The perfect winter hanging basket is at least two baskets, possibly hanging either side of the front door where they'll get maximum admiration, cheering up everyone who passes them in the gloom of winter. The perfect winter hanging basket might also be hanging from the eaves outside your kitchen window, or even inside, if you get good sunlight, especially if you decide to go herbal - though not where you might contaminate plates or food with drips from soil. You might also buy or make vertical hangers for hanging baskets, so you end up with a hanging basket tree.
The most gorgeous herbal hanging baskets are arranged with artistry, which I don't have. The best I've managed has been a froth of variegated mint, or 'silver posy' and other ornamental thymes surrounded by pansies or heartsease flowers, which could be considered 'herbal' as they used to be used to both slightly sweeten and to colour food in medieval times. They are edible only in the 'won't poison' you sense, as the texture is like wet paper, but they do look pretty as last-minute decoration on cakes or salads.
I've also seen delightful hanging baskets of clumped thyme or winter savoury with snowdrops or bluebells or miniature daffodils popping up around them, though the only time I tried it, it looked a mess.
Prostrate winter blooming rosemary smells gorgeous and adds depth to winter meals if used with discretion. Remove the twigs after cooking, or even just put a branch of rosemary in the oven when you bake, well, just about anything, as the faintest tang of rosemary goes well with even sweet things.
The best looking winter veg are the frilly coloured chards, which range from steel blue to pinkish red and every shade of grey and green. The leaves grow long and lanky in the garden, but if grown in a hanging basket and picked often you get shorter leaves in a glorious froth. The newer, smaller leaves are more tender, too.
This is one time it's worth buying 'bloomers'. Seeds and even seedlings will take weeks or months to bloom now, but pots already flowering will last for months, or even a year or so with good treatment. Try a froth of pansies, polyanthus, heartsease, or be extravagant with cyclamen - flagrant pinks all winter.
The trick to keeping flowers producing all winter is to give warmth near a sunny, heat retaining and reflecting wall, with good potting mix and water retaining crystals - winter is dry. Try a white pebble mulch to keep in moisture, and reflect and absorb sunlight for most prolific growing. Spray with seaweed foliar spray once a week. The bigger the basket, the better - small baskets dry out and cool down fast.
If you want to be more adventurous, try a prostrate camelia that will sprawl nicely over the edge of a giant basket. If you choose the right variety it will be budding gloriously now and bloom all through winter for you. Obey the label, and give it the right spot.
You might even find yourself a winter-blooming prostrate banksia, to delight you and the birds. You might need to do some hunting, but they are there, like Banksia repens, with brown-gold flowers, that tolerates semi shade as well as dryness and frost, or a winter-blooming correa, or a grevillea like 'Gold Cluster' that will give you millions of spider-like yellow blooms. There is a red-flowered form too. Give your grevilleas a trim after winter blooming.
This isn't a time to stint yourself. Go wild with colour and with fragrance and the sheer exuberance of growing things. Flagrantly blooming baskets hung where they'll brighten up the world are one of the best investments for joy through winter.
This week I am:
- Hacking back the exuberant wisteria which is trying to lift up the carport roof and strangle an apple and a mulberry tree.
- Going just a bit wild ordering fruit trees. Another eight years - and a lot of watering - and once again we'll be giving away vast numbers of quinces, some extremely interesting heritage varieties of plums, two new late varieties of apple and the old and much loved Cox's Orange Pippin and two late winter pears. Plus - while I'm admitting it - new selections of macadamia trees, apricots, self-pollinating cherries, and chestnuts and another bunya nut.
- Planting purple Italian artichoke seedlings which might just grow big enough to give us artichokes this spring.
- Suddenly remembering the orange trees I planted in spring haven't been weeded. They need it.
- Giving away Tahitian limes and making lime-rich guacamole and houmous. It's probably time for a lime poppy seed cake, too.
- Realising we will get a crop of Seville oranges this year, the first in three years. Marmalade time again.