September 8, 2010

The Early Autumn Container Garden

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a container garden planted in May will, by the end of summer, be a sad-looking vestige of its spring glory. Sometimes, though, a lot of pruning and reasonable choice of plant material can yield a container that holds its own right into the autumn.

As noted in previous posts, Betty created something like fifty container gardens this spring. Some of them are necessarily ephemeral: lobelia is going to disappear with the summer heat no matter how much water and shade it is given. Salvia is going to get leggy. Also, some plants are thugs and will take over a container, relentlessly pushing out less aggressive specimens.

But some containers come through the season looking terrific. These photos, taken today (September 8), are of gardens that went through a torrid July and August yet survived looking, if not exactly like grown-up versions of their May incarnations, at least attractive. They were kept well watered and were pinched back regularly.  Double-click on any of them to get a full-page photo.

There are a pair of cast-iron urns by the front door that greet visitors. The dominant plant in the containers is a coleus ‘Pele’, a slow grower that never bolted. The terrific grass is a pennisetum ‘Fireworks’ that is still of a manageable size after nearly four months. The fragrant nemesia ‘Sunsation’ is somewhat the worse for wear but the strawberry vine that cascades down the side of the urn has looked great all summer. As a tip to container gardeners, Betty offers the advice that there should be an insulating layer between the metal of the urn and the soil inside it.

Many containers were moved over the course of the season, most often to fill in holes in various flower beds. One such is visible directly in front of the urn. There, a strobilanthes ‘Persian Shield’ provides a dramatic burst of purple and black, augmenting a heliotrope ‘Fragrant Delight’. At the base is a nice fringe of Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria). As an aside, on the steps to the right is a light green and very fuzzy plecanthrus. Early in the season, it became home to a large frog which created a pleasant (to a frog) damp hidey-hole in the plant’s root mass. We’ve left it alone all season. The frog is still happily ensconced and doesn’t mind being periodically doused.

If I kept better track of tags, I could more fully identify the plants in the other containers pictured. One of the highlights of the garden is the grouping of five containers (at right) that soften a corner of our home. There’s an arborvitae ‘Berckmans Golden’ in a tall terra cotta pot. A smaller, identically shaped container holds a coleus ‘Kingswood Torch’ and a ‘Marguerite’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea). Three more pots offer a variety of accent plants ranging from succulents to a trailing, nicely scented petunia. The vine behind the containers is a clematis ‘Virgin’s Bower’ that blooms in September.

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