The Summer Container Plantings

The demand for landscape design and installation has been one after the other this spring.  I am sure you can tell, given how few and far between my posts have been of late. Our persistently chilly weather has given way to some gardening friendly weather. Suddenly, the summer container planting season is here, and my board is chock full of projects that will need doing beautifully, and with dispatch. The summer plantings begin later in May, and finish up in late June.  Late June? The spring plantings are just beginning to come in to their own now. Clients with spring plantings are not in a rush to plant seasonal tropicals. Given that tropical plants dislike cold temperatures, and hate cold soil, a spring planting can stave off that urge to plant summer containers too early.
Of special interest to me is the unique role played by containers in the landscape. No news here,should you be familiar with Detroit Garden Works. For 23 years now, the shop has been a premier source for great ornament for the garden.  I am happy to say that our reputation in recent years has become a a national phenomenon. Jackie deals with clients all over the country, and manages a steady stream of shipments going out. The shop website is good, and easy to navigate. Jenny keeps it fresh and lively.

Of course the lion’s share of our focus is on containers of every conceivable period and style. Vintage dolly tubs and new locust wood casks belted with galvanized steel rub elbows with a select collection of European and American antique urns. Of course the choice of a container is a significant factor in container planting. It is as much an important part of the container arrangement as the plants. That empty container represents the opportunity to throw a party in celebration of summer. The limited square footage imposed by the edges of a container means the design idea has to be simple. And it has to be visually strong.The plants need to be companionable, or at least tolerant of one another. Container plantings at war with nature make me uneasy. Given the almost limitless number of plants that can thrive in a container, it would take several gardening lifetimes to even make a dent in all of the possibilities.

A container planting matures in but a few months. What a pleasure to be able to watch that process. Mercifully, it all comes to an end with a hard frost. One can abandon a scheme that disappointed. Or explore a new idea come the new season. A collection of containers is a visual diary of what is on a gardener’s mind at that moment. A landscape and garden involves a long term commitment. There is strategy and planning involved. Decisions that are made one year are not so easy to change years later. An old tree that succumbs to an illness or bugs can make for chaos in the garden below. Growing a landscape on can feel like a full time job. The blooming of the double bloodroot, dogwoods, lilacs and peonies are ephemeral, but the gardener gets to enjoy them year after year, barring a disaster. A collection of containers set within that landscape keeps the garden dialogue fresh and interesting.

Containers do not need to be large to be good. I still like this planting, 10 years after the fact. I like the color of the gold marjoram complements the color of the glaze. The lavender star trailing verbena is a lively contrast to the yellow petunias.  The overall shape is relaxed, and proportional to the container.  Small containers ask for small growing plants.

Hot sunny places are the perfect location for seasonal plants. The profuse bloom on these petunias and mandevillea speaks to those conditions. Seasonal tropical plants are a way to have flowers every day all season long. The plastic liner in this wicker basket helps to keep the wicker from deteriorating from constant exposure to moisture. And that plastic means a basket this size will not require watering every day in the heat of the summer.

Double white petunias are leggy, and those legs are not so attractive. Pairing them with euphorbia Diamond Frost disguises that unfortunate trait, and holds up those heavy double flower heads. The datura  provides a contrasting texture both in leaf and flower.

This wooden trough features a large collection of different plants, all arranged in a very informal way.  Insouciant in feeling, this.

Any container planting can be endowed with a contemporary feeling-the design plays a major role in that.

Lush and lavish by summer’s end speaks to months of consistent maintenance. For those whose life means picking up a hose comes last, an irrigation contractor can install watering lines that can buy you some time. If the need for low maintenance is a deterrent to planting, many tropical plants don’t need dead heading, staking or frequent water. A clear understanding of what kind of gardener you are can inform the plant selection process. The big idea is to enjoy the process as much as the results.

 

I planted trees, shrubs and perennials in my own pots last year. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed that. What will I do this year? I do not have a clue, yet.

April 2, 2019

What was noteworthy about this past Tuesday, the second of April? We planted containers and flower beds at 5095 for spring, 3 weeks earlier than last year. Our first spring planting. The morning was decidedly chilly, but the afternoon was sunny and warm. I could not have been more pleased or content to be outside planting. It was great. Nor could I have been more happy that we could be outside working the beginning of April. Northern zone gardeners are stuck inside longing for another time and place- for the duration of the winter. By the end of March, I am impatient for the winter season to turn to spring. And grumpy every day that it doesn’t.

The beginning of April is not always the beginning of our spring. Last year’s April was wintry in every regard. Mountains of snow deposited over the winter had no impetus to melt. The daytime temperatures were barely above freezing. The nights were plenty cold. The weather was conducive only to ice making. Giant piles of snow transformed by freeze and thaw into ice were everywhere. We planted this project April 22 last year. Embarrassingly late, that.

That I was outdoors on a sunny day with no more than a spring jacket to keep me warm was a good day indeed. I have more to be thankful for than this. My supplier of twigs sent an outstanding collection of fresh cut branches to us. That he farms willow and pussy willow provides great scale to my spring containers. Our pansies are fall sown, and over wintered in unheated greenhouses, so they are good to go outside the moment I take delivery. A whole collection of visually persuasive faux grasses-I thank Rob for them. They provide an intermediary layer between what is tall and what is short. These pots would be rather awkward without them.

A sunny warm April day, some spring centerpieces of note, and a raft of thriving pansies is enough for this early spring day. I went home both happy and satisfied. Nothing in my garden has made itself known.  Later spring will be a symphony. At home, and on the job. So many voices – so much to see. Spring in full blast is hard to keep track of. But this earliest moment, out planting, was the gift of the early season.

This bed full of a pansy mix will sparkle all season.  Lavender shades, Delta Premium violet and white, and pansy beaconsfield mixed will shimmer. If you plan to mix varieties, 3 types provide a more even mix than 2.

This bed of pansies will thrive well into June, should my client decide to delay her summer planting. She might be tempted this year to let this spring planting mature. I for one would be much happier planting her containers for summer in June. Both the soil and the air will have warmed up by then – just what seasonal tropical plants want.

Cool Wave Berries N Cream is a spreading/trailing pansy.  It is perfect for those container plantings that ask for flowers spilling over the edge. This pansy is reputed to survive our winters with aplomb, should you decide to plant it in the ground. This urn was planted with hanging baskets of this pansy. The more mature size of the plants in the basket provide height and volume right from the start.

There are few signs of the perennial garden in this area. These spring pots provide some visual interest, in the meantime. Containers in every season can be a bridge from one garden moment to another, a landscape or garden idea tested in miniature, a laboratory for testing new plants – I do value what containers can bring to the garden.

boxes planted for spring

This long trough is my favorite of the group. The columnar lemon cypress will go on to ornament both the summer and fall planting here. Pots of Persian limes between the cypress will do the same. Yellow and violet pansies compliment the spring green. The summer green will be just as luscious.

Four large planters in the back yard are routinely planted with multi-trunked Himalayan white barked birch. We take them out of the pots in the fall, and winter them inside our landscape building. Very few woody plants are hardy over the winter in pots. With their roots above ground, they struggle to handle the extreme cold of our winters, and unexpected freeze and thaw cycles. Even though our building is unheated, it provides protection from winter wind and sun. As all of the leaves drop in the fall, they have no need for light in the winter months. The birch provide much needed scale to a rear terrace that is large, and a pair of doors from the inside that are very tall.

This is the first year I have under planted the birch for spring. On the terrace-flats of pansies and violas. The mix is lively, as I hoped it would be. Anyone who plants containers brings an idea about shape, mass, texture and color to their plantings. In this early spring container planting, color is a key element.

Mixing plants implies a brew. I like this. Who knows what nature is brewing up next, but for now this spring brew tastes great.

It was a good day.

Planting Spring Pots

My penchant for planting containers for spring is based on several factors. At 30 years old, it seemed like an infinite number of springs were ahead. If I skipped planting fall bulbs, or spring pots, or a rose or a tree, there would always be next year. Or the year after that. In a blink of an eye, 30 became 50.  And with it, the dawn of the realization that though spring will probably roll around ad infinitum, my springs that had a beginning in 1950 would eventually come to an end. This is not gloomy talk. It means I am more interested than ever in observing and participating in every phase of the gardening year. I especially do not want to miss one moment of the spring season. Given that every plant in the landscape will break dormancy and grow, there is a lot to see over the course of that 3 month period. There are lots of ways to experience the spring season-why miss out on any of those opportunities?

Planting containers for spring seems even more attractive in cold weather zones like ours. Winter leaches out of our ground slowly. When that ground does thaw, it is wet. Milling around a garden when the soil is sopping wet is ill advised. My shoes, backed up by my weight, do a great job of squeezing the oxygen out of the soil, and compacting it. Compacted soil can be quite brick-like. As I like my plants to have friable soil that encourages good root growth, I stay out of the garden in very early spring. Spring containers make it easier to resist getting in to the garden too early.

It used to be that a vast majority of seasonal plants were of the summer season type. Now a gardener can find plants suitable for containers in every season. The most obvious choice is spring flowers bulbs.  Forced tulips, daffodils,hyacinths, grape hyacinths and crocus adapt very well to pot culture. The tulips in the shop garden are but 2 inches out of the ground. It will be at least a month before they start to bloom. A pot of emerging tulips faced down with violas already in bloom in a container is a sight for winter weary eyes. The best part of spring flowering bulbs in containers is how beautiful they are in every stage. It is a pleasure to be able to watch a hyacinth at close quarters come out of the ground, bud up, and bloom. The leaves and buds are juicy, and every bit as beautiful as the flowers.

It used to be that most seasonal plants offered for sale were only suitable for summer containers. That has really changed. Great plants, and lots of them, are available for container planting in every season. Right now at the shop, Rob has hellebores, pansies, violas, alyssum, primrose, rosemary and lavender topiaries, sweet woodruff, and sweet peas.  In short order, spring vegetables and herbs will be available for pots. Pansies, lettuce and parsley can be planted up to stunning effect. A hydrangea on standard can look a little bleak in a spring container, but the buds will swell soon, and the spring leaves are beautiful.

Fresh cut twigs can provide a lot of color and scale to spring containers. This straight copper willow not only has vivid color, that color is lively.

Pussy willow is a great twig choice for pots.  The fuzzy catkins covering the stems are charming.  Cut pussy willow twigs will often root in a spring pot, bringing leaves after the catkins have faded. Pussy willow would be a poor choice of a shrub for my garden, as it grows so large. Having the cut stems in a container is a way to enjoy them without making any commitment to a long term relationship. And speaking of long term relationships, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to try something new in containers every spring.

We will be starting our installations of spring pots this coming Monday. It will feel good to be gardening.

faux grass and Belarina series double primrose

white hyacinths

sweet woodruff and faux grass

tropical ferns and pansies

maidenhair ferns and Belarina primrose

grape hyacinths, primula denticulata and oxalisspring pot with helleborus, grape hyacinth, violas and sweet woodruff

spring pots with eucalyptus centerpieces

pansies and violas

lettuce and pansies

Tomorrow, the last Saturday of our hellebore festival will feature Rob’s collection of topiary plants – his best ever, I think. Thinking spring containers, we are.

The Finish

All that work early last week in preparation for the installation of a group of pots planted for fall came to the following. I hope you enjoy them.

Our fall container season will pick up steam from this point on, as will the fall landscape and garden. Looking forward to it.

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