By using containers you can bring colour and foliage closer to the house and fully incorporate a terrace or patio into the rest of the garden Nathan James Dodd has plenty of suggestions on how containers can be best used..
Hard areas are important but they will be softened and enhanced by containers filled with seasonal displays or permanent plants. Containers also allow you to grow plants that might not suit your soil type, if you have an alkaline soil, fill the container with ericaceous compost and organic matter and your range of planting suddenly increases, you will now be able to grow beautiful camellias and azaleas.
Most bulbs can be grown in containers although the shorter varieties might be most suitable if the position isn't sheltered. Outstanding displays of daffodils will bring a blaze of yellow, anemones crocuses and ipheions will also all bring early season colour with lilies or amaryllises later on in the year.
Think about planting a some height at the centre of the container, you might choose any number of perennials or small shrubs, campanula, gardenia or a lavender, for colour and scent, come to mind or a spiky leaved phormium for added structure. Alternatively a dwarf conifer will work well, such as Juniperus communis 'Compressa' which has aromatic yellow / green needles and green berries that turn black.
A dwarf rhododendron or azalea would also be ideal and it is worth noting that because the roots are limited, a lot of energy will go into the formation of flowers to give an impressive display.
All Year Interest
For winter and early spring interest, use foliage plants such as a hosta or a flowering perennial such as a Cyclamen coum or a Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger). Pansies and hepaticas with beautifully delicate blue, pink or white flowers will certainly brighten those overcast days.
Trailing geraniums, lobelias and nasturtiums look particularly attractive when planted around the container edge. The reliable Petunia Surfinia will produce hundreds of multi-cloloured trumpet shaped flowers and Begonia 'Illumination Mixed' also offers an outstandingly colourful display.
If you are a practical person, and a keen cook, herbs can't be fresher than gathered from a container next to the kitchen door. And don't forget that fruit and vegetables can also be easily grown in a container. Apple and other dwarf fruit trees will do well together with current bushes, tomatoes and strawberries. A mix of flowers and vegetables will look good as well as attracting predator insects if any aphids or other pests take up residence.
Soil And Compost Type
One of the great things about containers is that you can fine tune the soil and compost composition to whatever plants you wish to grow, whether they be acid or alkaline loving. However, In general never use a peat based compost as it dries out too quickly.
Use a soil based compost that can be purchased or you can make up your own with loam, grit and either peat / manure or leaf mould (to a ration of 7:2:3) plus some lime and blood, fish and bone fertilizer. For acid loving plants do not include lime and increase the peat/ manure or leaf mould to one third.
Make sure that the container is free draining and you must replenish the nutrients by feeding annually with a slow release fertilizer or every week in the growing season. Be sure to water every day, water retaining granules are useful to add to the compost and dress the top with gravel or decorative stones to prevent water evaporation.