They're showstoppers: hayracks overflowing with chartreuse sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Marguerite'), lush Mandevilla, and velvety rich million bells (Calibrachoa); washtubs of hibiscus with saucer-sized flame and apricot flowers; celadon pots sprouting burgundy-speared Phormium, silver-green Helichrysum, and claret-colored petunias. Container gardens can punctuate a balcony, grace a kitchen door, and enhance an uninspired entrance with dramatic color and bloom.
"Container gardens brighten up any space, shady or sunny," says landscapedesigner, Joanne Abukurah, owner of Jalands Landscape Design in Arlington, Va. "They can bring more plants to your house, especially if you have a smallgarden. And they're low maintenance."
Watering, feeding and weeding a container is a snap. In addition, it's easy and relatively cheap to change the container garden's look by replacing tired or spent plants - or even starting over with new plants season byseason. And, you can shift the containers themselves - especially if large potssit on wheeled bases - to add ambience to a party, to rearrange a space, ordress up an otherwise bleak spot.
"Containers make it possible to grow [plants] anywhere," says Leigh Barnes, owner of Companion Plantings, a container design and maintenance firm in Towson.
Container gardens can even bring bloom to a sidewalk, a driveway or a barren concrete pad. Planted with climbers like sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora), which has stunning blue flowers, clematis, passionflower (Passiflora), or black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata), among others, they can create a screen or blanket an ugly wall provided they have something to climb on.
"Structures make it work," says Barnes, who stays on the lookout for new and interesting things - towers, ladders, trellises, even deer fencing - forscrambling vines.
Container gardens also offer great scope for individual creativity.
"Containers are a way to experiment with color that you may not be daring enough to do in your beds," says Jonathan Wright, horticulturist at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pa. "You're not as committed in pots."
Wright and horticulturist Dan Benarcik create the fabulous container gardens that adorn Chanticleer's garden 'rooms', entryways, porches, and even restrooms.
In spring, pots are crammed with colorful lettuces, parsley, herbs, and semi-hardy succulents as well as cut branches of things like yellow and red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) and willow (Salix).
"You can put anything in a pot," says Benarcik. "Don't feel restricted."
Later, pots are replanted with huge agaves, Proteas - which look like something out of Little Shop of Horrors - and other exotics as well as more familiar tropicals, annuals, and perennials. Each pot can hold as many as 10 plants, a deliberately dramatic crowding.
"Too much is not nearly enough," Benarcik laughs. "We do over-the-tophorticulture here."
Though the pair use many of the same materials, each has his own particular slant - Wright's is detail and color; Benarcik's is line and overall impact - which produces container gardens with distinctly different personalities. Abukurah recommends playing with color, texture, and shape of plants for a personal combination.
"It's all in what your eye likes," says Abukurah.
Making a container garden
Start with the container.
"It can be anything that can hold soil and drain," says Wright. "Drainage is critical. Drill a hole if you need to."
Abukurah likes the lightweight faux cement pots, which are easy to shift and retain moisture better than terra cotta. If the container is flamboyant, use a simpler collection of plants or even a single large plant. A simple container begs for a flashy statement.
Next choose a good potting soil. Many now include fertilizer and moistureretentive beads, which help to prevent drying out between (usually daily)waterings. Some potting soils have restrictions for edibles, so be sure to readthe package carefully.
Then choose the plants.
"We pack them with Proven Winners [annuals] and fertilize every week so there is a lush, overflowing display all summer," says Pat Turner of Turners Unlimited in Galena, who designs and maintains container gardens.
"I mix tropicals with annuals," says Abukurah, "Million bells, lantana and scaevola. For shade I like caladiums with impatiens and asparagus fern. For sun I like plumbago, which is powder blue all summer, and hibiscus, which flowers profusely all summer and the flowers are so bright. And tree hibiscus are great for larger pots."
"Make sure all the plants in a container want either sun or shade," warnsTurner. A mix of sun and shade lovers in the same pot is a recipe for failure.
Seasons Past Farm and Nursery
825 White Hall Road
Littlestown, PA 17340
Edrich Farms Nursery, Inc.
9700 Old Court Rd.
Windsor Mill, MD 21244
Blooming Hill Farm Greenhouse
18700 Frederick Road
Parkton, MD 21120
13001 Galena Road
Galena, MD 21635
Plant Delights Nursery
9241 Saul's Road
Raleigh, NC 27603