Thinking Outside The Container

One of the big reasons the nurseries are so crazy busy in late spring is everyone getting their summer containers, hanging baskets or all the bits and pieces to make their own! You may have already completed this task! But there is always a spot or two to add another and then there are those purchases that just don’t work out.

So here’s my 2 cents on container gardening!

Let’s think outside the box…. or container, please!  I think it is time to get away from the usual geranium with filler and trailer.  There are so many fun options and most perform even better than the good old geranium.

1. Consider tropical plants.  Some impressive flowering options are: Mandevilla, Bougainvillea, Passion Flower and the popular Hibiscus Tree.

Mandevilla planter
Here’s a sample of what I did with Mandevilla
last year and how it looked late in the season.


2. Houseplants.  In addition to flowers I think interesting foliage is even more important! And surprisingly some common house plants add just that!

Here are a few to consider:  Wandering Jew houseplant (Tradescantia pallid), Spider Plant, Rubber Tree Plant, Rex Begonia, Boston Fern and New Zealand Flax

Boston Fern
Boston Fern
New Zealand Flax
New Zealand Flax

These interesting foliage plants combined with the flowering tropical plants will really put on a show all summer.

Before I go much further, let me discuss pot size. The bigger the better! If you have trouble keeping your plants alive in containers then you have either too many plants in the container or too small a container. Even with the metal urns that are common in the neighborhood, insert a pot as wide and as DEEP as you can. The more room you can give your roots, the better your plants will perform. I know many people choose a hanging basket and cut off the hangers and place in their urn. And yes that’s great for a quick fix in a pinch or if you are trying to sell your house, but long term over the season they won’t last!

3. Shrubs.  If you are feeling frugal or are just sick and tired of thinking about what to do each year, here’s a secret. Get a good size plastic pot (from nursery stock) but one that fits in your decorative container or urn and plant a small interesting shrub.

Here are a few ideas:

Full sun – Dwarf Midnight Wine Weigela

Part Sun – My Monet Weigela, Little Lime Hydrangea (my favourite)

For evergreens try a Boxwood for the center.  Next add an interesting perennial or 2, focusing on the foliage.

Perennials for sun – ornamental grasses like Blue Fescue or Blue Oat, Mini Roses, interesting coloured Coral Bells, Lavender or Sedums.

Here’s a grouping of a Golden Coral Bell with a Burgundy Coral Bell and a dwarf My Monet Weigela (with a little bit of frost damage, please ignore).  The foliage combo will look good all summer especially in a challenging partly sunny spot.

Golden Coral Bell and Burgundy Coral Bell and dwarf My Monet Weigela
Golden Coral Bell and Burgundy Coral Bell
and dwarf My Monet Weigela

Perennials for shade – add Japanese Forest Grass, Japanese Painted Fern, Sedge Grasses, Hostas, Lamium, Coral Bells or Creeping Jenny.

If you create a nice grouping with all of the above you can then take the insert out of your pot or urn in the fall, put the pot into the ground before winter ground freezes and take it out in spring.  The plants should survive and you will be able to get 2 or 3 years from the same pot.

Here’s one I did for several years with my Little Lime Hydrangea, Wandering Jew and Japanese Forest Grass.

Little Lime Hydrangea, Wandering Jew and Japanese Forest Grass
Little Lime Hydrangea, Wandering Jew
and Japanese Forest Grass

Honorable mention…

4. Succulents.  They are all the rage right now.  Note: Suitable for hot, dry areas with full sun; on patio table for example.  Mix Sedums (low growing ones and trailing ones) with Hens And Chicks of different shapes and sizes and colours in a low dish, hanging ball or if ambitious, a wreath! These will need very little water or attention.  Great if you go to the cottage every weekend!

Here’s one I just did up:


And lastly…

5.  Herbs and Vegetables.  You can also mix herbs and vegetables in with your dwarf shrub or perennials. These won’t last the winter in the ground but make interesting and purposeful additions to all containers. Try mixing Swiss Chard, Basil, Oregano and Thyme.  Parsley is also a good filler along with Lettuce and Kale.  There  are many different types with different leaves.

The possibilities are endless… sorry Geranium!

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