It feels slightly counterintuitive to be planting up neat containers of pretty things in autumn.
The garden is in a determined and beautiful decline, and a shabby chic scruffiness is the order of the day: leaves lying beautifully or clinging on here and there, blackened and bent foliage, stems keeling, reds, yellows and oranges slowly making way to beiges and browns.
It seems out of step to suddenly plop a brightly coloured container of flowers into the middle of all of this elegant slumming, but on the other hand: how satisfying.
Sometimes a little neat pot can remind us – or fool us – that we are in control. The garden centres are very obliging, and are currently displaying rows of hardy and colourful winter bedding. As with summer bedding, this is an opportunity to express yourself horticulturally but without any real commitment – gaudy and colourful or restrained and sophisticated – though it has to be noted that the range is far more limited than it is in summer.
The pom-poms of bellis are the daftest of the lot, and primulas can be the gaudiest. Pansies and violas are the more genteel option, and look beautiful packed into pots and hanging baskets, the classiest option of all being a single-coloured viola planted en masse.
These containers and hanging baskets always look better with a trailing plant to soften the silhouette, and in winter the obvious and hardy choice is ivy, but there are lots of quite beautiful different ivy leaf shapes and variegations to choose from.
The one rule you must follow, whatever plants you choose, is to buy generously and to pack them in. They will not grow and fill out like summer bedding, so you want your container to look finished and full, as well as neat, pretty and colourful, from the start.