Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Container Crunch Time

Designing containers is one of my favorite garden activities.  Containers are the backbone of many of my garden areas and they are what carries the interest well into the fall.  Although it's not polite to count, I probably have about 80 containers of varying sizes located throughout the garden.  More would be nice but 80 seems to be a number I can comfortably maintain and still enjoy a life beyond gardening.  Well...sorta, kinda.

Plants in containers spruce up my side entryway in 2012

Containers definitely add a layer of complexity to the spring and fall workload.  One of the most time consuming tasks for me is sourcing and shopping for the plants.  Unfortunately there is no one stop shop in my area for annuals, tropicals and tender perennials.  For the past couple of weeks I have been bringing them home a tray here and there as I visit various nurseries.  By now "inventory" is piling up and the shopping season is still in full swing.

Part of my container plant staging area

Despite my shortcomings with house plants, I do manage to winter over a few things under lights, in a sunny window or dormant in the basement.  Success in this department always brings me great joy.  Not only do I save a bit of cash, I'm rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and two year old plants that make nice specimens.

A few of my overwintering successes-Brugmansia, Colocasia, Breynia, Geraniums, Abutilon (not the basil)

Before any planting can happen, the containers that don't get left outside all year need to be moved out of winter storage from my garage and shed.  Since many of them are too large for me to handle alone, I modified the strap on an appliance dolly.  No more crushed fingers and sore backs-at least not from moving containers.

Once the pots are in place, they need to be cleaned out.  Contrary to what you may have read, potting soil can be reused.  I remove all the prior year debris, loosen up what's left with a three pronged digger then sift through with my fingers.  Then I add new potting mix as necessary.

In over ten years of fairly extensive container gardening I've never experienced any problems with disease or pests when reusing soil in my containers.  As it is, I go though 10-15 cubic feet of potting soil every season.  Even though I fill the bottom quarter or third of all my large pots with crushed plastic water bottles, replacing all the soil every year would make what is already an expensive endeavor even more so.

Next comes the fun part-design.  After the pots are in place I look at the orientation.  My garden runs from south to north so for the most part, I have to site taller plants towards the north side of the pot unless I am trying to deliberately create some shade.  Sometimes decisions need to be made.  For instance, in this pot I plan to use Pennisetum 'Vertigo' as the focal point.  'Vertigo' will get quite tall and will shade out companion plants depending on how I orient it in the pot.

In a situation like this where the primary view can be from a number of locations, I have to decide which one to choose.  From this angle where I'm viewing from northeast to southwest the grass would need to be on the southwest side and companion plants will have to be of a variety that does well in part shade.

From this angle, the view would be from south to north so the grass would be fine where it's planted now.  But in order to effectively see the lower companions, I would have to make sure only low growers are planted in the garden around it.

By now even Nick is thinking I should just plant it already  Agonizing over where and what to plant- it's what I do.

When choosing plant combinations for my container designs, I more or less follow the "thrillers, fillers and spillers" design concept as outlined in the article by Steve Silk for Fine Gardening magazine a number of years ago.  Once the pots are in place and I've agonized sufficiently over orientation, it's time to choose the "thrillers".

For the most part I create all new combinations every year but in a few pots like this container in front of my breakfast room window, although the companion plants change, I always use a Colocasia 'Illustris' for a thriller.

By the time I realized I rotted my overwintered Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' last year I was unable to find another one.  Until recently I wasn't having any luck this year either.  Then on Sunday I took a ride to Walker Farm and scored this nice size plant.

Ensetes are relatively easy to overwinter dormant in a cool, dark corner of your basement.  Usually I can get away with it for at least one winter before the plant becomes too large for me to wrestle indoors.

Before actually planting anything, I stage the plants and continue to sub various choices in and out until I find combination that pleases me.  In general I use one third flowering plants to two thirds foliage.  Occasionally I leave the plants staged for a day or two before making the final decision so I don't miss any opportunities to agonize over anything.  Just for the record, I did end up planting this exactly as seen here.

Last year I was not happy at all with the way this pot turned out.  I planted it towards the end when I didn't have much left in the way of plants and it never came together.  Since it's the largest container on the patio, I'm not going to make that mistake again.  A large Acalpha I found at Howard's is the inspiration and makes a fine thriller.  Although it's still staged, I may permanently place the plants tonight.

Over the next week or so I hope to be able to get most of the containers designed and planted.  I've yet to haunt two of my favorite nurseries for unusual annuals, The Farmer's Daughter in South Kingstown, RI and Oliver's Nursery in Fairfield, CT.  Farmer's Daughter is on the calendar for this coming weekend.  Since that also means lunch at Matunuck Oyster Bar I am beyond ecstatic.

So tell me, do you use containers in your garden?  What are some of your favorite plants to grow in them?


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bloom Day-May 2013

Euphorbia polychroma and Daphne x transatlantica 'Jim's Pride', live happily dry part shade on my wall garden.

Welcome to May Garden Bloggers Bloom Day at Idyll Haven, a month of too many flowers and not enough time to smell them.  Crunch time has arrived.  Plant buying trips are in full swing.  Trays of annuals and perennials are stacking up on my patio.  I have alot of planting to do.  Last week we finally got a few drops of rain which coaxed a bumper crop of weeds out of the ground.  Later this week I'll order my first truckload of mulch.

A frost warning Monday night sent me scrambling to stash all the tender plants in the garage.  Thankfully it turned out to be a false alarm so I schlepped them all back out last night.  Slowly but surely the containers are finding their way out of storage.  Did I mention that I have alot of planting to do?

For the past couple of days I've been dashing in and out of the house with the camera before and after work in an attempt to capture the essence of mid May around here for Bloom Day.  Since I now force myself to use the camera on manual settings, the learning curve has gummed up the works somewhat.  Despite the challenges though, I think I managed to get a few decent shots.

Also on the wall garden, some gold leaf Iberis sempervirens, Phlox subulata, Hyacinthoides hispanica a newly planted Dianthus x 'Brigadier'.

An unknown cultivar of pass along Iris germanica.
Continuing to the shady end of the wall, Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' which appears to be duking it out with Perilla.  Hardly anything I plant grows well in the dry, part shade on top of the wall so I tend to let aggressive ground covers and re seeders have their way.  The Columbines below are also members of that gang of hoodlums.
A few years ago in the fall, when I converted my heating system to natural gas, a backhoe came in trashed my front shade garden.  The following spring I rebuilt it with plants I was able to scavenge from other parts of the garden.  Designed with foliage, it looks good all season.  The biggest floral explosion happens in the spring.
Until I started taking pictures for Bloom Day, I didn't realize how many of these Spanish bluebells I had tucked all over the place.
Also in the front garden, Pieris japonica 'Cavatine' and an unknown Pulmonaria with what I believe is Hosta 'Fragrant Bouquet' and the foliage of Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee'.  Pulmonaria is another plant that reseeds itself in spots I would never think to plant it.
Another 'Cavatine', a much later bloomer than 'Valley Valentine' which made it into my April bloom day lineup but is has been finished for a couple of weeks.
Despite the bad rap it can get from it's spreading tendency, I like Ajuga.
In fact, I encourage it to spread into the lawn.  Last week, I finally had to break down and mow the front lawn but I used the hand trimmer around the ajuga so not to destroy the fabulous flower display.
Creeping phlox is starting to fade.  And despite being run over multiple times by people who don't know how to back out of driveways, the Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald and Gold' powers on.
Dicentra eximia is another reseeding plant that shows up in the best places.  The purple black foliage of Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford' provides the perfect backdrop.
Another reseeded D. eximia with variegated lily of the valley, and some Carex.
A sea of white Galium odoratum carpets the feet of  Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'.  In the upper right corner Azalea 'Delaware Valley White' is just beginning to bloom.
On the other side of the Azalea, more Galium mingles with Primula, Hosta and the fading flowers of a Hellebore.
Although I find variegated Solomon Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum') useful in shade gardens, I was surprised to learn it was awarded Perennial Plant of the Year for 2013.
Chrysogonum virginianum is a tough customer.  Here is it actually spreading under a sugar maple in my horribly dry garden out by the street.
Enkianthus campanulatus and Rhododendron 'Capistrano'

Rhododendron yakushimanum 'Ken Janek'
I've lost track of the cultivar name of this yaku rhodie but I'm guessing it's 'Crete'.
One of my favorite shrubs Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Summer Snowflake' mixes well with the foliage of Acer palmatum 'Orangeola'.  I just moved the maple to this spot a month or so ago because I couldn't find anywhere else to plant it.  At the time I wasn't considering it as a companion plant for the Viburnum but it certainly looks like it will work.
Unfortunately this Daphne x transatlantica 'Summer Ice' is in decline.  I plan to cut it way back after this first flush and see if I can get it to grow more compact.  However, I will always have at least one of these growing somewhere because they bloom from now til past frost.
Recent rain took out many of the flowers of Magnolia x 'Sunspire' but buds are still opening so a few stragglers remain.
Daffodils are long gone and I haven't planted tulips in many years.  Last year I removed some small trees and cleaned up this garden apparently to the liking of this patch of Spring Green Tulips.  Acer palmatum 'Aka Shigitsu sawa' is one of my favorite Japanese maples for spring foliage.
Tulips, Allium and grape hyacinth are coming up in the front garden where I am restoring some of the lawn.  Going forward this will make spring mowing tricky.  Between these and the ajuga, I may end up hand trimming the whole lawn.
Iberis sempervirens skirting a variegated Yucca.
Here's an odd duck that I picked up at Broken Arrow this spring-Peucedanum ostruthium 'Daphnis'.  Try saying that one three times fast.  Based on the cultural recommendation, I probably have it growing in too much sun but time will tell.
Deutzia gracilis 'Chardonnay Pearls' just beginning to bloom.  Have a mentioned that Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) is one of my favorite foliage plants?
Persicaria bistorta is one of those take it or leave it plants for me.  Right now it lives due to my laziness.  If something came along that I really wanted to grow and couldn't find the space anywhere else, I would have no problem removing it.
Another plant I find is happier when allowed to reseed where it prefers to grow is Centaurea montana.  Here it has chosen to join a variegated Yucca, Microbiota decussata and Lychnis coronaria 'Alba' in the curb garden, a somewhat inhospitable environment.
The earliest of all daylilies to bloom, Hemerocallis flava, another filler plant in a spot I don't need for anything else.
This combination of Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' and Rhododendron yakushimanum 'Ken Janek' is absolutely spectacular right now.  However, I must have taken fifty photos of it for this post and cannot capture what my eye sees.
My apologies for running so long with this post.  Considering I don't plant for spring interest does not bode well for upcoming Bloom Days.  I want to thank Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this monthly event.
Happy Spring!