Expert reveals a simple trick for showing off your winter containers

This expert garden designer recommends layering and staging containers to add shape and interest when things begin to look bare

hellebores and hyacinths growing in larger planters
(Image credit: Ernie Janes/Alamy Stock Photo)

In his latest book, garden designer and writer Nick McCullough recommends taking extra time to layer and stage pots, which will make the biggest impact to your container gardening ideas in backyards and gardens this fall and winter. 

The author of American Roots, Lessons and Inspiration from the Designers Reimagining Our Home Gardens (available on Amazon) (opens in new tab), says there are a few tricks even beginners can pull off. 

'For instance, if you only have a small balcony, you could have a little vignette of three containers with either something that is really complementary to each other or very contrasting to each other.'

display of grape hyacinths on tiers

A tiered container display can create a striking centerpiece to your backyard. Muscari from Sarah Raven (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Sarah Raven)

Suits every spot

Nick says when thinking about how to arrange your garden planters, consider size, color, shape and texture. If you’re new to grouping containers, start with three – odd numbers work best – and stagger their height. 

You might need to use something like this plant stand for outdoor pots from Amazon (opens in new tab), or even blocks of wood or logs to achieve this multi-dimensional effect. 

'You’ll want to put them around places like the front entrance, but don’t confine yourself,' he says. 'It’s good to put them on the back patio, where you really are surrounded by these beautiful textures.'

snowdrops growing in a collection of terracotta pots

An old wooden crate can be turned into a simple plant theatre for displaying your potted plants

(Image credit: Deborah Vernon/Alamy Stock Photo)

Admire the overall effect

A good tip when you’re creating your winter planter ideas is to keep standing back so you can assess how they look to the casual observer or visitor to your home. 

You may need to soften or adjust the planting, says Lindsey Hyland, gardening expert and founder of Urban Organic Yield (opens in new tab)

Her suggestions to achieve those stunning finishing touches include: 'Layering complementary colors and textures, adding accents with stones, moss or other materials, using trailing plants to soften hard edges and experimenting with different plant combinations.'

It's also worth thinking about how your winter display will look once your spring bulbs start to shoot up. Consider what will add height at the back of your display rather than having it dominate at the front. 

hellebores and heather growing in pots

Grouping pots of colorful hellebores and heather can create an effective display in winter

(Image credit: Elena Rostunova/Alamy Stock Photo)

Weather warning

However, Miguel Palma, professional gardener and owner of gardening products review and advice website TiendaJardin (opens in new tab), does urge caution with choosing winter plants for pots to ensure your carefully-constructed container display will survive. 

'Staging and stacking the containers not only helps maintain the beauty of the landscape, it also keeps the fragile potted plants protected from harsh weather. But during winter, only a few plants can withstand the cold and harsh weather conditions that come with it. Choose frost and wind-hardy plants and ensure soil is as moisture-retentive as possible to prevent your containers drying out.' 

Jayne Dowle
Freelance writer

Jayne Dowle is an award-winning gardening, homes and property writer who writes for publications including Sunday Times Home, Times Bricks & Mortar, Grand Designs, House Beautiful and The Spectator. She was awarded the Garden Journalist of the Year accolade at the Property Press Awards in 2021.