Sunday, May 3, 2015

Looking down the barrel of a container garden

Dear _______,

Angelica gigas
Container gardening is recreating the Game of Thrones with bonus design elements. You can be insane, kill everything, stage a coup, throw stuff out a Moon Door, stage elaborate and deadly weddings, raise dragons, be passive aggressive, cut off people's hands, etc. Add a little crazy, and you've got awesome. Hodor.

Talinum limon
First, buy plants you love. You are the khaleesi and you are building your very own micro-Westeros. I prefer a mix of perennials and annuals. Yes, I do plant annuals once in a while: usually ones that are so strange yet interesting that I cannot resist. They die at the end of the season (Rob, Catlin, Joffrey-- finally). Go for captivating plants like Talinum limon (left: bright chartreuse foliage and tiny red berries on stalks), or Angelica gigas (an architectural purple behemoth with equally purple stalks that make me giddy). We're are planting a red wedding. Try perennials. Trees. Shrubs. You are a vibrant, modern gardener that defies tradition. And those perennials will save you money every Spring because you won't need to buy the living to replace the dead (those poor Starks).

Traditional container gardens usually include a combination of plant heights, textures, and colors. This month's Fine Gardening magazine defines plant height by "thrillers, fillers, and spillers." Goldilocks would call them "too big, too small, and just right." Game of Thrones fans may think of them as Hodors (huge), Starks (just right), and Tyrions (little imps). Gardening can by dangerous and cunning.

Assuming you've reconnaissanced your local nursery, you should now be entertaining the idea of at least three plants of differing heights. Go for an odd number of specimens that will flower repeatedly through the season (unless you are relying on foliage for color). They look more artsy and less like country line dancing in odd numbers. Again, you are a vibrant modern gardener. This means you might have one Hodors, two or three Starks, and a several Tyrions.  When arranging, think of your elementary school class photos, where the tallest kids always stood in back, and the short kids got stuck in the front row with everything hanging out: unzipped flies and spaghetti stains. See below for general arrangement in large and small containers. The diagram is only a suggestion and assumes your container garden will be viewable from three sides. If not, plant Hodor in the middle and line dance around it with Starks and Tyrions. But if you do, don't tell me. I will have nothing to do with your line dance.

Now that we've addressed the height issue, let's do color schemes. I'm kind of stuck in a purple phase this year. Last year it was reds and oranges that I ended up launching out a moon door when I grew tired of them. I hear Van Gogh liked blue. George RR Martin seems to enjoy red. I choose from a small range of similar colors or complementary colors. Blues and yellows, or whites and pale blues, reds and oranges, etc. This Spring I paired mauves with smatterings of pale pinks and dark violet foliage. You can always substitute unusual foliage color for flowers. Foliage colors maintains consistent interest all season without pesky flowering times. Then you can focus on texture or height without thinking about flowers, or using flowers only as accents to your overall color scheme of interesting and lovely foliage.

Shady container garden: heuchera 'Sugar & spice,' primrose 'Pink ice,'  hellebore 'Silver dollar,' ghost ferns, Rhododendron canadense, and birch logs
Part shade: Nandina, creeping blue juniper, trailing fuchsia, and variegated ribbon grass

Texture is all about rolling with your homies: it takes a mix of people you enjoy to make it interesting. Foliage and flowers can be just like us: chubby, thin, crazy, tame, Tyrion the imp, Hodor the giant, statuesque, and sometimes strangely shaped and seemingly malformed. They can also be fuzzy, shiny, speckled, veined, conservative, liberal, or bumpy. Screw the independents. Think of the foliage contrast between a pine tree and a shamrock, or the differing floral textures of a dandelion and a lily. These variations create thoughtful interest when combined. I don't suggest planting a pot of dandelions and pine trees if you aren't in love with both, but I bet they'd grow if you're afraid of failure. Remember: if you don't like it, throw it out the Moon Door.

Full sun: bergenia, lemon cypress, variegated ivy, black mondo grass

Conifers (one of my recent obsessions) add an intriguing textural effect, and often they're perennial-- check the hardiness zone of all plants you purchase so you're not surprised when they croak or resurrect next year. And they are are evergreen (except Larches): bonus color and interest even in winter. The chartreuse Monterey cypress is a very popular conifer right now, but there are blue, variegated, gold, and red-tinged evergreen species. Nandina (above) is an evergreen in zones 6-10, with a few cultivars hardy to zone 5. Usually I see them in mass landscape plantings, so be rebellious and incorporate one in a container garden.

So you've got height, color, texture, and sun requirements (sun, shade, part shade). Mix on high for three minutes. Bake all season until desired consistency. Fertilize regularly and water more frequently than your lawn. They get thirsty.

Keep watering,

No comments: