Category Archives: Container Ideas

The Impatiens Dilemma, or is it?

SunPatiens….It will give you color, and will take quite a bit of shade.

I’ll admit it. With so many other more interesting plants to choose from, I’ve never been a big fan of common Impatiens, unless the foliage had something interesting going on, and I do not mean the blight. You’ve no doubt heard about the blight affecting Busy Lizzies (Impatiens walleriana) and Balsam Impatiens (Impatiens Fusion series). Downy Mildew, introduced from  plants imported from Europe, has swept the US, and without constant use of a fungicide, most plants will succumb before summer’s end. The disease is air borne, so healthy plants purchased and planted in pristine soil can still get it. If you must have Impatiens (and it is true that not much else will produce so much flower power in the shade), New Guinea types, including the new Sunpatiens (Impatiens) seem to be resistant. We’re trying a few selections of the Sunpatiens (they also can stand shade). Can’t say I love them, but they may have their place.

My suggestion for bold color massing in shade: Coleus…especially varieties with yellow and gold coloring (the deep reds can get a little muddy looking in shade. And don’t forget about all the tropical foliage plants….yes they need heat, but there are so many options. And for containers, there’s so many fun hardy plant combinations to try: Hakonechloa, Heuchera, Hydrangea. Take a look at a few options.

Coleus ‘Big Blond’ with Cuphea

Tropical Foliage, Amazing Variety of Forms.

Colocasia ‘Elena’ for Drama!

Our featured Abutilon, Mini Spider Plant with Syngonium Combo

I fell for this Hydrangea, Hakonechloa Combo at Blithewold in RI.

There are tons of more options, if you don’t need waves of shocking red, orange and white. Have you any thoughts on interesting alternatives to Impatiens?

There’s still time to deck the pots with….

I was trying to ignore the holidays this year. A visit to the west coast for our son’s mid year college graduation filled our calendar in early December.  I had started to rethink the winter containers before I left, but didn’t get very far. Upon returning home there was a ton of unfinished business to attend to. We aren’t hosting a Christmas gig this year. No little children to dazzle and excite. A part of me said why do you want to give yourself more to do?

Then, last night, while driving home, passing house after house decked with holiday lights and showy front door entries, I really felt shamed pulling into our driveway. No lights to greet me, no glow of a Christmas tree inside.  Does anybody live here?  That was the message our place was saying. Not a good one.

Here’s what I got done so far this morning.

The before picture: Why not leave the Euphorbia?

The after picture: Cut Greens, Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood. Simple!

Detail: Red Twig and ‘Winter Flame’ Dogwood’ with Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’

Winterberry Pot: Red Twig Dogwood, Winterberry, Hinoki Cypress, Christmas Rose, and Variegated Mondo Grass

Detail: Helleborus ‘Jacob’ with Ophiopogon Pamela Harper and Winterberry

Finished the wreath for the front door. It’s not good lighting to take a photo right now, but maybe tonight, with a few Christmas lights!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Winter Solstice Greetings to all!

Sedum tetractinum

Here is a little plant that is versatile, super hardy and foolproof (as long as you grow it in sun and well drained soil). It hasn’t been in the US very long, but already has acquired the common names of  “Chinese Stonecrop”, as it hails from Asia,  and “Coral Reef” , (still not sure what the Coral Reef reference is). Sedum tetractinum grows only 1-2″ tall, and spreads modestly, rooting into the soil as it creeps along. It is especially dramatic spilling over edges: retaining walls, pottery, troughs, you name it.

Sedum tetractinum is also lovely enough to use in mixed succulent planters. Its rounded olive green leaves turn a lovely copper bronze shade in the autumn, and this  color change contrasts well with other shades of succulent foliage.  In the planter you see here it is paired with tender Sedum adophii and Euphorbia tirucalli, but it could easily accent hardy Sedum ‘Angelina and Sempervivum. Pale yellow flowers appear in summer, but the blossoms are not the highlight.  “Chinese Stonecrop” takes temperatures as cold as minus 30F (zones 4-9).

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September Report: Successful Containers

I have always thought that what makes great visual art is when an object or painting compels you to look at it again and again. I feel the same way about plants and gardens, and containers. Of course, plants are constantly changing, so plantings are ephemeral compositions. Perhaps that’s why we want to take in their beauty all the more. Here are some planted containers that have looked good all summer, and still do in mid September.

Large Succulent Bowl on a pedestal, perhaps more beautiful than ever.

Composed of odds and ends succulents left over from last season, this ensemble has married well.

Aeonium ‘Schwartkop’ was the highlight of this tall river pot.

Syngonium ‘Neon’, an easy and lovely shade foliage plant.

Begonia ‘Chocolate Pink’ with Pilea and Cissus discolor

Peachy Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’, with the adorable curly Spider Plant and a white Syngonium…great, easy pot for partial shade.

The Chocolate Mimosa Tree, Albizzia ‘Summer Chocolate’, makes a fast growing subject for container, adding height, texture, and dark coloring.

We did a posting of some planted containers in early July. A number of these containers sold, and we hear they still look smashing. As you can see, it’s mostly about foliage. What are your favorite container combinations from this season?

Thoughts on Winter Containers

Cut Greens and Yellow Twig Dogwood

It seems a little late to talk about winter containers but we’ve had such a mild end to autumn here in the northeast, we’ve only just begun to “replant” for the winter season. And you may note that I used “replant” in quotations.  This is because, after years of experimenting, we think many cold climate gardeners are really better off using cut evergreens and twigs over living plants for winter containers.

From a frugal viewpoint, using living plants seems like a wise investment at first. Indeed, a planted Boxwood, Juniper or Holly will carry on well through December and the first part of January in most winters. It’s mid winter conditions that are the problem. We often lack the benefit of consistent snow cover to blanket roots. Dessicating arctic winds are really cruel to evergreens whether planted in or above ground. Water cannot be taken up when the soil is frozen.

Winterberry, Red-Twig Dogwood, and Euphorbia

If you do have your heart set on using live plants, or you have protected spots or live in milder zones, consider using Dwarf Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars) or other hardy conifers such as Dwarf Spruce (Picea) and Arborvitae (Thuja), which tend to be hardy through zones 5, and even 4  or 3. We have had great luck with Dwarf Conifers in troughs, and stress we’re successful because we make sure the soil is sharply drained and have protection from wind. It also doesn’t hurt to use an anti-dessicant.

As far as colorful twigs and branches, thoughts go immediately to the Red and Yellow Twigged Dogwoods (Cornus stolonifera and sanguinea cvs.). These will winter over in pots, but cut material works as well if not better, since one large plant of Twigged Dogwood with many branches would need a rather large container to accomodate its root ball and would be an otherwise underwhelming subject the rest of the year.

Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brillantissima’ with cut greens

There are other options. Consider  planting deciduous plants that are hardy to a zone or two colder than the one you garden in. Since they are deciduous, they do not have to hydrate foliage in winter. This autumn we replanted a large pot using a native plant, Chokeberry a.ka. Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’  for height, fall color and fruit, underplanted with Plectranthus ciliatus and Ivy. For December’s display, we replaced the tender Plectranthus with cut greens and red twig Dogwood, while the Aronia’s dangling red fruit clusters continue to be showy. Our hope is that in early spring the Aronia will bear clusters of white flowers, providing a third season of interest. Since Aronia is hardy to zone 4, (we’re in 6) we expect theres a good chance for that!  (PS..3 years later the Aronia has not only thrived but has needed root pruning and trimming back!)

Other options for deciduous shrubs or small trees that might make good winter container subjects include Witchhazel (Hamamelis) which would provide blossoms in late February, then autumn foliage. Dwarf Columnar Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus Columnaris Nana’   makes a well behaved compact columnar subject that seems to tolerate growing in containers well. It’s too bad that one of our former favorites, Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’ was added to the banned in Massachusetts plant list. It is hardy into zone 3, has great form, texture and size, and for the record, (attention conservationists) we’ve had it on our property for 8 years, and have yet to come across a single seedling.

Have you experimented with multi-season interest plants in your containers? Which ones have worked out well?

Best Containers of 2011

As we approach the end of October, and yet no frost, we decided to take a few photos of container plantings which we are still pretty impressed with. We have set the standards high. The plants needed to be interesting and complimentary to each other, plus the planting had to be easy to care for and look as good, or better, at the end of the season as it did in June.  As you can see, it’s all about the foliage. Which container do you like the best?

Planted in February, Heuchera, Phormium and Pelargonium

Silver planter in June

Silver Planter in October

Trough with Assorted Tender and Hardy Succulents

Classic Cast Stone Bowl with Succulents

Planting Containers for Late Summer into Autumn

Late Summer Planter

As the end of August approaches, summer containers may be in need of renewal. Save the fall mums and pumpkins for October and November. There are dozens of cool season container plants, including small shrubs, perennials as well as “fall annuals” that will put on a show for the next 6-8 weeks, at least.

A few tips about late season plantings: If your original planting included strong foliage plants that are still looking fine, leave them and pull out the sad looking offenders. Add some fresh soil in the pockets. Select some new plant material to replenish the bare spots. If starting a new combination, consider this. Plant growth is slowing down, due to fewer hours of daylight, so plant more densely than you would in early summer. Give a feeding or 2 of Dynagro, or other liquid fertilizer.

Here’s an example of great late season ensemble. This combination has been a favorite for years, and works well in an 18-20″ pot. For height we?ve used Purple Fountain Grass Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, and added a pair of Cuphea ‘David Verity’, a hummingbird magnet, with its tubular orange flowers and handsome foliage that takes on burgundy tones in cool temperatures. A robust Heuchera ‘Caramel’ adds weight, a dark leaved ornamental pepper adds fun, and ‘Dreamsicle’ Calibrachoa cascades over the pots for dramatic effect.

Plectranthus ciliatus

You might pass by this plant and think, hmm…that’s an interesting Coleus with its old gold/khaki colored leaves. Turn the leaf over and note the purple coloring. It is in fact a member of the Labiatae (mint) family which of course means it related to Coleus (Solenostemon). Its claim to fame in our book, besides its attractive foliage, is the especially striking flower display presented in late summer and early fall.

Plectranthus ciliatus is native to forested areas of southern Africa, is hardy to about 35 degrees F and can tolerate quite a bit of shade. It can grow 2′ tall, but it has lax stems that will root along if planted in open ground. We suggest that you should offer it at least a few of hours of sun, since the sunlight will induce an abundance of spires of large lavender pink flowers on the decumbent stems in late September through October.

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Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’

Purple Mimosa TreePerhaps the most asked about plant in our garden right now is this purple leaved silk tree or mimosa, with it’s stunning chocolate purple fernlike foliage. The followup question is often, “but is it hardy” to which we answer, “yes, but…”. (Recommended hardiness zones are zones  (6b) 7-10, and our garden is definitely zone 6a.)

This is the scoop based on our experience. Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ is a fast growing ornamental tree or large shrub, introduced to the US market roughly 10 years ago. True, it is less hardy than the more common green leaved forms. In 2005, our first attempt to establish this tree failed. We didn’t site it well.  We planted ‘Summer Chocolate’ in a spot where we thought it would look outstanding, but alas, it was the lowest spot on our property and the soil remains too wet there over the winter.  Initially we were resigned to growing it as a container subject, but were reminded by the old adage: if a plant doesn’t grow well in one spot, try another, and then another.

Good drainage usually is key in wintering over borderline hardy plants. We planted the next specimen in well drained soil in front of a south facing stone wall, and are now enjoying this beauty for the 3rd year in a row. It did get some die back after the winter of 2009-2010, but broke growth along the lower trunk and quickly grew to 6′ that year. We won’t expect it to reach full height or width, and don’t really care.  Tropical appearing chocolate colored foliage with a shrublike habit suits us just fine.

Those of you in milder winter areas (zones 7-10) can expect this tree to reach 20′ in stature and spread, with silky pink puffs of flowers in summer.  Gardeners in zones colder than 6 might consider growing ‘Summer Chocolate’ as a stunning container specimen. The plant, pot and all, can easily be moved into an unheated garage or other protected spot once it goes dormant in late autumn.

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