Deck garden harmonies

Anna Naeser

My deck container garden is in its second year. Last summer I crowed about the three large planter boxes Gerry made from our worn redwood deck boards. I grew tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatillos in productive profusion with colorful annual flowers, while I made up my mind about permanent plantings. Finally, I decided on a screen of small trees or large shrubs. I mined all my references and made list after list: from native Western species to intriguing exotic ones. I consulted the town of Basalt recommended list of trees and shrubs (available free for the asking); I made notes on the favorites of garden writers I admired. I even began a database on Excel, cross-referencing everything, until I became overwhelmed and bored and quit. I savored the possibilities. The orders I made up from nursery catalogues were never placed. … So did I go to the garden center at the first whiff of spring, list in hand, and pick out three nice shrubs or trees? Of course not! I was both unimpressed by the offerings of local nurseries and in awe of their prices.OK, so my containers weren’t planted according to plan. Somehow they got filled anyhow, first with a potent blend of Gerry’s compost and store-bought potting mix, then with plants.

I planted a few tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos because they did so well last year. Most succumbed to the late frost, but a few were unscathed, and a few more sprouted new growth from the roots. A tomatillo has regrown strongly enough that it has begun to set fruit. Around the vegetables I planted zinnias, asters, marigolds and nasturtiums.One large planter got a head start with self-sowed red and gold orach which, apparently thrilled with the compost, quickly grew to over three feet, throwing plumes of seed spikes into the air to great effect even though the flowers themselves are visually insignificant. Now the dry, tawny seeds are being harvested by seed-eating birds. A Tithonia rotundifolia, Mexican sunflower, with large and sculptural velvety leaves and a zinnia from a hot-hued mix of seeds with the cool name of Zinnia elegans “Chromasia” round out that container planting. I might have started the Tithonia too late for it to bloom by frost but the zinnia makes up for it, blooming lustily since July with intense carmine-rose flowers in densely petalled domes. Another container, or rather two adjacent ones, holds the flowers in the snapshot. The deep rose of the “Chromasia” zinnias is echoed by a band of hot pink merging into orange around the center of the yellow “Whirligig” zinnia. That yellow is in turn picked up by the center of a violet-blue aster. The orange-red zinnia has a scattering of yellow petals and shares the same dark red cone crowned with yellow disc flowers as the other zinnias. The cone becomes more prominent as the flower matures, like a Rudbeckia. Balancing the hot colors is lots rich green foliage. (A nasturtium leaf is just visible in the lower left of the photo.) The touch that brings the whole scene to life comes from the fine-textured Agastache rupestris, whose delicate tubular flowers indistinctly blend smoky pink and orange. Instead of being overpowered by its high wattage neighbors, the almost wispy Agastache pulls them all together.

Flanking the photo, just a few inches outside the field of vision, are the two pots of surviving tomato plants, entwined with zinnias and nasturtiums. On one side is “Early Girl” with two of its fruits red and almost ready to pick; on the other side is the cherry tomato “Sungold” with loaded trusses of 1-inch tomatoes that have been ripening to a pale apricot-gold color for weeks, gleaming like Christmas ornaments. The colors of both match the flowers so perfectly that it almost makes me cry.The repetition of one type of zinnia, in carmine-rose and glowing gold, in a jagged line down the row of containers sets up a rhythm and a color scheme for the entire deck garden which is completely unplanned, serendipitous. And all day long it buzzes with hummingbirds.

I had great plans for my deck garden. I still do, but their execution, like most of my great plans, will likely take its own sweet time. You know that truism, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making plans for the future”? It also seems that satisfying gardens happen while you’re planning the right plants for the perfect design.Anna gardens with her husband, Gerry, in Basalt. She welcomes your comments at