With more people staying at home because of COVID, the demand for bright colorful containers to decorate your surroundings is on the rise. As a designer, I have received a record number of requests for container designs this spring and found that there is a shortage of exciting plant sources that I normally would go to at this time of year. All the specialty plant sales have been cancelled and I am unable to browse nurseries like I usually do to find unexpected and wonderful combos.
Whenever I see a fantastic container combo that stops me in my tracks, I study it and visually take it apart to figure out how a designer came up with the recipe. Each designer has their own way of putting together colors, textures, and styles, to come up with a winning formula, so I thought I would reveal my techniques. Some combos are serendipity but more than likely, I obsess and fiddle with a container until I come up with something that satisfies me.
Choosing the Right Plants
But not deterred, I am ordering my plants and looking at pictures on line, as there all always new plants on my nursery availability lists that I am not familiar with. Different plants are always coming out, and instead of touching and oohing and aahing over them, I am reduced to looking at online pictures. One that caught my eye was Salvia Skyscraper which comes in orange and purple and I was hooked.
I ordered a half dozen of each and I know they will make spectacular focal points in many containers, including my own. Monrovia has introduced Skyscraper’ and says on its website; “A true breakthrough in breeding, with beautiful coral-colored blooms on tall, sturdy stems that will enliven any patio or garden bed. This prolific bloomer has flower power from late spring until fall. Easy care, durable, waterwise, and tolerates summer heat”.
Since this is a salvia, I am guessing that it is also deer resistant as salvias are the one plant I can count on that deer leave alone.
When I was picking up my order at the nursery that included a bunch of the skyscrapers, one of the growers exclaimed , “You will be fighting off the hummingbirds with that one!” So, I am excited about trying it this summer in sun loving containers. Orange is one of my favorite flower colors to use. Many people are afraid of it but it really adds some zing to any container combo.
For shade, the best technique is to showcase your foliage colors. Yes, flowers are important in the design, but foliage makes your container stand out from the rest. Caladiums are a very useful foliage plant as they come in an array of colors. Caladiums will languish if there is a bit of chill in the air, so make sure the chilly weather is gone before creating with Caladiums. Sometimes Caladiums will flop in a container and you need to prop them up a bit with a stake. Once they get going though they should behave.
Actually, I prefer doing shade containers because of the variety of foliage that you can play with. The most commonly used flowers for shade are begonias, impatiens, torenia, coral bells, fuchsia, and lobelia. By far the most useful are the begonias, as they come in trailing, hanging, upright, tuberous, rex, etc. But one thing to remember for begonias, is they like it on the dry side. Any wet feet, and the plant will stop blooming and rot. So, be careful in planting it with other water loving plants.
For sun containers, chose very large pots so that your plants don’t dry out as quickly. I don’t want to be a prisoner to a pot that wilts in the heat!
Cement or heavy ceramic/pottery containers will keep your soil better insulated than plastic, but are much heavier, so create your container where it will remain. Also, limiting the variety of plants simplifies and makes the design cleaner and more restful. You won’t end up with a ‘busy’ pot.
Resist stuffing in too many plants ( I am a big offender of this!) because the plants will fight it out with the most aggressive becoming dominant and the others will disappear. You can help this out by pinching and cutting back the ‘thugs’. Coleus is a big offender of this. I am constantly pinching coleus back to remain small and in scale with the container.
Have you ever taken a swatch of fabric to a wallpaper or paint store to match the colors? Or been inspired by colors found in nature? I love tropical bird colors, like parrots and peacocks and when I see something l like, I take a photo and hope to duplicate it to come up with a winning combination. I need to do a container with parrot colors. The problem is coming up with a cobalt blue as I can’t think of any annuals in that particular color. The closest plant would be a delphinium, a perennial, but they don’t last long and we have trouble growing them here in the mid-Atlantic as it gets too hot. Yellow and orange are easy-peasey! I need to source a good blue.
Parrots have the perfect combination of colors