I always think I’ll get my containers planted by Memorial Day, but that doesn’t happen often, so I shoot for the Fourth of July. My goal each season is to come up with fresh combinations that are easy care and will still be looking sweet in September. Of course, I use a lot of succulents because they always deliver. Here are the end of June images. Check back for the end of September shots.
Funny thing…this favorite color, the color of the sky above… true blue-baby blue is not the easiest color to mix and match. Think of the blues in the garden…most shades have red in them…the violets have a darker red, lavenders can have that pinkish tint. Blue flowers also look so different depending on the light…take a picture of a blue flower on a cloudy day, or at midday, and at dusk and notice how the hue changes.
I have a challenge here…I’m trying to decide which plants I can use to complement a lovely blue Plumbago auriculata in one of my containers. My aim, as always, is to have the container look great now through September, and have it be pretty easy care.
First if you are unfamiliar with Plumbago, it is a tender perennial/shrub producing powder blue phlox like blossoms endlessly all sumer. Plumbago forms sizable shrubs where it is hardy, but for those of us growing here in the northeast, expect plants to grow to 2’-2 1/2’ in a season in our gardens or pots.
One thought I had was to play with complementary colors….light orange and light blue are color opposites. I found a consistent apricot in Heuchera ‘Champagne’, and I thought of adding some light yellow/lime…perhaps the Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ or Oxalis ‘Copper Glow‘ which has tints of orange too. A green ornamental grass like Hakonechloa macra can add a different texture and natural feeling. A possibility, but then I realized I didn’t have a pot this group works with.
I did have this white handled jar. Blue and white is a classic combination. Gaura ‘So White’ adds a wispy vertical, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost‘ is an all purpose filler with an aura of baby’s breath , and for bold punch, the glossy foliage of Angelica pachycarpa which can be set out in the garden in the fall. Needed something to trail so I tucked in a Teardrop Ivy.
What do you think? What would you pair Plumbago with?
Perhaps your grandmother had a big hanging basket of Asparagus Fern on her shady porch…you probably didn’t think much about it, but there it lived, thriving with little care, living in the same pot for what seemed to be years on end. Yes-sir-ree…a testimony to a plant which could thrive on neglect.
Despite their fernlike ambience, this group of foliage plants are not ferns at all, but members of the Lily family (Liliaceae). An inspection of the root system reveals a mass of bulb-like tubers, (think lily bulbs). Being pot bound doesn’t discourage their vigor and although they like bright light, Asparagus Ferns can exist satisfactorily with quite a bit of shade. They do not need a constant supply of moisture, and prefer a soil that is sharp draining. Take note: Asparagus Ferns make great companions to Begonia which like similar conditions… bright light to shade, and a soil that doesn’t stay wet.
The most familiar species is A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’, known for it’s arching stems of apple green narrow leaves. (For those who need to be on top of all things botanical…the genus is now Protasparagus, but that may be too much information for some. ) The next most commonly encountered form is the Foxtail Asparagus, A. densiflorus ‘Myersi’, with its gorgeous chunky plumes.
Now, let me introduce you to a few siblings, which offer variety but require the same easy care, and of course are suitable as cut greenery for arrangements.
Asperagus densiflorus ‘Cwebe’ is not dissimilar to Grandma’s form, but ‘Cwebe’ tends to be more upright, growing, to 18-20″ tall, and has an interesting bronze tint to the new growth. Asparagus setaceus plumosa is very lacy, and is familiar to those who purchase cut greens for arranging. Asparagus setaceus pyramidalis also has lacy, fine textured foliage with an upright thrust. Perhaps the sweetest of all is Asparagus macowanii, commonly called Ming Fern, with very delicate forest green foliage. As a young plant A. macowanii is quite small in stature, but if grown in a conservatory or outdoors where it is hardy, it can reach a height of 5’ at maturity.
When planning container combos to display throughout our gardens and nursery, I want each planter to showcase unusual selections and color combos, have a beautiful rhythm, be easy to care for and still look terrific at the end of the season! Of course with our unpredictable summer weather (some years too wet, others too dry) some combinations hold up better than others. Above are my five favorite ensembles, and below are the dozen pots shown in the early summer “Before Shots” blog post , ( the end of September shot is right beside it).
Tall Cylinder Pot…The Verbena bonariensis, Tradescantia and Lantana exploded! The Melianthus held its own, but the Lemon Coral Sedum lost its battle with the Pale Puma Tradescantia, and the Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ has wimped out. Note that the Lantana montevidensis has never needed deadheading and shows no signs of stopping flower production.
The California Hydrangea Pot has aged gracefully. While the Ornamental Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ had a great showing all through July into August, it finally allowed the ‘Gold Wings’ Tradescantia to take over spilling, while the slower growing Abutilon ‘Pink Charm’ is now dazzling into fall.
The Cast Iron Urns have retained a subtle beauty all season. (The purple cast to the September shot demonstrates how the end of day light is changing. ) A super easy combo that required only an occasional cutting back of the Pelargonium sidoides flowering stems, the plant selections of Beschorneria, Cuphea hyssopifolia aurea Tradescantia Pale Puma’ and variegated Ivy held its scale well for the past 3 months.
Hummer’s Pot. Perhaps the least impressive pot at the beginning of the season but with real staying power as the plants aged beautifully. The Cuphea ‘David Verity’ has only asked to be watered regularly, and has never needed deadheading, the Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ did need a cut back once this summer, and the Oxalis ‘Zinfandel’ continues to shine with its dark foliage and tiny yellow flowers. Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ is working well here. Hummingbirds loved visiting, and this is still an impressive planting for autumn.
The white form of Lantana montevidensis began to overwhelm the other plants in the White Bean Pot , even after being cut back several times….Oh well, too much of a good thing has its drawbacks.
Charcoal Urn... I wasn’t surprised that this combination of Phormium and Succulents would be easy care and would age well. It needed only occasional watering, and cutting back the Silver Falls Dichondra when it dripped onto the pathway.
Can you notice any difference in the Living Wreath of Mini Spider Plants (left–June, right–late September)? This is the perfect vertical garden for a shady door, needing only twice a week watering, even during the hot dry summer we just experienced.
This ensemble spoke quietly at first but became more memorable as the summer continued. The Abutilon ‘Pink Charm’ became more floriferous, the Heuchera ‘Beaujolais’ is taking on fall appropriate tawny tones, and I just adore the little Rosary Vine, Ceropegia woodii, dangling over the sides, with its peculiar pink and charcoal gray flowers.
This shady pot grouping was an experimental mix of similarly colored foliage…the tall Amorophophallis konjac(Voodoo Lily) never put out a spathe, but looked okay until early September when it very quickly began to go dormant. I was left with a nice full pot of Begonia ‘Wild Pony’ and little B. bowerae.
The Zen Bowl of succulents hardly needed any care so we didn’t pay attention until it became overwhelmed with Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ in early August, which completely smothered its shorter neighbors. A harsh cut back helped, but it was a little too late for the buried plants to put on much growth. We’ve had such a warm September that the succulents have yet to take on their fall tones…will try to get another image now that we are starting to get cooler nights.
The Succulent Martini Pot was the hit of the summer…we sold this combination of plants over and over again. Notice how the rosy red flowers of little Crassula schmidtii add that perfect zing.
Our classic Seashell Pot with Succulents has aged beautifully,wouldn’t you agree? The September image shows how different the end of the day light is three months later.
Which combination ideas might you borrow for your containers next year?
Previous years results:
In early summer, I take “before” images of my containers and then “after” shots in September to document how well the compositions fared over the season. The plant selection for each arrangement is based on great foliage and unique forms. Flowering plants must be long blooming but without the constant need of deadheading. Here are a dozen “before” pics.
For sunny and partial sunny areas….
Closeup of the Hydrangea, which influenced color selection. This hydrangea, purchased on a trip to CA a couple of years ago, (don’t think it’s ‘Pistachio’), is not flower bud hardy for us outdoors in zone 6A, but makes a great container specimen.
Detail, showing Cuphea and Pelargonium sidoides
And for more shady spots…
A living wreath (sort of a vertical container) for shade: Mini Spider Plant (Chlorophytum ‘Bonnie’ )
And of course: Succulents…I’ll try not to bore you with too many!
A new succulent combination for the 32″ black zen bowl…(there are too many plants to list).
Succulent Martini anyone?
Fan favorite Succulent Clam Shell.
Which container planting can you see in your garden?
PS…Check back in September to see which containers till look fabulous.
Sometimes amazing things happen when you cross similar plants from different regions: Digitalis (European Foxglove) and Isoplexis (Canary Island Foxglove. The result: beautiful perpetual blooming 3′ spires of tubular flowers, which are colored sunset coral in bud and then open, exposing yellow throats with hints of apple green. This particular selection, ‘Flame’, is the first of the Illumination series introduced by Charles Valin which won the prestigious award of Best in Show at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2012.
Last year we grew Digiplexis ‘Flame’ in a large pot. It began to bloom in early June and carried on for months, well into September. The blossoms are sterile, which tricks the plants to be constantly in flower. We brought the container into the cool greenhouse to winter over and it’s back up and about to start the show all over again. This year we’ve also planted it in our garden beds for the constant color it provides. We envision it as the vertical complement to Dahlias and Summer Phlox in a sunny, enriched , well drained border which gets an average amount of irrigation. I can attest that the hummingbirds were regular visitors, as were bees and butterflies, and I suspect it is deer resistant as well.
Because Digiplexis inherited its hardiness genes from its Canary Island parent, it will only winter over outdoors in zones 8-10, (although one of our customers bragged to me the other day that hers wintered over outdoors in a protected spot in zone 7). Dig up the roots after the first frost, as you would a Dahlia and store in a cool spot that stays above freezing for the winter. Gardeners in warmer winter climates don’t have to worry about this, and I can only imagine the display in their garden year after year!
Each year I take pictures of container combinations in June (see post) and then again in late September, to document and evaluate for good looks and ease of care. No two growing seasons are alike here in New England, so it’s difficult to say for sure that plants that showed off this year will do so next. What started off being a moist summer ended up quite dry here in Dartmouth, MA. We haven’t had measurable rain now for 6 weeks or more, and August was particularly cool. A few of the containers in the June post did sell, and I’m hoping they fared well. I added a few combos planted with late summer and early autumn in mind.
How did your containers do? What were your favorite combinations?
I design containers using uncommon plants which will look great all season with a minimum of care. Here are the early summer images of containers for sun, shade, and of course succulents, our favorites! Check back for the September report to see how well they performed.
Those of us who live in colder climates may be thinking it’s time to rehab last year’s tender succulent containers. Over the winter, these planters have been trying to soak up as much sun as possible on windowsills and in sunrooms, but it’s a sure thing that by mid spring many of your plants have become unbecomingly leggy. You have two options: disassemble the planter, plant by plant, then cut back and replant in fresh soil, or if the planter is not overcrowded or out of proportion, you can see if just trimming back is the answer.
I’m encouraging you to be ruthless when you cut back. After cutting off their heads these plants won’t look happy immediately, but the alternative could become down right ugly. Any cuttings from pinching can be stuck in sand and rooted for more plants. You may find that some of the spreading succulents have exceeded their bounds and need to be lifted and divided . Use these little divisions to tuck in around the container where their are “plant gaps”. Fertilize your planter with a seaweed/fish emulsion. It will take a number of weeks and some warm sunny weather for your planters to start to perk up.
Vertical Succulent Gardens are often in need of cutting back and editing. We usually leave our vertical planters horizontal on benches during the winter, to minimize stretching. Still some plants such as the rosettes of Sempervivum or Echeveria may have become overwhelmed by creeping Sedum and Delosperma, and need to be replaced. We take fresh cuttings and secure them in place with floral pins. Fertilize with seaweed/fish emulsion , keeping the wall planter flat while the new cuttings root in, and move outside as soon as nights stay in the 50’s or above. In a few weeks, growth will begin to fill in the empty spaces, and then you can hang.
related posts :
New England’s weather challenges even the most experienced gardener. The summer of 2013 certainly gave this gardener a dose of humble pie. Spring arrived late but was quite lovely for several weeks. June was cool and adequately moist (some folks in western New England were deluged with rain, but we were happy here with what we received. July was tropical. Hot, humid, humid, did I say humid? And there are plants that loved the tropical weather: Colocasia, Coleus Papyrus, Canna. Unfortunatley I hadn’t planned on hot humid weather, so I didn’t plant many of them this year. No this year I couldn’t plant enough succulents; in the ground, in containers, in vertical gardens. It could have been a better summer for growing them, but they managed to carry on sullenly and perked up when August proved to be cool and dry. And now we are here, at the end of the season, to judge which of the containers held up the best over the 3 month period. (See the June article: The Before Pictures for evidence of how containers transformed.)
Coleus ‘Odalisque’ dominated this planter, Begonia thurstonii has held its own, but can’t say the same for the Begonia ‘Elegance’ (there is a glimpse of what’s left of it). Our Begonia boliviensis hybrids and and most of our Fuchsia really pooped out early this year.
This partial shade planter wasn’t shown in the June post, but it has been quite lovely all summer. Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ is really starting to bloom now. Why don’t people grow more of the interesting trailing ivies?
Once the Eucomis bloomed, that was that, and then the Lantana montevidensis with its profusion of lavender flowers on wiry stems took over. Oxalis triangularis never disappoints, and Tradescantia ‘Blue Sue‘ filled in nicely.
We have planted this classic stone bowl with succulents for the past few years, but this year’s growth was the least impressive. Not bad, but look what it did last year.
Only the Senecio cylindricus put on growth. I think all the other succulents just sat there. At least they didn’t melt.
This bowl was planted around the 4th of July, with a mix of hardy and tender plants. The Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’ is beginning to bloom with it’s bright orange buttons. I like the hardy Sedum ‘Turkish Delight’ but next time would leave out the Sedum ‘Xenox’.
We moved our famous River Pot to a more prominent spot. What wouldn’t look great in this pot?
The vertical garden is still looking sweet. The Crassula schmidtii has been in bloom for weeks, and the Echeveria ‘Atlantis’ continues to want to send up flowers. I made several versions of these vertical gardens, experimenting with just hardy plants and mixing lots of different tender succulents. Some succulents grew well despite the weather, others were more temperamental.
What was your summer weather like and how did your containers fare this year?