After such a great summer, it seems a crime to think about emptying the hanging baskets and sticking them in the shed until next spring.
Perhaps it’s time we started to think of them as year-round attractions, able to bring form and colour not only in the sunniest months, but also in the darkest days of winter.
So, why not fill them with winter-flowering pansies or small-leaved ivies, or houseleeks, or even those garish but strangely attractive ornamental cabbages?
In winter, baskets are quite capable of fending for themselves for most of the time. They should need only the occasional watering, and they should look good from the day they are planted right through till next May, when summer plants can take over (as long as the threat of frost is over).
For a real mixed bag of colours and forms, try alpines such as saxafrages, low-growing thymes and alpine aubretia. Use them in the sides of the basket, lining the spaces in between with moss.
Ericaceous compost should be used, particularly when incorporating winter-flowering ericas (heathers). For the centre plant, use a small conifer or Euonymous ‘Emerald ’n’ Gold’ with its variegated foliage.
If you’re lucky enough to have a sunny, sheltered site, use pansies, primroses and hederas in the sides of the basket, with dwarf daffodils, crocus and rockery tulips and iris to come through later.
Golden allysum, ajugas and Lamium maculata (normally used for ground cover) can be persuaded to spill over the edge to good effect.
Polyanthus give good height and will flower well into May.
In tubs and urns, those ornamental cabbage with creamy heads or deep purple make excellent winter bedding subjects and tone well with hebes and ericas.
Gaultheria has reddish foliage and berries which will last the winter. Grasses are fashionable but can look a bit tatty in winter containers, but if you like that slightly dishevelled look, use them. They come in all colours, from blue to gold, green to copper.
Make sure hanging baskets are anchored well to cope with seasonal strong winds, don’t overwater, don’t overfeed, give them as much light as possible and tidy them up when necessary and you should have a winter of colour to see you through till next spring.