Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
April, 2009
Regional Report

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Foliage with unusual color, interesting texture, and bold form provide punch for this container display.

Hip, New Containers Focus on Foliage

In his book, Making More Plants, Ken Druse says, "I was born in the spring and never got over it." I understand his sentiment. With a mid-April birthday that coincides with the Middle South's average last frost date, it's impossible (even at 40+) to lament the passing of time. Spring, when all things are fresh and new in the garden, never fails to enthrall and encourage.

To celebrate, I devote a day to planting garden containers for the coming months, from pots to hanging baskets and window boxes. It's a soothing and happy ritual, eagerly awaited and planned for.

Container gardening, an art form that nurtures creativity as well as a passion for plants, is an idea that won't go away. Each year it becomes more fabulous and fun, with the industry making bigger and better pots and design gurus churning out new plant combinations to match.

Go to any garden center and you're sure to notice the current rage for brightly-hued, glazed pots, sold in a myriad of shapes and sizes. Recently I succumbed to the fad, throwing caution (or should I say budget?) to the wind, purchasing three of the large vessels to group as a focal point at the end of a walkway. All are red-brown, a color that plays nicely with the chartreuse foliage I adore.

Unlike the flower-packed pots of yesteryear, the newest and hippest plant combinations call for a focus on foliage, rather than blooms. This suites me fine, as I've always enjoyed building combinations around leaves with unusual color, interesting texture, or bold form, instead of fickle, short-lived flowers.

I can already picture the tallest container accented with a stand of black bamboo, or perhaps a red-leaved banana, set off by chartreuse creeping Jenny.

Another popular container style, the humble stone trough, or its look-alike, the hypertufa container, is especially beautiful when filled with succulents, miniature conifers, or rock garden plants. Here, too, it is the sculptural form and varied colors of foliage that create interest.

In general, low-slung pots and troughs are not suited to varied plant forms. Save tall thrillers, round fillers, and cascading spillers for more conventional displays.

Whatever types of container gardens you plan for the upcoming season, remember the keys to success are good drainage, superior potting soil, plants that share similar light and moisture requirements, harmonizing or contrasting colors in both flowers and foliage, and diligent attention to water and nutrient availability.

Here are additional tips to insure favorable results:

-- If you love the look of terra cotta but worry about frequent watering, paint the inside of the pot to improve water retention.

-- Place a coffee filter or several layers of newspaper over the container's drainage hole to prevent soil from washing away.

-- Utilize tall plants to provide shade for smaller plants that require less sun.

-- Incorporate one plant with variegated foliage and another with foliage that is not green. This technique works best when the variegated and non-green colors echoes other hues. For example, combine a plant with cream variegation with yellow blooms, or juxtapose burgundy foliage with pink or purple flowers.

-- When selecting foliage and flowers, remember hot colors such as red, orange, and yellow grab the eye and can be seen from a distance. Cool colors like blue and purple recede and are best viewed close-up.

-- White does not soften other colors or make them "mix." Use grey or silver foliage plants for this purpose.

-- The plant with the greatest impact in a standing container (viewed from above) is the tall plant. The most important plant in hanging containers (viewed from below) is the trailing plant.

Containers should be renewed at least once each year to replace potting soil. Between seasons, some plants can be left in place to give the container garden an established look while others are changed to update its appearance and freshen its appeal.

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