Container planting with Ben Preston

Summer container planting with pink Salvia curviflora

York Gate’s head gardener Ben Preston creates a dark and sultry container display for high summer using a mix of unusual plants. Photographs Eva Nemeth

Istrian font planting

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Bold, permanent planters can make proud statements in even the smallest gardens. This ancient, carved stone wellhead, reminiscent of many found in Italian towns, provides continental grandeur. At York Gate it’s placed on an axis between garden rooms and a main vista, and provides both impact and purpose. Loose and twinning tender perennials spill from the font as the season progresses, with the elegant pink Salvia curviflora, sitting at its centre, flowering all summer long.

Container planting with Ben Preston
© Eva Nemeth

How to achieve the planting look

Container and composition

Permanent structures, such as this wellhead, can add to a garden’s strong backbone. While large, heavy ornate pieces are getting harder to come by, some very good replicas in stone, resin and concrete are available and far less expensive. The vervain produces endless dark-red pincushions that twist happily with the common but useful silver foliage of Plecostachys serpyllifolia. Both will spill and engulf the font, giving an informal and romantic feel. Salvia curviflora placed in the centre, sends out vertical stems covered in intense but pleasing pink, hooded blooms. Short, white, double Achillea ptarmica ‘Noblessa’ hides the naked legs of the salvia and ties in gracefully with the Plecostachys.

Cultivation and care

Tender salvias are growing in popularity and rightly so. Many cultivars are readily available in a plethora of colours from the near pure-white Salvia x jamensis ‘Trebah’ through to the black of Salvia discolor. Most flower from midsummer until the first frosts, making them perfect for use in pots. At York Gate, we overwinter just a few specimens of each of our favourite species and cultivars in a frost-free greenhouse. We then take softwood cuttings from these stock plants when fresh growth flushes from late winter through to early spring as the temperature and light levels increase. We grow many of our tender perennials in this way including glandularias, aryganthemums, diascias and salvias, taking several cuttings from just one plant.

Plants you need

Ben Preston's pot at York Gate Garden
© Eva Nemeth

From left to right:

Glandularia ‘Claret’ A vigorous, half-hardy vervain producing masses of velvety dark-red pincushion blooms on arching stems. 40cm. AGM. RHS H3, USDA 5a-9b.

Achillea ptarmica ‘Noblessa’ Dwarf herbaceous perennial producing button-like, double white flowers from July to September. 30cm. RHS H7, USDA 3a-9b.

Salvia curviflora Attractive salvia with tall, erect flowering stems bearing intense magenta-pink hooded blooms. 1.2m. RHS H2.

Ben Preston's pot at York Gate Garden
© Eva Nemeth
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Plecostachys serpyllifolia Narrow, silvery leaved, vigorous and half-hardy perennial that is grown for its foliage. 30cm. RHS H3.

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