TWO CLASS SESSIONS FULL OF YOU visited one recent May to talk about container gardening, but for those who didn’t take the workshop in person, a recap seemed in order since it’s that time: everything into the pots!
top container tips
THOSE ARE MY WHEELBARROWS of some possible pot subjects, along with some full and empty pots, some tuteurs (metal towers), houseplants just dragged out, and more. It’s what one reader and attendee at the workshop calls the “Dance of a Thousand Plants” right now…wheeling or carrying things you bought or had around, looking for where they go, and scurrying to get them under cover if a cold night interrupts the planning. Some thoughts:
- What goes in pots? Anything, from a hosta to a conifer to you name it.
- Where do I shop? Yes, the garden center annual bedding-plant aisles, but also the houseplant and tree and shrub and vegetable and herb departments, plus “shopping” sprees in unlikely places (the supermarket, big-box stores, my driveway gravel or garden beds, where I may find volunteer seedlings or divisions, like a piece of colorful-leaves Heuchera or some creeping Sedum ‘Angelina,’ for example, to plug into my pots as filler).
- My houseplants, especially old, big containers of fancy-leaf begonias like these, make a great potted statement in the filtered light beneath deciduous trees. Bromeliads are another pot-garden favorite of mine (and an easy houseplant over many years). I just had fun with some of them, creating a sort of centerpiece/terra cotta bowlful.
- Bulbs, for instance—they can go in pots, too, and the best ones (like Eucomis bicolor, the pineapple lily (top photo), are easy to overwinter dry and dormant; so are tuberous begonias, such as Begonia boliviensis ‘Bonfire’).
- Speaking of “investment plants,” ones you can stash year to year in the house or cellar or garage then cycle into the garden later, my biggest ones are a group of Japanese maples. (How I overwinter all these, plus non-hardy tropicals, is covered here if you want to plan ahead as you shop this spring.)
- It all starts with the potting soil—so what is good mix? I prefer a bark-based mix to largely peat-based ones, meaning heavier on the ground bark than peat. Ask at your local nursery about such mixes. Besides using less peat, which is a non-renewable resource, bark-based mixes stand up to large plants better, hold moisture a bit longer, and just have a better texture to my mind. Never put garden soil in pots; too heavy and not well-draining enough.
- I try not to waste potting soil when I use big containers, adding only what the particular kind of plant really needs. A shrub might need the whole thing filled…but not violas in my early spring pots! A trick for saving on soil.
- Pots don’t have to contain soil at all—my favorites might be my two potted water gardens, in fact. How to make one yourself.
- What about a color palette? Well, you know I like orange (though I’m not growing the petunia in this slideshow again this year; it wasn’t quite durable enough, and took too long between bloom cycles, looking messy much of the time).
- Foliage is often the “glue” in plantings, and Coleus ‘Spitfire’ is great at connecting things (now if I can only find it at a local garden center this year…). So are a recently acquired group of crotons (variegated, splashy houseplants in the genus Codiaeum) I’m having fun with. Sometimes I plan a whole design around the colors in a single leaf.
- You can also browse the archive of container-garden ideas here on the website. (That’s our workshop “classroom” below as it looked before the session. Maybe join us next time!)