The growing field of container gardens
July 8, 2006
I noticed a row of thyme blooming daintily in a window box in downtown Basalt this week. The traditional pots of gorgeous red geraniums are as popular as ever, but the trend is toward imaginative mixtures of plants not usually considered container candidates in every conceivable kind of pot, planter, bucket and basket, barrel and trough, urn and jardinière. You name it.There is a whole section of the horticulture industry from publishing to potting soil, from perlite mines to patent lawyers devoted to “container gardening.” It has become almost as much a part of our vocabulary as the lawn.Growing plants of every description in containers, singly or in combination, has been part of my personal repertoire as long as I’ve been gardening, beginning with houseplants. All my indoor plants that are not too heavy or fragile to pick up still go outside, as soon as I calculate there’ll be no more frost until fall. I buy mostly the traditional clay pots in all sizes because they’re so readily available and I like their unadorned, earthy look.I’ve started root pruning some big houseplants to restrain their growth so I can continue to move them around. Sometimes perennials and herbs end up living in pots by serendipity, having been temporarily parked there, dirt and all.My best lilies bloom magnificently in whisky half-barrels, filling them rim-to-rim. The daylilies don’t bloom quite as well but they are one of my favorite “grasses.” Two of them frame the greenhouse entrance, fountains of light, bright, green – quite nice, if a bit formal for me. Potted plants define the boundary between my porch and my garden. Some of them have migrated directly into the border to fill the gaps left by wonderful plants like rhubarb and autumn crocus with the inconvenient habit of slowly ripening their masses of large leaves until they shrivel in July. Luckily, they leave holes just right to receive a flourishing container. The pot disappears into the surrounding foliage and the border looks rejuvenated. It pleases me to no end.Every time I go in and out of my front door, I get a chance to spot a yellowing leaf on a geranium to snap off. It only takes a moment to pinch off the flowers of the Viola tricolor, the Johnny-jump-ups, when they fold their petals into a keel, before the knob of seed forms. The violas – small purple, white and yellow, faces always following the sun – have been cheering me since very early spring, weeks before the nurseries offer them. Sometimes they are perennial in the ground but never in my pots, so I start them from seed. No matter how shady and congenial their spot, or how carefully I water and feed them, they get leggier and paler as summer progresses and finally quit – right about now. I don’t try to save them. Out they come. Tagetes tenuifolia, the signet marigold, another of my favorite container plants, is waiting to take the violas’ place. Years ago I bought a packet each of lemon yellow, gold and tangerine orange strains. Now I have my own strain, a variable and enchanting golden orange that seeds itself happily into all my pots. No matter how I have disturbed the soil pulling up last years dead annuals by their roots or how much fresh potting mix I have stirred in, the marigolds germinate thickly enough to need thinning (and give me lots of seedlings to transplant into the ground, too). They come up as little spring green feathers and branch into dense, fine-textured ferny spheres, as much as two feet across, that bloom with abandon. Once they start flowering, they are indomitable, and the tiny flowers just keep coming in ever-greater profusion until Jack Frost (why not Jill Frost, huh?) settles in for good. No deadheading needed, either.Late in fall, after the sprinklers are shut down, and those prissy houseplants retire indoors, I drag my containers against the house wall under the covered porch. I never seem to have the time or energy to wrap them in bubble wrap or burlap for insulation. Sometimes I pile evergreen boughs on them after the holidays. If I remember and they aren’t frozen solid, I water them. To my delighted amazement, they commence to grow lustily again in spring even before their garden counterparts get going. When obligations and responsibilities outside the garden proliferate like bindweed, I may not be able to keep up with the deadheading in my garden but I can always keep the container plants looking well tended.Anna gardens in Basalt. She couldn’t do it without the help of her husband, Gerry, and dog, Maggie. She would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with “Anna’s Garden” in the subject line.
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