Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
March, 2001
Regional Report

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Pop in a few cold-tolerant violas to add color to your early-season garden and container plantings.

Pots Full of Pansies

In early spring, I pot up bright cheerful pansies and violas in containers of all kinds. The potting soil in containers is warm enough for the plants to thrive, and it adds a bright spot in the spring landscape. You can plant these beauties in almost anything that holds a smidgen of soil, and they look great. I usually plant mixed violas in an old-fashioned metal laundry tub by my kitchen door. The mass of flowers makes the old utilitarian tub look almost respectable and the waist-high container brings the flowers up where I can really enjoy them.

Microclimate Effects

For now, these cool-season bloomers thrive on my sheltered, south-facing patio, where the microclimate offers protection against cold nights and raw wind. Conversely, when temperatures start to rise in late May, this area becomes almost Mediterranean in climate, baking in reflected heat from the brick and rock. Then the cool-season flowers such as pansies, violas, primroses, trailing lobelia, and sweet alyssum will collapse in protest, and it will be time to bring out the heat lovers such as verbena and nicotiana.

A Cooler Exposure

This year, I've decided to be smart and plant the violas in portable containers (12 inches or less in diameter) so I can lift and move them off the hot patio when they begin to suffer. Then I'll put them on the east side of the house, where the morning sun provides enough light and the afternoon shade keeps them cool. In that kinder, gentler location, they may even survive until fall with ample water. By then, they'll revive in the cooler temperatures, and I can move them back to the patio for a fall color show.

Best Portable Pots

In searching out containers, I was reminded how pansies lend themselves to a romantic Victorian look, while the simpler violas are versatile and brighten up any setting. By mixing colors or following a monochrome scheme, you can arrange them to suit almost any style or taste. And since the smaller containers are portable, they would make excellent "Happy Spring" gifts, but that's only if I can bear to part with them.

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