August 28, 2014

September Stars

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an annual garden planted in May will, by the end of summer, be a sad-looking vestige of its spring glory. Insects, summer heat, drought, and weeds take their inevitable toll.  Even container gardens – groups of annuals in a rich growing medium planted with a density to keep out weeds and conserve moisture – look ragged come the end of August.

Shopping for annuals in early May
Sometimes, though, a lot of pruning and an inspired choice of plant material can yield a container that holds its own right into the autumn.  On this page is living proof that September can be a glory month for color in a New England container garden.

Every year Betty creates more than fifty containers that do everything from define the edge of our driveway to plug holes in beds where plants failed to thrive. Some of the plants in those containers 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.  These are things than come with the territory; the ‘territory’ being ‘gardening’.

But some containers come through the season looking terrific. These photos, taken on August 27, are of containers that have come through June, July and August looking, if not exactly like grown-up versions of their May incarnations, at least extremely attractive. They were kept well watered and were pinched back regularly. 

By the front steps, Magilla
Perilla Purple and torenia
Catalina Midnight Blue
We always cluster one or more groups of containers by the steps leading to our front door.  Usually, the standout mini-gardens are the ones in a pair of cast-iron pots by the front door.  This year, though, a container at the base of the steps stole the show.  The dominant plant rising above the containers is a perilla ‘Magilla Perilla Purple’, a plant with leaves so vividly purple and pink as to look like an op-art painting.  But cascading down the side of the container is a calming torenia ‘Catalina Midnight Blue’.  Torenia usually grows best in shade. This specimen, though in an ostensibly sunny location, gets a break courtesy of the aforementioned perilla (which is a member of the basil family of all things).  ‘Catalina Midnight Blue’ is in perpetual flower and is self-deadheading.  (Double-click on any photo to get a full-screen slideshow.)

Four containers have grown into
a symphony of blues
There is also always a cluster of containers by the junction of the sidewalk and our driveway.  This year, four pots have grown into an inseparable symphony of blues.  The trailing clusters of flowers in the low gray container are verbena Royale Chambray, the dark blue ones covering the top are calibrochoa Cabaret Deep Blue.  The black pot contains a thriving French lavender called ‘Blueberry Ruffle’, a diascia ‘Darla Rose’. The abundant pink flowering plant in the tall gray pot is a nemesia ‘Pink Innocence’.  In the rear pot are the towering spikes are of salvia ‘Mystic Sprite Blue’ and cleome ‘Senorita Rosita’.  You’ll also spot artemisia (better known as ‘Dusty Miller’) ‘Silver Cascade’ and a heuchera ‘Sugarberry Little Cutie’.  The latter two plants are perennials that will be rescued from their pots after the first frost.

Coleus and fuscia provide high and
low interest to this pair of
Coleus is a terrific annual and plant genetics have advanced to the point that a breeder can practically design a plant to order – picking out a leaf shape and color palette.  A pair of matching terra cotta containers are usually assigned a ‘Southwestern’ theme of yellows and golds but, this year, Betty elected to push the envelope.  A coleus ‘Mint Mocha’ has come to dominate the larger container, dwarfing the lantana ‘Peach Sunrise’ that was supposed to be the star.  Trailing down the side of both terra cotta pots is fuscia magellanica aurea with red flowers.  Rising above the smaller pot is salvia ‘Autumn Heatwave Sparkle’ and an agastache ‘Tango’.

A different angle on
the 'symphony in blue'
Taken together, these containers are table-pounding arguments in favor of clustering annuals in highly visible locations, watering them generously, and feeding them to keep up their displays from the first of the season to that inevitable hard frost.  Putting them together was an arduous process that occupied many, many hours (think one hour per large container; half an hour for a smaller one). 

When the rest of the garden has accepted the inevitability that the season is nearly over, containers loudly and vividly proclaim, ‘Not so fast…’.

1 comment:

  1. Neal, I used to dislike coleus but now that there are so many inviting colors, I've changed my mind. The same goes for Caladiums. I've had a dwarf one on the deck, light green with lime and burgandy splashes, that has looked gorgeous since April. Betty is the bomb when it comes to containers.