Summertime is the season when a terrace comes into its own. Your patio may be part of a bigger landscape, or a paved courtyard may be all you have. Whatever its surroundings, an area of brick or stone paving, gravel or decking can become a welcoming haven with carefully chosen and cleverly planted containers.
General Rules and Basics
As a general rule, the most successful groupings combine one or two large pots with various smaller containers. Too many little pots distract the eye and make for a disjointed effect.
A big shrub or tree creates a focus and is a good starting point for a terrace design. They also look good viewed from inside on a winter’s day, whether covered in pretty evergreen foliage or with their bare branches outlined in frost.
A sunny terrace is a great place for scented plants – the warmth will enhance their scent and the blooms will attract lazy humming bees and bright butterflies. Herbs do especially well in sunny corners – thyme, marjoram, rosemary and sage have aromatic leaves that will scent the air if you brush against them.
Try adding a trellis to a tub and grow summer jasmine (Jasminum officinale) up it. The mock orange blossom (Philadelphus ‘Beauclerk’) emits a heady citrus scent in the early evening while an even richer fragrance is given off at twilight by the white trumpets of the tobacco plant (Nicotiana alata).
You can achieve a stylish look by choosing just one or two colours for your plantings, or using similar pots. But don’t be too strict – a cool theme of blues, lilacs and mauves, a warm theme of reds, yellows and oranges, or a mix of the palest pastels and whites will all give a sense of unity.
Bring sunlight to a shady patio with greeny yellows, whites and glossy foliage planted in warm terracotta pots. Cool corners can be enlivened with ferns and variegated ivies, and the cheerful colours of busy lizzies, which thrive in shade.
A Patio Kitchen Garden
One of the prettiest as well as most rewarding patio plants is the tomato, and it is easy to raise in a grow bag. To prevent your colour scheme being spoilt by the bag’s garish print, hide it in a log-roll box. Strawberry planters are always pretty, and you could grow a tangle of runner beans and sweet peas up a wigwam of canes in a sunny corner. If you have enough space, a dwarf fruit tree in a pot will add structure as well as giving you an autumn treat.
Move those Pots
One of the best things about containers is that they are not static. If one plant looks miserable, change it for another that is bursting with health; as an arrangement passes its best, hide it behind another that is starting to bloom. Move the pots to suit your mood, the occasion and to maintain maximum year-round interest.
A sheltered patio also makes a good summer home for container-grown conservatory specimens and house plants. Abutilons, agapanthus, citrus trees, cordylines, tender fuchsias and geraniums, olive trees, most palms and tree ferns will provide an exotic contrast to the hardier plants that surround them.