Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
April, 2005
Regional Report

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Schizanthus, aptly named "poor man's orchid," prefers the cooler days of early summer.

Containers Showcase Ephemeral Bloomers

From the first forsythia blossom to the last fall aster, our gardens host a parade of performers, each one stealing the show but for a short time. We appreciate the long-awaited flowers of lilacs, crab apples, flowering cherries, and azaleas perhaps even more because they are so fleeting. So why do we expect a container that we plant in spring to look drop-dead gorgeous all summer long?

Granted, there are many fine annuals that bloom all summer in pots, but containers also are perfect for displaying flowers that are more short-lived. You can keep your favorites close by when they are at their peak; then when they fade, you can replace them with the next stars. You can even enjoy a succession of blooms in large planters that are too heavy to move around.

Early Beauties
I cheer at the first sight of pansies at the garden centers for I love all the colors, and it means spring has finally arrived. I give some their own containers and tuck some in with other plants. When they lose their zip in midsummer, I just pull them out or move them into a shadier, more out-of-the-way spot for a late-summer revival. Shade during the hottest part of the day and lots of fertilizer will keep them blooming longer.

Annual stocks (Matthiola incana) and sweet peas are wonderfully fragrant, early to midsummer bloomers that are easily started from seed during March or April. They both bloom in shades of pink, purple, white, and variations in between, so they make good companions. They like cool weather, petering out as the summer progresses, although the dwarf varieties of stocks have more tolerance for heat. If you sow them in planters that you can move easily, you can prolong the blooming by moving them out of mid-afternoon sun.

Schizanthus, or poor man's orchid (Schizanthus pinnatus), is another specialty annual that comes in a range of blues and pinks, all with a colorful "tongue" in the center of the flower. I've always grown it from seed but you may find plants at a garden center. It is at its prime in early summer. While the 18-inch-tall flowers lack fragrance, they are stunning.

Mid-Season Stars
Many summer-blooming bulbs make dramatic displays in containers, and you'll get flowers sooner if you start them in pots in March or April and grow them indoors until the weather warms. Dwarf cannas, dahlias, Oriental and Asiatic lilies, crocosmias, and acidantheras (Gladiolus callianthus) are just some of the choices. No need to relegate them to the back border garden. Imagine two planters of fragrant Oriental lilies gracing either side of your front steps!

By using containers, you also can keep some non-hardy perennials from year to year. On a garden tour last summer I saw large pots of agapanthus in bloom. The owners move them into a shed during the winter and back out in spring. I've been envisioning those tall, showy heads of blue flowers on my patio ever since.

The Final Act
Instead of fall mums, try asters, goldenrod (such as the short-ish 'Fireworks'), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Sedum 'Autumn Joy', and echinacea in containers for late-season color. You can pop the plants in the ground and cut them back when they have finished in late fall, or move the containers into a protected location for winter.

By this time of year pansies are showing their faces at garden centers again, so use them to replace any flowers that are past peak.

Stationary Planters
If you have a planter that's too big to move, keep individual plants in small pots and bury them -- pots and all -- in the larger planter. Then top with some mulch to cover the pots. This way, you can cycle in whatever is in peak bloom so your planter always looks floriferous.

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