Larger plants, such as dahlias, may need additional support; secure stems with twine to garden canes pushed into the compost around the edges of the pots. To extend flowering, continuously deadhead blooms. After the first frosts, cut back the blackened foliage of the dahlias to a few centimetres above ground. Move the dahlias and banana pots into the greenhouse and keep dry until all risk of frost has passed. The grasses will all stand through the winter, offering another season of interest. Shear over the pots in the spring before any new growth appears.

Plants

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

Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’ Deciduous grass with purple feathery seedheads. 2m x 80cm. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b†.

Molinia caerulea ‘Heidezwerg’ Neat clumps of bright-green foliage. 1.2m x 60cm. RHS H7.

Dahlia ‘Chat Noir’ Small-flowered dahlia with rich-red flowers. 90cm x 75cm. AGM. RHS H3.

Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ Tender, evergreen perennial with huge, dark-red foliage. Rarely flowers in the UK. 4m x 4m. AGM. RHS H2, USDA 10a-11.

Dahlia ‘Dark Spirit’ Profusion of small, dark, pompom flowers. 45cm x 90cm. RHS H3.

Calamagrostis x ‘Karl Foerster’Clump-forming grass. 1m x 1.5m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b.

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

Cestrum elegans Evergreen shrub with clusters of vivid-red flowers. 3m x 3m. RHS H3, USDA 8a-11.

Dahlia ‘Sam Hopkins’ Large, dark-red flowers and mid-green foliage. 1m x 1m. RHS H3.

Dahlia ‘Totally Tangerine’ Anemone-type dahlia with rusty-orange centre. 1m x 1m. RHS H3.

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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.

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