Originality is overrated

There’s this thing going on the The States at the moment, where they stick their pots of annuals and perennials full of….well…sticks.  It may well be happening elsewhere, but its been a while since I’ve been elsewhere.

Anyway, I decided to adopt the idea in order to overcome the problem of winter annuals (or other potted winter colour) being vertically challenged.

This has always prevented me bothering with my pots over winter.  I’ve stuffed ‘em full of tulips then ignored them until September.  I mean, you can get away with carpeting colour in low bowls, but big or tall pots look stupid when they contain nothing but low plants.

I’d long been aware of this problem, but it wasn’t until I was thinking about writing this post that I realized that ALL of the taller annuals are summer annuals, and that NONE of the winter annuals form any sort of branching

structure, and tend to flower either directly from a rosette at ground level (fairy primulas, for instance), or sprawl about at ground level from lax shoots (violas and pansies). There’s simply no hope for height in winter.

This is where the sticks come in.

I dashed down to a nearby nursery within a couple of days of getting home and scratched up what I could in the way of potted colour.  The range is dispiritingly limited here in Australia, and the best I could do was yellow polyanthus (there were other colours, but the yellow is the only colour that retains any of the scent of the wild primroses from which they’re derived, and I love that perfume), quite a few white/purple/yellow small flowered violas, as well as some straight purple for bass notes and some pure white for treble, some purple alyssum (which happened to match the violas), and some very lovely miniature cyclamen, which also retain the heavenly, delicate scent of their ancestors.  This is not a cheap exercise, as you can imagine.  The colour pots are only about $2 each, and the cyclamen $7, but what I thought would be about $30 ended up being about $70.  I feel a bit sick about that, but I’ll get over it.  And they’ll last all winter, and well into spring.

I also threw in some rooted cuttings of variegated ivy, compliments of Cousin June.

In the incredible hanging baskets around Victoria, Vancouver Island, I’ve been told that they work on the rule of shoving in as many plants as they can fit, and then adding one more.  I’m way too tight for that, but I also knew that they’d grow so slowly this time of year that they have to at least touch, or they’d look mean for too long.  Anyway, once they were in their final pots (the cyclamen clustered in one, while the other contents bounce about through each), I took my wife out to see them.  I had to force a response. ‘They’ll look alright when they grow” she said.  But as we now all know, they won’t grow (not up, anyway).


So I visited a mate who has a few willows about the place that he told me wanted cutting back.  I had yellow, black and red to choose from.  I chose them all.  It was the yellow I was after, given that this was an exercise in unapologetic unoriginality, but it turns out that the black was perhaps the most satisfying of all.

As the plants didn’t stretch as far as I thought, and I still had pots to fill, I headed to the nursery again, and stumbled across the ‘fiber optic’ grass (Isolepis cernua) being sold as colour pots.   I couldn’t believe it – that a nursery growing colour pots would recognize something so non-floral as being worthy.  A big shout out to colourpots.com.au!

Given the fabulous texture this added, I thought I’d go a lot simpler with the colour bit, so coupled the grass with a limey-lemony viola, and black willow.

Dunno how the grass’ll go with the frost.


  1. Lovely detail photos but I need a full body pic to decide whether I think this works or not. And I agree – well done colourpots. I’ve never seen a grass among potted colour either.

  2. Very entertaining and interesting too!! keep on writing. Thanks Michael

  3. Thanks for the chuckles Michael.
    Agree with Catherine – and your wife… and really, long or short – no matter what’s squeezed into a pot is a good tonic for a dull winter day.

  4. Looks lovely, Michael. The only thing I’d add to what you have already done is twisting, or pulling up and pushing back, all of those willow sticks in their holes once in a while, especially if your pots are meant to last well into spring. Otherwise you will have pots full of healthy new willow shrubs, with well established roots, by mid-spring. 🙂

  5. Red or yellow Cornus would look great. Their bright branches plonked in a pot or even a plant in a bigger pot, underplanted with annuals…winter dreariness antidote.

  6. Americans seem to put sticks in their Christmas trees, also, which I’ve never really understood …

    1. No, can’t say I understand, or can visualise it, either

  7. You know what, I liked the pots without the sticks! I’ve had this problem too for my pots during winter but it turns out I still really loved seeing the little pansies regardless how imbalanced the big pots looked. I think I even enjoyed the imbalance! They did flower their heads off though! I popped a kangaroo paw in there for height but compared to the pansies it sort of was a bit of a let down, clearly not an inspired combo that one.

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