Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
May, 2004
Regional Report

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Acalphya, pansies, and golden hakone grass bring out the best in each other.

Why Contain Yourself?

Spring has always brought out the fickle side of me. In my (much) younger days, it was the perfect time to get a new boyfriend. Later, it was the perfect time to get a new job. Then it was the perfect time to have a child (although things didn't work according to plan and I had two fall babies). Now, I'm content to celebrate springtime by ... making new gardens!

Planting in containers gives me the most freedom to change plants and groupings from year to year. Since I can't freely move trees and shrubs around from place to place, I play with perennials and annuals in pots. Garden centers abound with bedding plants suitable for container gardens, but I also like to find more unusual choices. Some tropical plants, perennials, and even vegetables have wonderful foliage or flowers that can make an impact by themselves or beautifully complement other plants.

This year I've been attracted to acalyphas with dark copper foliage (some edged in pink) that can be set off by your choice of pink, peach, orange, or yellow flowers. You may be familiar with one member of the family, Acalypha hispida, the chenille plant, which has long, pendulous, fuzzy flowers that look like red caterpillars. This is a standout all by itself.

Short varieties of cannas can be grown in large containers, and for a real dynamic duo, combine them with a dwarf elephant ear (Colocasia), which has heart-shaped leaves in solid green, or black with green veins, or solid black. If you could find a pot with a touch of black and green, the effect would be very striking!

There are so many new coralbell varieties (Heuchera) with lovely foliage that you could find one to complement almost any flower color. I especially like 'Silver Scrolls' for its silvery color that looks great with white impatiens or blue petunias; and 'Amber Waves' for its amber-gold leaves that are lovely with dark red coleus and any rose-colored flowers.

Sedums are another favorite, and I grow several, such as hens and chicks, in low troughs and ceramic pots on my front steps for the summer. Many other perennials can be grown in containers, including some that may not be showy all summer but are worthy of being featured when in bloom. Bring these onto the porch or deck or patio during their peak, and then move them into a less-prominent spot for the remainder of the summer.

I also love using ornamental grasses in containers. Some of them demand to be the only inhabitant of a pot, but others, such as the perennial golden hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra aureola), are slow growing and drape nicely over an edge.

My container perennials spend the winter in my garden shed, and, come spring, they are raring to go.

Vegetables and Herbs
I like purple basil for its ornamental value as a companion to pink verbena and oregano 'Kent Beauty', which has pink flowers inside purple bracts that cascade over the sides of a container. 'Bright Lights' chard is colorful enough to deserve a container, and 'Tricolor' sage always makes an attractive filler plant.

Try an ornamental pepper variety, such as 'Holiday Flame' or 'Little Elf', which produce small fruits in different colors, combined with a colorful lettuce, such as 'Red Sails'. Add some bronze fennel for its dark, fern-like foliage.

Where to Start
Sometimes container groupings just seem to find themselves once I spread out my summer plant choices. Other times, I may find one plant that I just can't be without and then I take it with me (or at least keep it in mind) when I visit nurseries to find good companions. Rip pages out of your gardening magazines that have plant combinations or color schemes you like, and take the pictures with you when you shop.

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