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Joe Swift says make a statement with your pots - be bold!

Call them what you want-pots, planters or containers, it all amounts to the same thing. They have been around for centuries and are an excellent way to grow plants and maximise the space in a small garden. They can be used to decorate and harmonise the look and when repeated add a certain rhythm to the overall design.

These days people are looking for more contemporary styles of planter rather than the ornate pots with plenty of swirls and swags. Traditional materials such as terracotta, glazed ceramics, wood are still widely used, but pot designers are reinventing the shapes with a much cleaner and more modern look to fit in well with their sleeker gardens. The days of trailing petunias and variegated ivy dangling over the edge of a pot are over. Single architectural specimens planted one to a pot are what's in.

When choosing pots for your garden try to stick to one style and finish. A mish-mash of different shapes, sizes and finishes will make the garden look messy and lose that designed look. Try not to buy pots on a whim without thinking where they're going to go, and what you're going to put in them - if you're going to put anything in them. Believe it or not there are actually some pots that look better without any plants!

It's the combination of plant and pot which makes the composition succeed or not. This date palm (Phoenix canariensis) is the perfect vase shape for containers and looks great in this dramatic black glazed pot. The sculptural qualities of the plant work well with the pot's smooth simple shape and proportion. Small gardens doesn't mean small pots. In fact large pots and plants, such as this date, in a small garden will create much more drama and impact than having everything below eye level.

A great plant which I think we'll being seeing plenty more of is the Astelia chathamica 'silver spear'. It's wonderful sword shaped leaves are reminiscent of a phormium, but they have a cool metallic silver finish like an old Saab I used to drive. They can tolerate much more shade than a phormium, but not as much cold as they are only hardy to -5 C. That's another good reason for growing in pots - they can be brought into a greenhouse or conservatory during the winter in a cold area, and put out again on the patio in the spring. The look of the garden can be kept fresh and interesting by moving pots around.

Another plant that'll need to come indoors for the winter is the succulent Echeveria secunda. It looks great in smaller pots on a table top or lining a flight of steps. I've planted three in this interesting terracotta pot, and their rosettes of grey-green waxy leaves and unusual yellow and pink flowers are set off well by the colour of the terracotta. As they produce more offsets they will hug the side and spill over and break up the edge of the pot.

If you're looking for something a bit hardier, which is as tough as old boots, but will help formalise your space you simple can't go wrong with box. Talk about traditional! However a simple clipped box ball in this terracotta cube still looks pretty funky and doesn't look at all dated. If it works well - do it, that's what I say.

For more moisture loving plants such as juncus or hostas go for ceramic pots as they will hold the moisture in the soil better than terracotta or wood. This Juncus effusus 'Spiralis' or curly wurly has a wonderful form and looks just right contrasting with this square white pot.

When it comes to choosing a compost for the pots remember that plants in pots dry out extremely quickly - much more quickly than when in the ground. For plants such as box or hostas mix 50/50 multi purpose compost with John Innes no.2 and add some water retaining gel to stop them drying out. Plants which like things a bit drier such as the more Mediteranean plants and succulents do best in a John Innes no.3. The succulents should have plenty of grit mixed in to open up the soil even more.

Whatever sort of pots or plants you choose just remember to keep it simple and bold, no trailing petunias, and definitely no swags!


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