Three For the Bees

Congregating on the front porch, my bees are hungry!
Pollinator container for early spring

#1

Pollinators are flying and searching for nectar and pollen to take back to their colony and the pickings are slim until the rest of the spring flowers open. Help them out with container plantings to supplement their foraging efforts.

Everything here I picked up at my local Lowes and/or Home Depot. Pick a large wide mouthed container  (18″ at least) and plant snapdragons, lavender, foxglove (digitalis), violas, and dianthus. I noticed once I potted this all up, that lots of bees, flies, and other insects started to visit immediately.

This container will remain on my patio all spring and once the foxglove, snapdragons,and violas are kaput, I will add some summer blooming plants to continue the show with the lavender and the dianthus.

#2

Another container which attracts many pollinators is the one above with primrose, scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, heather, alyssum, woodland phlox, lilies, and yellow dogwood sticks for fun. The lilies will be the last to flower and will take this container into the summer. At that time, I will rejuvenate the container, keeping the plants that still look good and changing out the bloomed out ones. Makeover time!

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ is a great pollinator friendly plant

#3

Violas are the star in this pollinator container. The silver ball is a great way to add “pizzazz” and amp up the impact. Again snapdragons are an important element for early spring chilly weather. The alliums will be blooming in another month to continue the color show. The cobalt blue container adds a splash of color to the composition.

Frost date for my area of the mid-Atlantic is May 12 so I am careful to plant only cold hardy plants –  no pentas, marigolds, lantana, coleus, etc.! I hold these until later in my greenhouse to fill in for my spent spring flowers.

 

For more information on the best plants for bees, go to my post, Plant These For The Bees.

Blooming Hill Greenhouse-A Family Owned Business

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Blooming Hill makes use of old ironing boards to display flowers

Patronizing independent nurseries, not big box store chains, is an important part of my shopping for plants. A totally different shopping experience greets me as I walk in the door and you will find knowledgeable and eager to please owners and workers. The plant selection is quite eclectic with little gems that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

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Coleus ‘Coleo”

Also, the plants are taken care of and not neglected like I see too many times at big box stores. Mainstream garden centers and big box stores tend to stick with the tried and true, afraid to plant “outside the pot” for fear that customers won’t buy something different.

Jo Troy, owneer of Blooming Hill Greenhouse
Jo Troy, owner of Blooming Hill Greenhouse in Parkton, MD
moss basket
Jo Troy working on a moss basket, one of her specialties

But as a plant lover, there are so many new varieties and cultivars out there to try, I think that the more to choose from the better. I do love Petunias, Verbenas, and Sweet Potato Vine, but there are so many alternatives available to create something a bit different from your neighbor.

Abutilon
Abutilon

Abutilons or Flowering Maples caught my eye as I entered Blooming Hill Greenhouse, in Parkton, MD and I had to stop and admire this treasure that will be sure to attract hummingbirds to your garden.

You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!
You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!
Unusual annuals are everywhere
Unusual annuals are everywhere: I forgot the name, but check it out at the open house!

Tucked away off a winding country road, you would never know the greenhouse was there until you stop at a bottom of a hill and spot the small sign. After turning up a steep driveway through woods dotted with Azaleas and other woodland plants, you know you are in for a treat. Greeted by 3 medium size poly greenhouses at the crest of the hill, there are always outdoor selections on tables to slow your journey into the mix of living, breathing, beautiful plants.

TheTroy family lives right next door to their business
The Troy family lives right next to their greenhouses. Row covers are ready to throw on top of outdoor plants for cold snaps

Brimming with treasures, the usual and unusual that you never see anywhere, and hanging and moss baskets everywhere, Blooming Hill is full of surprises. I enter like a kid in a candy shop and want one of everything. Or even better, three of everything! Also carrying tons of herbs and vegetable plants, this is a one stop nursery to fill your place with color.

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A completed bowl arrangement

Begonias of all colors and sizes fill Blooming Hill as one of Jo Troy’s favorite plants. She told me that she never met a Begonia she didn’t like! I have to agree with that as I survey the selections of Begonias.

Begonia 'Unbelievable Miss Montreal'
Begonia ‘Unbelievable Miss Montreal’
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Begonia ‘Glory Pink’

Blooming Hill Greenhouse

As a landscape designer, if I have a customer who wants to create their own containers but needs help with selection and colors, I send them to Blooming Hill for their expertise and advice. Owner Jo Troy is patient and helps customers personally select their plants to take home or if you bring in your container to the greenhouse, she will customize your planter for a very reasonable cost.  Her daughter Millie is also sought after as a designer of masterpieces in a pot.

Millie, Jo's daughter, is watering all the plants by hand
Millie, Jo’s daughter, is watering all the plants by hand

A plantaholics’s dream come true, Blooming Hill specializes in the creation of “moss baskets”, hanging baskets planted around the entire circumference of the “moss” covering in a wire basket. Requiring many plants to fill in the stuffed balls, and time to grow in, the moss baskets are works of art.

Moss basket
A hanging moss basket is a ball of flowers

See how Jo creates these masterpieces from scratch.

All plant lovers and collectors will find something to ooh and aah over and take home with no location in mind, but thinking that you can’t do without it!  Still selling well- filled market packs, the most economical way to buy plants, I splurge on zinnias, vinca, and other annuals to fill my beds for the summer.

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Sun Patien
A variegated Sunpatien: you just need one of these to fill a pot

So, if you are in the Baltimore area, check out their upcoming open house at 18700 Frederick Road in Parkton, MD, April 30 & May 1st, 2016 from 9AM to 4PM. If you go to the open house, please tell Jo that Claire sent you!

Blue Plumbago
Blue Plumbago, another annual that I never see anywhere else
Surfinia 'Summer Double Salmon'
Surfinia ‘Summer Double Salmon’
Container at Blooming Hill
A piece of art container for hsade; A customer dropped off this container to have it customized

Moss basket in the making
Moss basket completed but starting the process of growing in and producing flowers

Asclepias
I took this new variety home, a variegated Asclepias for my visiting Monarchs

 

Springtime Viola Basket

 springtime basket

Violas are my springtime favorite flower. Fragrant, happy faces gaze up at you and tell you that spring has sprung. These budget blooms come in a rainbow of hues, the usual blues, violets, and yellow- but also, browns, reds and burnt orange. Ease of growing in cool weather means that violas will pair well  with other cool season flowers, such as diascia, lobularia, lettuce, parsley, verbenas, succulents, and other early blooming annuals.

Violas and pansies in the greenhouse
Violas and pansies in the greenhouse

And fragrance! Most people don’t realize the perfume of lots of pansies and violas grouped together in mass. But the fragrance  is phenomenal.

A single variety of violas filling a pot can be beautiful
A single variety of violas filling a pot can be beautiful and fragrant
Violas play well with other plants
Violas play well with other plants

Pansies vs Violas

Many people get confused with the differences between these two very similar flowers. Pansies have a distinctive blotching that resembles a face. They also have more compact growth than violets and larger leaves with fewer and larger flowers.

Pink Pansy
Pink Pansy

Violas, often called “Johnny-Jump-Ups”, are more winter hardy and durable in the landscape, and I prefer them for their versatility. The flowers are smaller but more prolific and can cover the plant with color.  Many Violas have transitioned from the smaller Violas over the years to the beautiful large-flowered Pansy varieties through the efforts of gardeners and hybridizers. But I still love the Violas for their sheer number of blooms per plant.

Violas come in brown shades
Violas come in brown shades
Beautifully marked viola
Beautifully marked Viola
Viola Etain
Viola Etain
Violas
Unnamed Violas

Edible leaves and flowers high in Vitamin A and C, the Pansy and Viola flowers impart a strong flavor and are used to make syrups, flavored honey and as a garnish for salads. Go to my post on Edible Flowers for more information on how to use them.

An array of edible flowers
An array of edible flowers
Edible flowers garnishing a salad
Edible flowers garnishing a salad

Easy to grow in sun or partial shade with plenty of moisture, the plants will fade when the days get hot, so I enjoy them from March to June. In containers when they fade, I replace them with heat lovers, like lantanas and petunias.

Violas planted with lettuce
Violas and pansies planted with lettuce
Violas adding color to a planted table
Violas adding color to a Planted table

Centerpiece Magic

Using Violas or Pansies in centerpieces or as a hostess gift is easy. Start with a low tray; I used a narrow tin tray with shallow sides.

Long tin container
Long tin container

Once you remove your Violas from the market pack, slice off half of the root ball and remove some of the soil clinging to the root ball. This makes the task of fitting lots of plants for maximum color into the container easier.

Slice off half of the root ball
Slice off half of the root ball

Start filling the tin container with the Violas and pack them in tightly for maximum impact.

Start filling up the container with as many violas as will fit
Start filling up the container with as many Violas as will fit

Using green sheet moss, tuck this into all the nooks and crannies and moisten everything with a mister. Don’t water too much as there are no drainage holes and you don’t want the flowers to sit in a puddle of water. Start adding your accessories. For my basket handle, I cut some pussy willow and bent it into a handle shape and stuck the ends into the soil at each side of the container.

I used a rabbit wine stopper, fake wired butterfly, fake mushrooms, and a birds nest. For the handle I used pussy willow.
I used a rabbit wine stopper, fake wired butterfly, fake mushrooms, and a bird’s nest. For the handle I used pussy willow

Keep the planting medium moist- not sopping wet- and this centerpiece will last for 6 weeks or more.

Fill in with your accessories. I added the bunny last
Fill in with your accessories. I added the bunny last
Centerpiece done!
Centerpiece done!

Nectar in a Pot-Movable Feast

Pollinator garden in a container
Pollinator garden in a container

Do you want to have a pollinator garden but just don’t have the space for one? Plant a container instead, one that you could move around to sunny spots on your balcony or patio- like a movable feast!

Anise Hyssop, Blue Fortune in the container attracted lots of buble bees and butterflies
Anise Hyssop, Blue Fortune in the container attracted lots of bumble bees and butterflies

Plant It and They Will Come

We all know how important it is to plant nectar rich plants to create pollinators pockets to provide stopping points for all our native bees and honeybees(non-natives), and other visiting pollinators. Go to Monarch Way Station to see how to set up a complete area if you have the room for a raised bed or garden space. If not, try potting up a variety of perennials and annuals which are known butterfly magnets. For lists of plants specific to your region, I find the best resource is Xerces at The Xerces Society.

Setting out the plants
Setting out the plants
Plant it and they will come
Plant it and they will come

Ingredients

For the first pictured container, I used:

Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ -2

Anise Hyssop ‘Blue Fortune’-2

Anise Hyssop ‘Tango’-1

Blazing Star-1

Yarrow ‘Red Velvet’-1

Butterfly bush ‘Miss Molly’-2

Verbena bonariensis-2

Lantana ‘Samantha’-2

Zinnia-2

Celosia-2

Coleus-1

Pentas-3

Pollinator container with Pentas, Zinnia, Anise Hyssop, Vinca, butterfly Weed and Bush, Coneflower
Pollinator container with Pentas, Zinnia, Anise Hyssop, Vinca, Butterfly Weed and Bush, Coneflower, Helenium, Oregano, Zinnia, Achillea

To pot up a container efficiently, simply set in your largest plants first, the tall Verbenas and Anise Hyssops,  towards the back of the pot, and fill in with the small and medium ones. My spiller was the Oregano and the Trailing Zinnia which will cascade in a couple of weeks. Planting in a 15 inch container ensured that I could move it around without straining my back and I stuffed 21 plants into it.

Scrape off excess soil around the root ball to fit all your plants into a confined space
Scrape off excess soil around the root ball to fit all your plants into a confined space

To make this possible, I had to shake some of the root ball soil off to make it easier to shoehorn all those plants together. Don’t be afraid to shake the excess soil and even remove some of the roots from the root ball as the plant will quickly make new roots.

caterpillar
A few days after I potted up the container with Butterfly Weed, a monarch caterpillar appeared munching away

To see more plants to plant for pollinators, go to Plant These For the Bees and check out the best methods for planting, such as blocking.

Bee Skep poster, go thttps://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?
Bee Skep poster, go thttps://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?

Containers With Pizzazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!

Shade Container
Shade Container

Container Finesse

Updated February 2017

I create containers for clients all the time and am always looking for inspiration to move away from the “geraniums with spike and trailer”  school of thought. With a little more planning and shopping, you can come up with a showplace masterpiece with WOW impact. For pollinator containers, go to Nectar in a Pot- Movable Feast 

Container with a variety of plants for all summer color
Container with a variety of plants for all summer color-Canna, trailing zinnia, trailing petunia, sweet potato vine, coleus, verbena, and salvia

Take pictures of creations that you like and copy them, but add your own personal touches to make it your own. Once you have done enough containers, the combinations are second nature, starting with just one really wonderful plant and working from there.

Succulents- you can go on vacation and leave these without worrying!

Artful Containers

The best piece of advice that I picked up over the years was a secret to coordinating your colors in an arrangement.  Choose a piece of fabric or piece of art that you really like, and take it with you when you plant shop.  Of course, you can’t take a painting with you, so grab refrigerator magnets with famous paintings on them from museums, cut a swatch from fabric, or cut out paintings from magazines.  Inspired by a Van Gogh, my most successful container used the colors from his iris painting. Van Gogh’s painting has that intense blue which so many people adore – also orange, greens, a touch of white and yellow. If you like it in a painting, you will like it in a container!

Beautiful colors from Van Gogh painting

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes

I have plenty of room to plant in my beds but I really enjoy planting in containers because they become a piece of art in miniature. This is my opportunity to try new annuals that are untested by me,  and go wild with the color combos.  Bold, vibrant,  and sizzling color, is the driving force for many of my combinations. To browse the new Pantone colors for 2016 or 2017, check out Pantone. Rose Quartz and Serenity were the colors for 2016 which are the blended colors of a soft pink and soft blue. That inspired me to create containers with hydrangeas.DSCN1089

For 2017, the Pantone color is ‘Greenery’! And foliage containers are so different and striking using just shades of green.

Different shades of foliage create an striking array of containers
Different shades of foliage create an striking array of containers

Coral Bells are usually my starting point for color inspiration as they come in some unusual colors not normally seen in the plant world.

A variety of Heucheras
A variety of Heucheras or Coral Bells
Painter palette of colors
Painter palette of colors

I find that there are too many containers with pastel and hum drum hues, and that I rather create a bold and striking container.

Bold container
Bold container

 

Musical Plants-Rearrange for the Season!

Portable and colorful, this single plant of Croton can be moved to accent anywhere in the garden
Portable and colorful, this single plant of Croton can be moved to accent anywhere in the garden

I rarely keep my flowers in the pot all season.  They just fizzle by the end of the summer and I get tired of them! Sometimes I have three seasons of containers –  a winter one with an evergreen and some pansies and other cool weather flowers, then I move on to petunias, supertunias, cannas, lantanas -everything that likes heat, and finally to fall plants –  mums, asters, grasses, cabbages, and ferns. I mix and match perennials, shrubs and annuals to get the most versatility and longevity out of my pots. To see my post on Fall containers, go to Creative Fall containers. For early season containers, go to Seasonal Containers.

Seasonal container-miscanthus, chrysanthemum, autumn fern, cabbage, artemisa, ivy

Edibles

Edibles in containers are big now and rightly so. So many leafy crops have gorgeous foliage and shouldn’t be relegated to the vegetable garden, and it is a great way to grow your veggies in limited space. One of my all time  favorite fillers is curly parsley. Colorful kale, lettuce, spinach, and other herbs like thyme are also great. Or, you can have an entirely edible container selection, and include eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, cucs. The sky is the limit. If it is too late to start seeds, there is a huge variety of midget sized plants available at any nursery that have been developed for container culture.

Little Prince eggplant from Renees Gardens grow great in containers
Little Prince eggplant from Renees Gardens grow great in containers
Container with edibles
Container with edibles-kale, lettuce,, pansies, angelina sedum

Large Containers Are Best

Choose a large enough container to avoid constantly watering it during hot summers.  A pot with a circumference of at least 15 to 18 inches is enough to get you going with a choice of different types of plants, plus enough room for them to grow throughout the summer. I like the light weight faux pots that look like real pottery,  but will not crack and will retain water better than terra-cotta ones. The faux pots will last for years and you can leave them out all winter, plus they are inexpensive and portable. There are even self-watering ones available which have a water reservoir built into the container.  Regardless of the type of container that you have, make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom.  If there aren’t any, drill some using a large bit on a portable drill and be sure to make them large enough, at least 3/4 of an inch in diameter. In addition, elevate your containers for air circulation. I use pot feet to elevate.

Pot feet elevates a container
Pot feet elevates a container
A great little trailer- Silver Falls or Dichondra

Good Soil – Good Plants

Good soil or potting medium is critical for the health of your plants that will be sitting in the container for months or years. Use an organic mix of compost, sphagnum moss, and perlite. There are a lot of commercial potting mixes on the market so be sure to choose one that has added fertilizer to it as container plants need a good boost of fertilizer to bloom all season long, plus regular applications. Make sure that you add a good dollop of compost in the bottom of the pot – a couple of inches at least.  This is where the roots are going to reach down and use up all those nutrients to produce flowers all season long. If you must reuse the same soil, then remove the top 5 or 6 inches and replace with fresh potting medium.

Container in full summer glory

Right Plant, Right Spot

Note if your container will be in all day sunlight, partial shade, or mostly shade.  Shady container plants can be just as colorful as sunny ones with careful selection of colorful foliage. Go to the nursery and ask a knowledgeable employee for suggestions on varieties.  For any situation,  you want something tall for the back, like a grass, cordyline, canna or caladium, and a cascader for the edge and something to fill in between- thrillers, spillers, and fillers!

A container with different types and textures of plants is more appealing
A container with different types and textures of plants is more appealing

It is an overused phrase, but it really describes the process well. For a pot 18 inches in diameter, you would need about 5 to 9 plants. Use a tall architectural one, a couple of fillers, and a couple of spillers. When I create a container, I want mature plants to make a big impact right away. Later on, you can prune and winnow out the ones that are failing to thrive.

Window Boxes

Shade Windowbox
Shade windowbox with begonia ‘Bonfire’

 

Succulent window box
Succulent window box

Planting window boxes uses the same principles as containers. To create depth you really make use of those spillers. Silver Falls, Dichondra, is a great asset for trailing down walls and planters for sun and shade, and the new begonia ‘Bonfire’ is valuable for bright color in the shade .

All three types of plants are used in this standing windowbox, thriller, fillers, and spillers
All three types of plants are used in this standing windowbox- thriller, fillers, and spillers
Trailing Silver Falls out of a windowbox
Trailing Silver Falls out of a windowbox
Silver Falls at Chanticleer in the ruin

Textures

When selecting your plants, consider your textures. I see too many containers planted with flowers and foliage that are similar in texture and look too busy.  Try mixing it up with some broad sculptural leaves, variegated foliage, and deeply lobed leaf shapes. Using varying forms will help your plants stand out instead of blending together in an indistinguishable mass.

Good textural contrast and variety-bubblegum petunia, variegated ginger, black and blue salvia, plectranthus, secretsea
More textural variety

Cannas and Caladiums -Focal Points

A variegated canna as a focal point
Caladiums
Caladiums

Cannas are good selections for sunny containers –  just make sure your pot is large enough.  I have seen cannas get 8 feet tall or higher! For shade, try Caladiums. There are beautiful Caladiums on the market with very colorful unusual markings and they will shine in the shade. But be careful when you plant these as they are very sensitive to cold. Make sure the nights keep above at least 50 degrees before setting these out.

 Coleus

Varieties of coleus
Varieties of coleus

The Coleus on the market now are not your grandmother’s Coleus! Many of these new varieties are designed to thrive in full sun –  not shade –   though there are a few that prefer shade only. Literally, there are hundreds of varieties on the market and you could simply do lots of containers with just Coleus and have very colorful pots. Coleus are among my all-time favorites with beautiful striking foliage. I prefer not to let Coleus flower as the flowers detract from the foliage beauty, and when they appear, I pinch them off.


A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!
Partial shade container in old fashioned lead pot-coleus, dragon wing begonia, fuschia, sweet potato vine, geranium

Maintenance-Nip and Tuck!

Maintenance includes regular watering, at least once a day when it is hot, fertilizing with a dilute or granular fertilizer at least once a week, and pinching back plants as they grow to maintain their shape.  I call this nip and tuck.  If you don’t do this on a regular basis, your plants will get leggy, unattractive, and woody.  If you don’t have good drainage, your plants will literally drown from lack of Oxygen!  Make sure that your drainage holes are large enough so they don’t get clogged up and don’t use gravel in the bottom.  I carry a long metal rod for unplugging clogged drainage holes.

Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole
Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole

Added gravel just makes the pot heavier and does not help with drainage. Drip irrigation is an option if you have lots of containers that need regular watering and you don’t want to be a slave to your water can.  Drip is pretty simple to set up, with all the components available at a local nursery or hardware store and they just snap together. I compare it to playing with Tinker Toys!

Grouping

Group your containers, especially if you have many small ones.  By grouping, you achieve a bigger impact and it is far easier to take care of them in one bunch.  If you do drip irrigation, grouping is essential as you use less tubing and you can hide the tubing in the adjacent pots. Grouping also makes it easier for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to find the nectar rich flowers.

A large grouping at the National Arboretum in D.C.
Great color combo-coleus, trailing petunia, lotus vine, verbena, silver falls, black and blue salvia
Don’t be afraid to plant just one kind of sensational plant in a container – here it is oleander

I

 

Miniature Gardening in the Winter

Mini garden

Mini Gardens 

I am a garden designer by trade and normally design gardens in full size, but also love to design gardens in miniature- especially in the winter when I am housebound. There is something unique about creating a complete space in small scale that is so satisfying and fun!  I can have garden features that I have only dreamed about – like a bridge over a dry stream bed, mossy nooks and crannies, arbors, and birdhouses just like I was creating a larger space.

A fairy garden in the landscape
A fairy garden in the landscape

I can enjoy a tiny gazing ball- but at a fraction of the cost of a full size version. It seems like more nurseries are catering to this gardening trend and it isn’t hard to find small scale plants and miniatures, even in the dead of winter.

Fairy garden accessories
Fairy garden accessories

 

Containers

I think the hardest part of creating mini gardens is finding the appropriate container.  A shallow wide open container is desirable but hard to find.  That is why I make a lot of my own with hypertufa. Use my recipe to make your own container at http://http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/hypertufa-making-mud-pies/.

Try making your hypertufa in a basket mold. After the mixture sets, cut off the basket and peel it off the hypertufa. The basket weave leaves great indentations in the cement.

If that is too much trouble, then use shallow ceramic or wooden containers with drainage holes. But occasionally I discover a perfect pottery container in my travels and grab it. Bonsai pots are excellent if you can find them.

Bonsai containers make perfect miniature garden containers
Bonsai containers make perfect miniature garden containers

Planting

A shallow boat shaped container found at a fabric store!

Planting DIY

After choosing the perfect container, fill it up about 2/3 of the way with some good loose potting soil.  Notice that I recommend good potting soil.  An organic one with lots of peat is the best mix even though you might pay a few more bucks a bag. Arrange your plants, usually 3 to 5 of them in an interesting design. Use creeping ones, as well as taller ones like small grasses and different colors to give variety. Make sure you have room for a meandering pathway and small areas to place your accessories.

Fill shallow container with soil
Arrange your small plants with different textures and colors in the bowl.

Suggested Plants

Use naturally miniature plants that are in scale with a tiny garden.  I use ajugas, alternethera, small grasses, creeping thymes, sedums, sempervivums, mosses, silver falls, trailing rosemary, wire vine, mini liriope, and miniature alpines, like armeria. The plants will eventually outgrow your garden, so you need to refresh and edit the garden periodically. If my thyme or ajuga gets out of hand, I dig it up, separate and use the extras to make a new garden.

Use a variety of plants, including some blooming ones
Use a variety of plants, including some blooming ones

After planting your selections, I take moistened sheet moss and press it in between the plants to cover the soil. This covering gives you a base to place your stepping stones and other accessories. It also prevents the soil from coming loose and overflowing the container when you water.

Choose some round polished stones for a pathway
Create a pathway with stones

After creating a pathway, I like to scatter coarse aquarium gravel around the stones to give them definition. As a last flourish, scatter small bits of beach glass or ‘mermaid tears’ to make the path stand out.

Scattered coarse gravel
Crushed colored beach glass

Accessories

Here is the fun part! I am always on the lookout on my travels for small pieces to use in my gardens and you can find them in the most unexpected places.  Christmas decorations are a surprising rich source. I find lots of miniature gardening tools and watering cans at Christmas as ornaments.

Gnome home, go to https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/happy-gnoming-home-for-a-gnome/
Gnome home, go to https://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/happy-gnoming-home-for-a-gnome/

Don’t worry that the piece will not be the exact scale for your garden  –  no one is measuring! Just make sure that you don’t clutter the garden up too much, so use only two or three minis. I love using miniature wheel barrows with a tiny terra cotta pot or a bird house on a stake. Small resin animals, twig arbors, fences, miniature benches or chairs add to the charm. These make a perfect gift for someone who is housebound and cannot garden outdoors.

Mini with accessories

Care

Use a mister to water your garden every 4 to 5 days, and more if the container is in the sun.  Use small trimmers to keep everything pruned to scale. As the plants grow, you will need to pot them out to another container and replace with a new miniature plant.  The gravel or crushed shells will need to be refreshed periodically.  I have been successful with keeping my gardens both indoors and outdoors.  Usually, I place my gardens in partial sun outdoors during the summer and bring them indoors for the winter, keeping it on a windowsill with bright light.

Planted garden with accessories
Planted garden
Planted garden

Last Minute Gift Basket

 

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How many times during the Holidays do you need a present for someone that pops up at the last minute?

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It happens to me so often that I keep small winter potted plants, like poinsettia, ferns, ivy, and cyclamen on hand to throw a gift basket together in just a few minutes.

This gift basket has white cyclamen, ivy, wintergreen with red berries, and ferns
This gift basket has white cyclamen, ivy, wintergreen with red berries, and ferns

The process is a bit more than just placing some pretty potted plants in a basket. Make sure that your basket has low sides and that you have a large surface area to showcase all the plants. Seen at a local garden center, the basket above retailed for $125! You can put something this nice together for a third to one half of the cost. These gift baskets will last for months instead of a few days that a regular cut flower arrangement could be kept. Just change out the cut flowers as needed.

Assemble all your plants, plus a basket with a plastic liner
Assemble all your plants, plus a basket with a plastic liner

Ingredients

  • Low sided basket with liner

  • 3 to 5 potted plants, making sure that you have a variety of green trailers and flowering plants

  • Pieces of saturated oasis to wedge in between plants

  • Short pieces of evergreens

  • Bow, if you want one

  • Fresh cut flowers such as lilies, carnations, roses, baby’s breath, and gerber daisies

Place your plants in basket and stuff oasis in between to keep the plants steady
Place your plants in basket and stuff oasis in between to keep the plants steady

Process

  • Assemble all ingredients

  • Place the potted plants in basket, keeping the taller ones in the back half

  • Fill in spaces with chunks of saturated oasis

  • Insert cut evergreen branches to cover oasis

Fill in gaps with cut evergreens
Fill in gaps with cut evergreens
  • Insert fresh cut flowers in oasis for added color

Place cut flowers in wet oasis
Place cut flowers in wet oasis
  • Add bow, berries, or Christmas balls

You are finished creating a beautiful living arrangement for someone that will last for months. Just be sure to tell the recipient to water the plants and oasis every few days to keep it fresh.

Merry Christmas!!

Small basket arrangement
Small basket arrangement

Containers With Pizzazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!

Shade Container
Shade Container

Container Finesse

Updated April 2016

I create containers for clients all the time and am always looking for inspiration to move away from the “geraniums with spike and trailer”  school of thought. With a little more planning and shopping, you can come up with a showplace masterpiece with WOW impact.

Check out my updated post Containers With Pizzazz for new pictures and ideas. And for containers geared to attract pollinators, look at Nectar in a Pot-Movable Feast.

Container with a variety of plants for all summer color
Container with a variety of plants for all summer color-Canna, trailing zinnia, trailing petunia, sweet potato vine, coleus, verbena, and salvia

Take pictures of creations that you like and copy them, but add your own personal touches to make it your own. Once you have done enough containers, the combinations are second nature, starting with just one really wonderful plant and working from there.

Succulents- you can go on vacation and leave these without worrying!

Artful Containers

The best piece of advice that I picked up over the years was a secret to coordinating your colors in an arrangement.  Choose a piece of fabric or piece of art that you really like, and take it with you when you plant shop.  Of course, you can’t take a painting with you so grab refrigerator magnets with famous paintings on them from museums, cut a swatch from fabric, or cut out paintings from magazines.  Inspired by a Van Gogh, my most successful container used the colors from his iris painting. Van Gogh’s painting has that intense blue which so many people adore – also orange, greens, a touch of white and yellow. If you like it in a painting, you will like it in a container!

Beautiful colors from Van Gogh painting

 

Early spring container by Leigh Barnes

I have plenty of room to plant in my beds but I really enjoy planting in containers because they become a piece of art in miniature. This is my opportunity to try new annuals untested by me,  and go wild with the color combos.  Bold, vibrant,  and sizzling color, is the driving force for many of my combinations. Browse the new Pantone colors for 2016, and you will see a mix of Rose Quartz and Serenity(light blue) the top colors for this year. Not my cup of tea, as I prefer Violet Tulip, Radiant Orchid, Dazzling Blue, Celosia Orange, Freesia Yellow, and Cayenne which were the colors of the past couple years. I find that there are too many containers with pastel and hum drum hues, and that I enjoy creating a bold and striking container .

Musical Plants-Rearrange for the Season!

Cluster containers together for a bigger impact and ease of watering
Cluster plants together for a bigger impact and ease of watering

I rarely keep my flowers in the pot all season.  They just fizzle by the end of the summer and I get tired of them! Sometimes I have three seasons of containers –  a winter one with an evergreen and some pansies and other cool weather flowers, then I move on to petunias, supertunias, cannas, lantanas -everything that likes heat, and finally to fall plants –  mums, asters, grasses, cabbages, and ferns. I mix and match perennials, shrubs and annuals to get the most versatility and longevity out of my pots. To see my post on Fall containers, go to Creative Fall containers. For early spring containers, look at Seasonal Containers.

Seasonal container-miscanthus, chrysanthemum, autumn fern, cabbage, artemisa, ivy

Edibles

Edibles in containers are big now and rightly so. So many leafy crops have gorgeous foliage and should be used more in containers and is a great way to grow your veggies in limited space. One of my all time  favorite fillers is curly parsley! I buy this by the flat full. Colorful kale, lettuce, spinach, and other herbs like thyme are also great. Or, you can have an entirely edible container selection, and include eggplant, tomatoes, lettuce, cucs. The sky is the limit. If it is too late to start seeds, there is a huge variety of midget sized plants available at any nursery developed for container culture.

Container with edibles
Container with edibles-kale, lettuce,, pansies, angelina sedum

Large Containers Are Best

Choose a large enough container to avoid constantly watering it during hot summers.  A pot with a circumference of at least 15 to 18 inches is enough to get you going with a choice of different types of plants, plus enough room for them to grow throughout the summer. I like the light weight faux pots that look like real pottery,  but will not crack and will retain water better than terra-cotta ones. Faux pots will last for years and you can leave them out all winter, plus they are inexpensive and portable. There are even self-watering ones available which have a water reservoir built into the container.  Regardless of the type of container that you have, make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom.  If there aren’t any, drill some using a large bit on a portable drill and be sure to make them large enough, at least 3/4 of an inch in diameter.

A great little trailer- Silver Falls or Dichondra

Good Soil – Good Plants

Good soil or potting medium is critical for the health of your plants that will be sitting in the container for months or years. Use an organic mix of compost, sphagnum moss, and perlite. There are a lot of commercial potting mixes on the market so be sure to choose one that has added fertilizer to it as container plants need a good boost of fertilizer to bloom all season long, plus regular applications. Make sure that you add a good dollop of compost in the bottom of the pot – a couple of inches at least.  This is where the roots are going to reach down and use up all those nutrients to produce flowers all season long. If you must reuse the same soil, then remove the top 5 or 6 inches and replace with fresh potting medium.

Container in full summer glory

Right Plant, Right Spot

Note if your container will be in all day sunlight, partial shade, or mostly shade.  Shady container plants can be just as colorful as sunny ones with careful selection of colorful foliage. Go to the nursery and ask a knowledgeable employee for suggestions on varieties.  For any situation,  you want something tall for the back, like a grass, cordyline, canna or caladium, and a cascader for the edge and something to fill in between- thrillers, spillers, and fillers!

Foliage shade container by Leigh Barnes
Foliage shade container by Leigh Barnes- ferns, hakonechloa grass, helleborus, creeping fig, heuchera

It is an overused phrase, but it really describes the process well. For a pot 18 inches in diameter, you would need about 5 to 10 plants. Of the selected plants, use a tall architectural one, a couple of fillers, and a couple of spillers. Be wary of stuffing too much in so that plants have room to grow. Or for instant impact, stuff away and you can edit as plants get larger.

Window Boxes

Shade Windowbox
Shade windowbox with begonia ‘Bonfire’

 

Succulent window box
Succulent window box

Planting window boxes uses the same principles as containers. To create depth you really make use of those spillers.  Silver Falls, Dichondra, is a great asset for trailing down walls and planters for sun and shade, and the new begonia ‘Bonfire’ is valuable for bright color in the shade .

Silver Falls at Chanticleer in the ruin

Textures

When selecting your plants, consider your textures. I see too many containers planted with flowers and foliage that are similar in texture and look too busy.  Try mixing it up with some broad sculptural leaves, variegated foliage, and deeply lobed leaf shapes. Using varying forms will help your plants stand out instead of blending together in an indistinguishable mass.

Good textural contrast and variety-bubblegum petunia, variegated ginger, black and blue salvia, plectranthus, secretsea
More textural variety

Cannas and Caladiums -Focal Points

A variegated canna as a focal point

Cannas are good selections for sunny containers –  just make sure your pot is large enough.  I have seen cannas get 8 feet tall or higher! For shade, try Caladiums. There are beautiful Caladiums on the market with very colorful unusual markings and they will shine in the shade. But be careful when you plant these as they are very sensitive to cold. Make sure the nights keep above at least 50 degrees before setting these out.

 

Coleus

Varieties of coleus
Varieties of coleus

The Coleus on the market now are not your grandmother’s Coleus! Many of these new varieties are designed to thrive in full sun –  not shade –   though there are a few that prefer shade only. Literally, there are hundreds of varieties on the market and you could simply do lots of containers with just Coleus and have very colorful pots. Coleus are among my all-time favorites with beautiful striking foliage. I prefer not to let Coleus flower as the flowers detract from the foliage beauty, and when they appear, I pinch them off.

A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!
Partial shade container in old fashioned lead pot-coleus, dragon wing begonia, fuschia, sweet potato vine, geranium

Maintenance-Nip and Tuck!

Maintenance includes regular watering, at least once a day when it is hot, fertilizing with a dilute or granular fertilizer at least once a week, and pinching back plants as they grow to maintain their shape.  I call this nip and tuck.  If you don’t do this on a regular basis, your plants will get leggy, unattractive, and woody. It is also a good idea to elevate containers on bricks or “pot feet” so that they drain properly. If you don’t have good drainage, your plants will literally drown from lack of Oxygen! Make sure that your drainage holes are large enough so they don’t get clogged up and don’t use gravel in the bottom.  I carry a long metal rod for unplugging root mass clogged drainage holes.

Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole
Inserting a metal rod in a clogged drainage hole

Added gravel just makes the pot heavier and does not help with drainage. Drip irrigation is an option if you have lots of containers that need regular watering and you don’t want to be a slave to your water can.  Drip is pretty simple to set up, with all the components available at a local nursery or hardware store and they just snap together. I compare it to playing with Tinker Toys!

Grouping

Group your containers, especially if you have many small ones.  By grouping, you achieve a bigger impact and it is far easier to take care of them in one bunch.  If you do drip irrigation, grouping is essential as you use less tubing and you can hide the tubing in the adjacent pots. Also, if you are doing pollinator friendly pots, grouping them makes it easier for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to find them.

A large grouping at the National Arboretum in D.C.
Great color combo-coleus, trailing petunia, lotus vine, verbena, silver falls, black and blue salvia
Don’t be afraid to plant just one kind of sensational plant in a container – here it is oleander

 

Succulent Terrariums-Bring the Beach In

Succulent Beach Terrarium
Succulent Beach Terrarium

If you crave the seaside atmosphere in the middle of winter, create a beach scene in miniature! Succulents are some of the easiest plants in the universe to grow and anyone can put this together to brighten up the dark days of winter.

Here is your supply list:

Clear glass container

Horticultural charcoal (not essential, but suggested)

Horticultural charcoal
Horticultural charcoal

Aquarium gravel

Cactus potting soil-This has better drainage than regular potting soil

2  small succulents

Play sand

Popsicle sticks for fence

Smooth stones for steppers (3)

Small shells

Blue colored decorative rocks for water

Tiny pieces of reindeer moss for seaweed

Miniatures ( I used a small Adirondack chair from Dept 56, wine bottles, wine and cheese tray)

Soft paint brush for brushing sand off succulents

Long tweezers to place accessories

Beach terrarium tutorial
Beach terrarium tutorial

  • Select a good-sized container, I used one 12″ x 8″, with straight sides
  • Lay a 1 inch layer of gravel
  • Mix in a handful of charcoal; this keeps the soil from turning smelly
  • Add about 2 inches of cactus soil, making hills and valleys to give the scene more interest
  • Plant the two succulents, watering lightly
  • Add a top layer of sand to cover soil
  • Brush off any sand with the soft paint brush, watering lightly again
  • Place and press into the sand the three smooth rocks
  • Add decorative blue rocks for water; I used crushed up and dyed mother of pearl
  • Add the rest of your accessories; break popsicle sticks and stick in the sand for a fence, add your miniatures, using the tweezers

    Using tweezers to place minis in beach terrarium
    Using tweezers to place minis in beach terrarium
  • Add tiny seashells and tiny tendrils of moss for seaweed to the water area
  • Set in a sunny window and enjoy!
Another Succulent terrarium
Another Succulent terrarium

If you like this blog, please take a minute and nominate my blog for the first Annual bloggers award at Better Homes and Gardens at http://www.bhg.com/blogs/better-homes-and-gardens-style-blog/bhg-blogger-awards/ Many thanks!!

Bringing Spring In-Forcing Bulbs

Variety of bulbs for forcing
Variety of bulbs for forcing

Forcing Bulbs

Every gardener in the depths of winter, wants to bring spring in and relieve the monotony of dreary, dull winter days, without flowers.  The garden is lifeless, snow-covered and icy, and you need your drug fix of color and fragrance to help you get through the winter. What is a gardener to do??? An easy solution, short of buying your  own greenhouse of flowers, is to plant bulbs inside that will emerge and bloom in a couple of weeks in the depths of January and February. But to get those quick results, you need to force certain varieties- Paperwhites, Amaryllis, and pre-chilled Hyacinths.

bulbs3

Forcing bulbs is a technique that has been in use for hundreds of years, popularized in the Victorian era, and the Victorians went to great lengths to force bulbs into bloom.

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The proper definition of forcing bulbs is  defined as “a technique that imitates the environmental conditions that bulbs encounter outdoors, thereby tricking them into flowering earlier”. Different types of bulbs require different chilling periods, generally between 12 and 16 weeks. But for Paperwhites and Amaryllis, they are primed and ready to go without this artificial chilling period, and that is why gardeners depend on them for easy winter color.

Usually you see only one variety of paperwhite, but there are many different ones
Paperwhite display
Paperwhite display

To have Tulips, Crocuses, Iris, and other bulbs  blooming in my house in the winter, I would have had to pot the bulbs up in the late fall, chill them in a refrigerator for weeks and weeks, and then bring them into the house for warmth to bloom. But, I don’t have the time or room for that, so I do the next best thing – force the easy ones quickly without much fuss or mess.

At a local nursery, I also discovered a treasure trove of Hyacinth bulbs that were pre-chilled and I snatched those up to force also.

Paperwhite Narcissus

Paperwhites are the most commonly forced bulb that gardeners love to grow and enjoy for their wonderful fragrance. The scent of a bowl of Paperwhites in full bloom will waft through an entire house! They are incredibly easy and bring a touch of much-needed spring scents into your living space. When choosing your bulbs, select ones that are symmetrical, rather than ones that have off shoots, as these tend to come out lopsided and will fall over easily.

Forced Daffs at the Philadelphia Flower Show
Forced Daffs at the Philadelphia Flower Show

How To Force Paperwhites

Step 1

Paperwhite bulbs
Paperwhite bulbs-one lop-sided and one symmetrical

I like to put my Paperwhites in gravel so that they are bottom heavy and won’t flop over from the weight of the tall stems. Simply fill a container with loose gravel or pebbles, or soil.

Step 2

If you pot them in soil, water until moist. If you use gravel, fill up the container with water until the level hits the bottom of the bulb, but they are not submerged.

Paperwhites in container for forcing
Paperwhites in container for forcing

Step 3

Keep your paperwhites in a warm sunny spot and check the rooting container almost every day for formation of roots, adding water as it evaporates.

Step 4

Once the shoots reach 2 inches tall, you need to pour off the old water and add a mixture of 4-6 % alcohol and water. You need to do this to stunt the growth of the stems which can get quite tall. You will end up with drunken Paperwhites! The alcohol mixture will shorten the stems by one-third and not affect the flowers at all. See below for the recipe.

Step 5

Once in bloom, if you move them to a cooler location, the flowers will last longer.

The Science

I thought that adding alcohol was an old wives tale, but scientists have proved the veracity of this claim. Go to, http://blogs.cornell.edu/hort/2009/11/10/pickling-your-paperwhites/ .

Basically, if you add 1 part of gin, vodka, or other alcohol, to 7 parts water, the mixture will interfere with water intake and you end up with shorter and less floppy stems. As anyone who has grown these bulbs knows, a container of fully grown Paperwhites needs support or the whole thing will topple over. The key is to add this mixture after the shoots reach 2 inches tall. Do not use wine or beer!! as that adds too much sugar. Don’t go over this amount of alcohol (4-6%), or you could really damage the plant. If you decide not to add the alcohol, you will need to add some support to the stems.

Varieties of Paperwhites

Ziva Paperwhites planted in mass in the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens
Ziva Paperwhites planted in mass in the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens

I like the old-fashioned variety Ziva for the great fragrance and pure white color. Also, for those who can’t stand the intense fragrance, there is a variety that is only lightly scented called Tazetta inbal. Personally, I love the strong Paperwhite scent and would never plant the lightly scented variety as that is the main reason I grow them. Another variety to try, is a beautiful sunny yellow with an orange center, called Grand soleil d’Or.

Types of Paperwhites
Types of Paperwhites

The Big One-Amaryllis

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Amaryllis are huge bulbs with huge flowers

If you have read this blog at all, you probably have figured out that Amaryllis tops my list of favorite plants. Go to Amaryllis Centerpiece or Amaryllis Primer  to see what you can do with this easy to force bulb.

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Amaryllis Centerpiece

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Amaryllis flowers used at Longwood
Amaryllis flowers used at Longwood

Hyacinths

For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to
For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to Longfield Gardens

I love the fragrance and color of Hyacinths, so am forcing these for the first time. I found some pre-chilled bulbs at the nursery along with some forcing vases and thought I would give it a whirl. The trick here is to set the bulbs directly above the water, but not touching, so that the bulbs don’t rot.

Forcing Hyacinths

Step 1

If you can’t find pre-chilled bulbs, place them in your crisper drawer of your refrigerator for at least five weeks, keeping them away from your produce.

Step 2

Fill the forcing vase to just below the cup where the bulb will rest. The bulb will reach for the water. Some of my bulbs I set on gravel in a mason jar with the water level just below the base of the bulb.

Step 3

Place the hyacinth bulb with the root end down and growing tip up, so that the base is just above the water. Place your vase on a bright windowsill and periodically change the water, and turn the vase to keep it centered. Enjoy the two-week show of beauty and fragrance. I especially enjoy watching the roots form through the glass!

peach-hyacinths
Photo from Longfield Gardens

After Care

Paperwhites and Hyacinths pour all their energy into blooming and are all bloomed-out afterwards. I toss them. Amaryllis are a different story. After blooming, I cut off the stalk and water it just like any other houseplant. In the spring when all danger of frost is gone, I stick the pots outside in a sheltered location, in partial sun. I ignore them all summer long, until the fall, when it gets chillier. Then, I bring the pots in and put them in the dark basement and let the leaves die back. Around Thanksgiving, I start watering the bulbs and bring them into the light. Usually they reward me by sending out buds and begin their cycle again.