week 13: a season of container-gardening improvs
SOMETIMES this gardening stuff all goes just slightly off, and you’re dancing, but you can’t catch the beat. I’ve felt like this just-slipped-by spring was a rumba but I’ve been doing the (uh-oh!) polka, especially around the matter of container gardening.
My normal container plan is this: pansies and violas in big low bowls for 6 or so weeks, from early April through Memorial Day or so. (That’s an example from a past year, below; the bigger of two bowls in the foreground, of which I have several, is 36 inches in diameter.) Then I compost the pansies and replace them with warm-season stuff, true annuals or tropical things, for the duration.
Sometimes the raccoons (or skunks, or both) have other plants for my pansies and violas, as below in another past year. This year it basically snowed through pansy season here, so I never dared buy any—my first year in decades going viola-less. Just before my May 5 Open Day I panicked and thought: Get something for those empty bowls!
On an impulse I grabbed a flat of quart perennials of an unknown-to-me variegated Euphorbia, E. x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow,’ and some spiky Phormium to use as centerpieces. Below, left to right, the plants the day I stuffed them in the pot around May 1, and today. (Again: remember the 3-foot-wide scale of this pot.)
I intended to move the euphorbias into permanent places in the garden by now (they are hardy to Zone 5B, my zone, if provided very good drainage especially in winter). But guess what? They still look good enough, and I have no Plan B plants on hand, so I haven’t. Now it’s sort of a dare to see how long they will hold.
My friend Adam Wheeler of Broken Arrow Nursery says I can even cut back the flowers (actually brachts) and they will push up fresh ones, and meantime the variegated foliage beneath, a blend of yellow and green and pink, will do service as a place-holder. Important note: Some people are allergic to the latex sap of euphorbias; wear gloves, and never touch them without washing carefully afterward, and never touch your eyes or face when working around them.
Idea: Had I planned it, and had my wits about me, I’d have grabbed a few pots of some complementary groundcover (a sedum like ‘Angelina,’ maybe, or a wine-colored Alternanthera, or even just golden Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), to cover the soil surface and spill over the edges. But again: I was doing the polka, out of synch to the music. Oops!
For elsewhere during the empty-pot emergency, I invested in a few young Japanese maples (above left and right) and a variegated red-twig dogwood or two with a nice mounded shape called Cornus sericea ‘Bailhailo’ (commonly sold as Ivory Halo, center of above photo collage).
The young trees and shrubs will spend winter in my unheated barn, out of the wind and ice, like my older, bigger Japanese maples do (remember)? They’ll move up to gradually bigger pots over the next few years (or go in the ground), with a little root-pruning each time they move to say “stay smallish” to them, like bonsai growers tell their mniatures. The dogwood would be fine outside here if the pot was weatherproof and big enough to insulate its roots well. I have some woody plants that have been in pots like this for as long as 10 years–a good investment compared to throwaway annuals, right?
Among these various improvisations, the houseplants get the blue ribbon for service and valor. Despite being stuck in the hot, dry house with the furnace running nearly to June—weeks longer than typical—they are valiantly rebounding and form a nice picture outside the kitchen door, beside the two big container water gardens in clay troughs (photo, top of page). The trough gardens work like this—the easiest, most reliable container gardens of all–and I’m grateful to them for making at least one corner of the place seem in tune.
Any pot improvs, successes or failure to report? (And what tune do you find yourself dancing to as we welcome summer?)