Remember when Coleus was disdained by “serious gardeners” just 20 years ago? Until recently Succulents also seemed to get a bum rap. Perhaps it was because of the silly little dish gardens offered in discount stores, featuring a ubiquitous strawflower glued onto a poor little cactus. We decided quite some time ago to treat succulents with dignity. Their foliage offers an array of subtle and strong desert colors and textures which inspire us with ideas for endless combinations. And, they couldn’t be easier to take care of– perfect container plans for the summer weekend home, since so little water is required.
Begin your ensemble by selecting a handsome container. Break the rules…why not use a fancy bowl or urn that you would use for traditional annuals? Shallow pots are always fine and suitable, but deeper pots can certainly be used if you fill them with a very sandy, fast draining soil. Do not use a moisture retentive peaty potting mix, for it will easily become water logged if we have extended wet weather. You can use a light dose of fertilizer in your soil mix, but don’t over do it.
Select a variety of foliage shapes and plant forms, such as the rosettes of Echeveria, the trailing stems of Delosperma and the fine texture of tiny Sedum. We always find that packing the container with plants gives immediate gratification, and the plants will not suffer as they require little nutrition. Early autumn will bring changes to your composition, as the fall foliage colors intensify and many succulents begin to flower. Before a freeze, bring your succulents indoors. They winter over easily on a sunny window sill.
This easy care combination, which will be very happy in a spot that receives 4-6 hours of sun, includes Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister’ complimented by multihued Calibrachoa ‘Tequila Sunrise’, Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ for light contrast, and Coleus ‘Dipt in Wine’ which picks up the colors of the other 3 candidates.
The Fuchsia and Calibrachoa (Million Bells) will lure hummingbirds and bloom endlessly. Should the Helichrysum (Licorice Plant) or Calibrachoa exceed their bounds with vigorous growth, just clip back. Plant this grouping in a good quality potting mix amended with compost or PlantTone, and Osmocote. In addition to fertilizer in the mix, we always recommend liquid feeding your containers every 1-2 weeks with a balanced plant food, such as Dyna Gro.
A classic combination for a sunny spot. We’ve combined our favorite Pelargonium sidoides with a new heat tolerant pale pink Marguerite, Argyranthemum ‘Pink Reflection’, silvery Centaurea gymnocarpa ‘Colchester White’ and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ and a compact selection of Gaura ‘Belize‘, with wine tinted foliage and wine/pink blossoms that dance on 18-24″ stems all summer.
Focus on foliage
Container Gardening is a summer long activity. Plants grow quickly, and it is only a matter of week or two before a new grouping “knits” together. You can move, mix and match pots all season long.
We’d like to pass on basic tips for successful container plantings.
1. Select plants that all like similar growing conditions (i.e…sun, shade, dry soil, moist soil).
2. Use a good quality potting soil amended with an organic plant food like Garden Tone and/or Osmocote time release fertilizer.
3. Remember to select/focus on plants with interesting foliage, which will add color and texture without the need of constant flower deadheading. Think of the flowering plant choices as the “accents”.
4. Finally, liquid feed with Dyna Grow or Seaweed/Fish Emulsion on a regular basis, which will replace the nutrients leached out of your pots from frequent watering.
‘New Century’ is another tidy compact Rhododendron, with pale citron yellow blossoms. It has a very full foliage appearance due to the fact it holds its evergreen leaves for 3 years, rather than just 2 like most other rhodies. It grows to a well behaved 4′ x 4′ size and is quite hardy for a yellow form, (to minus 15F).
Grow this selection in a spot protected from drying winter winds. Morning suns and afternoon shade is ideal, but plants can take more sun if well irrigated during drier conditions. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘New Century’ appreciates a humus rich soil that remains moist but well drained.
Handsome violet blue blossoms in late April/early May distinguish this welcome addition to the mid spring garden. Introduced by Weston Nursery of Hopkinton MA, Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’ falls into the lepidote group of Rhodies, which with a few exceptions, have smaller leaves, smaller more open trusses and prefer to grow in a more sunny spot. ‘Blue Baron’ has a compact habit,and is often listed as growing to 3-4′ in height and width, but at maturity can reach 6?. His fine textured elliptical foliage is glossy green in summer but takes on a bronzy cast in colder months.
Grow ‘Blue Baron’ in humus rich soil in full or part sun, and morning sun with some afternoon shade has proven ideal . He can tolerate a bit of wind, but we recommend using an anti-dessicant if winter winds are harsh. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘Blue Baron’ is shallow rooted, and will need irrigating during dry spells. Hardy to minus 10F.
The best selection of Woodland Phlox, in our opinion, is this lovely cultivar introduced by Bill Cullina, of Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. Abundant deep sky blue flowers on 12″ stems perfume the May garden, and when planted en masse create ethereal drifts. It makes an excellent companion for woodland poppies and late blooming narcissus
‘Blue Moon’ grows best in light shade in a rich humusy soil that is moist yet well drained, forming clumps 2-3′ across. After the blossoms fade, cut back the spent flowering stems for a neater appearance. It is hardy in zone 4-8.
Here on High Hill Road, much of the winter is spent searching for sources of the most promising new plants available in the horticultural market. We’re always optimistic, but we hold all newcomers to the standards set by great plants introduced in the past. Clematis macropetala ‘Lagoon’ introduced in 1958 by George Jackman and Son, has been on the market 52 years. Wow! This is comparable to the career of BB King and just as blue, but “the thrill is not gone”.
We planted Clematis m. ‘Lagoon’ at the base of a mop-headed silver leaved Capulin Cherry, Prunus salicifolia. That “bad-hair-day” cherry’s branches bowed down and insisted on giving ‘Lagoon’ a ride. As early as April, this vigorous clematis beguiles nursery visitors with blue blossoms as it adorns the branches of its silvery companion. “What is that blue flowering tree out near the parking area?” we are asked. You won’t need a tree to enjoy this 6 to 10′ vine, as it would do equally well climbing a trellis or arbor.
Clematis macropetala ‘Lagoon?’ needs little pruning. If it does get too rambunctious where it is planted, it can be pruned back in late June or July, after it has finished flowering, since it blooms early on old wood. Clematis like a slightly alkaline soil, so scratching in a handful of dolomitic limestone will keep it happy if your soils tend to be acidic. It is very hardy, growing well in USDA hardiness zones 3-8.
Gardeners in northern climates have been disappointed by Hydrangea macrophylla in the past….lots of healthy foliage, but few or no blossoms. This recent introduction of Mophead Hydrangea truly blooms on both old and new wood, and is being marketed as ‘Forever and Ever Red Sensation’ ( Tra-la-la…those clever marketers read a lot of fairy tales).
What you really need to know is that this vigorous selection produces lots of blooms on new growth, making it a great candidate for colder zone 5 and 6 gardens. In hot climates the large trusses of blossoms will be in softer shades of rosy pink when grown in neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Colder temperatures will cause the flower color to deeper red shades. If your garden soil happens to be more acidic, ‘Red Sensation’ will change color and thus need a new name, as it will take on bluer tones. The flowers age to smoky violet. Stems and fall foliage color have a dark burgundy cast.
‘Red Sensation’ grow 2-3′ tall and 3-4’wide, and require full sun or partial shade. Hydrangea macrophylla appreciate a moist, rich and fertile soil. May we suggest combining ‘Red Sensation’ with the always attractive Periscaria ‘Golden Arrow’?
Perhaps you first noticed this primrose depicted in one of those classic 17th c. still life paintings, one of many plants in an opulent ensemble that one would never find blooming all at once in nature. Primula auricula in its purest form is native to the alpine regions of central Europe, growing in sharply drained soil on craggy slopes, enhanced by moist mountain air. The species often display cheerful yellow flowers that extend on 4-6″ stems and are hardy through zone 4.
British gardeners have made collecting and growing Primula auricula a springtime passion and, over the years, have hybridized and selected forms with larger flowers, sturdier stems, and unusual colors ranging from mustard, tan, yellow and green through red, purple and almost black, sometimes accented with white picotee edges. Often a powdering coating called “meal” dusts the flowers, leaves and stems. These “show hybrids” are best grown in pots rather than open ground, where their need for well drained soil that still remains adequately hydrated can more easily be met.