Container Gardening Opportunities

By Maggie Oster

Silver foliage and a true cascading habit make easy-to-grow  dichondra perfect for mixed containers or as a focal point planter.

One of my favorite sayings is from the comic-strip character Pogo when he's describing being faced with insurmountable opportunities. Certainly, one could argue that sums up all of gardening, but it definitely is applicable when considering growing annuals in containers. The possibilities for different combinations truly is infinite. But what fun to have a clean slate every year, to let your mood and whim lead you wherever they might.

No longer are we limited to the old standbys of petunias for the sun and impatiens for the shade. (Although both of those are still among the best annual garden plants.) Now names like angelonia, bacopa, and plectranthus are becoming commonplace.

Of course, any of these annuals also can be planted directly into the garden, but there's something about large pots, overflowing with color and texture, that really creates a focal point in the garden. With container plantings, it takes fewer plants to have impact. Plus, you can move them around the yard, combining planters in various ways, incorporating them with garden art or at different heights.

The keys to luxurious planters are to plant closely -- using more plants per container than seems reasonable -- then water and fertilize regularly so the plants continue to grow and thrive all summer.

Cool Colors

Tall, striking 'Purple Majesty' ornamental millet calls out to be combined with lilac or purple petunias. Pots of 'Purple Knight' alternanthera, 'Purple Lady' iresine, Persian shield plant, or the black-leaved colocasia would be perfect companions.

Pinks, lavender, and rose shades are classic, especially if you add some of the silver-foliage plants for delicate contrast. Petunias, geraniums, nemesias, angelonias, dianthus, nicotiana, pentas, bacopas, snapdragons, verbena, begonias, and impatiens all have varieties with flowers in the pink-to-lavender spectrum.

Whatever colors are your preference, take the time to find stunning combinations that please you.

Photo courtesy Simply Beautiful/Ball Horticultural company

Winning Combinations

So what are some plant combinations to consider this year? For awhile now, my own preferences have been for somewhat monochromatic color schemes. There's a number of silver foliage plants, including dusty millers, helichrysums, and plectranthus, and I'm looking forward to creating a planter entirely of these. I might include some white-flowered plants, like white angelonia or snapdragon, for height. Setting several planters of various combinations of silver and white near a patio or deck will give pleasure to evening gatherings, especially with moon vine growing on a trellis nearby, too.

Warm Colors

Although yellows and oranges aren't usually my favorite colors, some of these colors snared me this year. I first found a coleus with yellow and terra cotta-colored leaves, then other plants jumped into my shopping cart, including a yellow-green ornamental sweet potato, a golden helichrysum, a yellow lantana, and a yellow-and-peach dahlia.

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