Best plants for modern hanging baskets ‘make for dazzling displays’

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For many, hanging baskets are a great way to add a splash of colour at any time of year, but some gardeners would never even think about adding one to their garden. They may think that hanging baskets are old-fashioned or that they are too much work, especially when growing bedding plants in them. Yet, there are a couple of ways to introduce a hanging display into any garden setting, even an ultra-modern space.

For years black wrought iron, and more recently black painted steel or wire, and wicker baskets have been the go-to materials for traditional hanging baskets. The liner is normally made with coco fibre or has a stapled plastic lining to prevent water from dripping out like a monsoon rainfall. More recently we have seen plastic hanging baskets with removeable pockets and even rope or handmade versions using colanders, wire baskets, small buckets and old bird cages.

For a more modern take we now have zinc bowls, steam-bent oak hanging planters, colourful glazed ceramics and even jute options. With the huge growing interest in indoor plants, we are seeing railing planters that can be attached to slatted surfaces or metal frames, macrame plant hangers, poly-rattan hanging planters, 3D angular planters, glass bowls, hammered metal bowls, wooden planters, leather pouches and even concrete versions.

The great thing about all of these options is that you can hang them from balconies, above patios and terraces, indoors, from pergolas and arbours or allow them to swing gently on a purpose-built-hanging-basket stand.

When it comes to the plants, we can also be a little more adventurous. Don’t get me wrong, begonia, petunia, calibrachoa and fuchsia still look amazing when in full bloom, but for time-conscious gardeners and perhaps new gardeners, selecting plants that will have interest for 12 months of the year, rather than spring-bedding- or summer-bedding-displays that last only for five to six months.

The growing interest in succulents and more tropical plants for evergreen interest can make for dazzling displays. Using the hardy, drought tolerant Sedum takesimense ‘Atalntis’, which is an evergreen perennial, with serrated variegated leaves of green and cream you can have a great modern display.

These will also flower during the summer with small yellow-white blooms. Used in hanging baskets they will gently cascade over the edges. Pair this up with other ‘carpet’ forming, tight foliage plants, like the houseleek or sempervivum and low-growing alpine plants and for very minimal intervention, you’ll have a hanging basket full of texture, colour and form.

For a splash of blue succulent foliage with small white-pink flowers why not give Sedum dasyphyllum a try. This is a ground-hugging plant, perfect for blocking out light so weeds cannot grow.

Try this also in window boxes and alpine gardens. In harsh winters the blue foliage will also take on pinkish hues. In comparison, the golden stonecrop, Sedum ‘GoldAcre’, has overlapping triangular yellow leaves tipped with a pale lemon colour. In summer this groundcover plant will also send up vivid-yellow flowers.

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A sedum that will spread across a hanging basket and cascade over the edges is Sedum sexangulare or the moss sedum. Like moss, this is deep green in colour which takes on reddish tones over the winter.

There is also a real trend for no-traffic ‘tapestry lawns’ at the moment – lawns not using turf or grass seed but low-growing, evergreen alpine and succulent plants, and this sedum is a perfect substitute for the grass.

Other spreading forms are Sedum oreganum with red stems and glossy olive-green leaves and Sedum reflexum, which looks like miniature blue spruce trees with pale green ‘spikey’ (but soft) rounded leaves with a pink undertone. In addition, Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ forms tightly packed grey-blue leaves in the shape of tiny roses, which turn reddish-purple. This too has bright yellow flowers that stand proud of the foliage.

All of these plants look great in a hanging basket, as well as containers, window boxes and borders and are great for attracting pollinators to the garden, to your terrace or balcony. Top dress the hanging basket with decorative gravel or stone to show off the plants.

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All stonecrops or sedums prefer gritty soil for good drainage. This can add weight to the hanging basket so ensure the bracket is fixed firmly to the wall before hanging. One main advantage, is that being a little heavier than normal hanging baskets they tend not to swing so much in the wind, making them perfect companions for balconies.

If you feel like mixing it up over the summer then how about creating a cacti and succulent hanging basket. This will need to be brought in over the winter months, but if you have space in the house, you can always hang it indoors over the winter and still enjoy it. The knack is to match plants with similar watering regimens.

For a froth of a centre piece plant the ponytail palm, Beaucarnea recurvata, which produces a stalk and cascading leaves. For some trailing plants mix in Hoya plants. These have waxy leaves and stunning flowers.

Epipremnum pictum ‘Argyraeus’, or the Satin Pothos, has beautiful matt-green heart-shaped leaves with silver-white markings and edges. Pair this up with Peperomia rotundifolia, known as the Jade Necklace, with small, round, plump leaves and the contrasts will work elegantly in your modern indoor-outdoor hanging basket.

For a splash of red-purple and silver-streaked leaves Tradescantia zebrina, commonly known as the Inch Plant, will not fail to impress. To add some height, along with the ponytail palm, plant Cereus forbesii or the spiralled Cereus cactus. The blue-green colour will work brilliantly with the Pothos and the Tradescantia.

For something a little less spikey you could swap the Cereus for Haworthia fasciala ‘Alba’ with green-white, striped succulent ‘spikey’ leaves. For all of these plants, water sparingly once the soil has dried out. Again, add a gritty compost before planting for good drainage.

If you love flowers and want to create an indoor-outdoor hanging basket then select trailing flowering houseplants for the edges, such as Hoya carnosa with waxy star-shaped pale-pink flowers with a central red blotch, or Schlumbergia x buckleyi, the Christmas Cactus with tubular, exotic-looking blooms in a range of colours at the ends of green succulent leaves. Cooler weather and darker days trigger them to flower (hopefully in time for Christmas). The star of the show and really on trend at the moment is Kalanchoe blossfeldiana with large glossy green leaves and flowers in a range of colours, held as small clusters of buds before opening out like a small bouquet of miniature roses. This will make a dramatic centre piece to your hanging basket.

Whatever you decide to go with, always think about the soil requirements, whether or not they need the same amount of water or feed, as well as the amount of sunshine or shade. There is no point mixing up sun lovers with shade lovers as you’ll be wondering why one set of plants starts to die or doesn’t do as well as the others. Think about colour and texture of leaf, stem and flower (where applicable) and by using a hanging basket you can display your arrangement, high, low or at eye-level. Also, you’ll need to think about how the basket looks from every direction.

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