October 4, 2012

Why You Should Never Let a Plant Go to Waste

The container garden of the year was never supposed to be one.

Start with the container itself.  For six years, it held a series of evergreens.  I say ‘series’ because there would come a point when either the evergreen grew too large for the pot or the evergreen needed to be pressed into service because a deer had ravaged an in-ground one and a replacement was needed.

Last year, the
container held an
arborvitae.  Note
the patina.
That was the case this past spring.  Scant snow coverage allowed deer to forage in our outer sidewalk bed, leaving one side of an arborvitae badly mauled.  When we pulled its replacement from out of the container, we found that the terra cotta had cracked in several places.  If not for a metal band around the top and the container mix and tree roots pushing outward, the container would be in several pieces on the ground.  We put the container aside to be disposed of.

April turned to May and container gardens were assembled – more than 60 in all.  At the end of May there were some leftover plants, including three torenia ‘Purple Moon’.  Here’s how Andrew’s Greenhouse describes the annual:

NEW! TORENIA fournieri. The Wishbone Flower is a leafy plant with small, dark green leaves and a plethora of lipped blooms, each with a wishbone-shaped marking. Flowers remind me of snapdragon florets. Low maintenance plants that are self cleaning; that's right, no deadheading! Does best in consistently moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade.  'Purple moon' This fast-growing, long blooming trailer bears loads of large dark violet flowers. 6-10".

The container in late July.  Note
the change in patina.
Betty had purchased the torenia at Andrew’s thinking she would use them in a container program.  The day before she was to give the program, she noted that the plants had only a few insignificant blooms.  She set them aside in favor of a different plant.

At the end of May, nearly all other containers were filled and Betty was ready to call it a wrap.  As usual, I thought that every plant ought to find a home.  The torenia were now flowering nicely and starting to trail.  There were also several caladium bulbs that were beginning to sprout leaves.  I hauled out the broken container, put the pieces in place and gave Betty an expectant look. 

In return, Betty gave me one of her ‘why are you doing this to me?’ looks, but gamely filled the container.  She placed the caladium in the center and the torenia at the corners – as simple an arrangement as you’ll ever see.  We placed the container under an oak tree, principally because of the shade requirements of the caladium.

By mid-September, the torenia had
trailed down the side of the
container.  The flowers are prolific,
the plant self-cleaning.
What happened next was a joy to see.  The torenia quickly grew into a dense mat and began trailing down the sides of the container.  The caladium began putting up dozens of leaves.  Although the purple of the torenia did not play off of anything in the caladium, the overall effect was quite pleasing.  In the meantime, the green patina on the terra cotta container became vivid and multicolored, and the trailing flowers accented the effect.

Through July and August, the container continued to astound.  We kept the container well-watered and the torenia kept growing, producing large numbers of flowers.  Best of all (from my point) the flowers are ‘self cleaning’ – when they’re spent, they drop off rather than needing to be dead-headed.  The caladium’s leaves became ever more numerous and the height-to-container-size ratio was just right.

Chilly weather had taken its toll in the past week or so, but Betty and I agree that, hands down, this was the best container she created this season.  Which proves the adage, never let a plant go to waste.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Neal, I'll have to look for that torenia next spring. It would be perfect for some containers I hope to create along the trail. Thanks for the tips!