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Planning the Container Garden

By Nick Tomlin, on February 26, 2009

No more watering, no more sweating, time to relax. That usually lasts for a few weeks before you end up dreaming about next season's display. Hours are spent scouring catalogues, books, photos from around the world, googling endless plants and so on and so on.

Going from this... Going from this... this! this!

Last year was pretty much like a tropical jungle in the container garden.  I'm ready for a new look, and I think maybe I could show some restraint (or not!).  While I enjoyed last year's display, sometimes less is more. I had created over 80 containers in my area, and was spending over an hour and a half per day watering them all. This coming season I'd like to spend more time in other areas of the garden instead of holding a hose!  The challenge is to create interesting containers with great plants that require less watering and general care. 

Stipa 'Pony Tails' with Canna 'Tropicanna' Stipa 'Pony Tails' with Canna 'Tropicanna'.

Easier said than done!  Typically I start my design with general concepts and themes.  Most of the pots are composed right on the spot with no previous planning.  I enjoy the spontaneous creations that evolve from working quickly and being able to see the actual plants and the container together, and not from a catalog or internet photo. However, I do tend to plan the center of the container garden, as it tends to set the tone for the whole space. Last year's included a host of interesting plants including a large Papaya, Agaves, Sedums, Egyptian papyrus, elephant ears, and an interesting foliage plant called Cassia alata (which you see in the center of the second image).  So far, I've planned on using some boxwoods or other shrubs clipped into perfect spheres along with some interesting architectural plants that show a much different texture.  I am constantly looking at texture to make a visual impact in my containers.  


A very easy way to create that is to pair bold foliage with a very fine foliaged plant.  In the third image, the Stipa foliage drapes across the Canna, and you have created an exciting combination with just two plants.  Sometimes it's easier than it looks.  Another way to create some interest is to explore one color in the same container with several different plants.  For example, you could do an all white container, or one with chartreuse leaves.  Don't forget as well the variety of succulents that are available these days.  I guarantee that there will be lots of interesting Agaves, Aeoniums, Echiverias, etc. in my display this year.  These are the ultimate 'plant and walk away' containers.  These plants are truly low maintenance.  I think I watered most of my succulent containers maybe 4 times during the year, and I could have gotten away with less.  I'd like to leave you with some thoughts on spring containers.  Don't forget the veggies! [/caption] There aren't that many colorful plants we can play with in April with the dangers of frosts still lingering, but many cool season vegetables are great for that role.  Along with pansies, and snapdragons, we always include lettuces, mustards, cabbages, parsleys, and even some new bok chois.  They are great to look at and even better to eat!  So, in the meantime, keep reading plant books and all the latest plant catalogs that you've got and start dreaming of the coming season.

Red pansies, curly parsley, scallions, and swiss chardRed pansies, curly parsley, scallions, and swiss chard.


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