Pots in the Garden, Part Two: Tips for Maintaining Hanging Flower Baskets…

July 27th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

A Tumbling Cascade of Grape & Cherry Hues: Hanging Basket by Walker Farm

Ah, the seductive power of summertime annuals! With all of the lush foliage, boldly colored flowers and twisting, trailing vines tumbling from covered porches, it’s hard to deny the romance of flowering baskets. And now that we are in late July, those container-grown annuals should be at their vibrant best. But this has been a tough growing season in North America, with long dry spells and scorching heat testing a gardener’s skill and stamina. How are those annual containers looking these days? Things seem a little worse for the wear?

More than any other type of plant, basket-grown annuals truly rely upon the gardener for life-sustaining water and nutrients; and during the hottest part of summer, they are particularly demanding. Left untended during a week-long vacation, a lush hanging basket will quickly shrivel to a crispy, brown mass. But even when hanging baskets are regularly and properly watered, unless they are given regular TLC, they can begin to look a bit straggly by late July; losing some of their early season pizazz. So how does a gardener keep those baskets beautiful all season long? Follow the checklist below for a few helpful tips…

Baskets of Promise: Colorful, Trailing Annuals on Display at Walker Farm

1) Water, water, water: In summer, it’s usually necessary to water hanging baskets daily; particularly when rain is scarce or when pots are hanging beneath covered porches. During hot spells, sometimes plants will need water twice a day. The ideal time to water plants is in early morning. Check moisture levels in the center of the plant and around the side of the container. I like to use a hose with a wand attachment for watering; positioning the rose at soil level in order to avoid wetting foliage. Dry foliage is less susceptible to fungal infection. I use a two-step approach to watering baskets; soaking the pot until water drains from the base —waiting a few minutes— and then soaking again.

2) Assure good drainage: As the season progresses, annuals have a tendency to form dense root balls. Sometimes, root balls become so congested, that water can no longer penetrate and instead rolls off the top of the basket. Last year during her seminar on container gardening at Walker Farm, my friend Daisy shared a great tip for solving this problem. Using a simple wooden dowel or skewer, push down through the root ball in several places to allow the free passage of water. It’s amazing how well this works to revitalize a hanging plant!

To Keep Annual Baskets Flowering All Season Long, It’s Necessary to Fertilize Every 7-10 Days

3) Feed me Seymour: During the growing season, it’s important to fertilize plants once a week.  I like to feed annual plants with a water-soluble plant food, in the early morning, before the heat of the day. I water the basket first, and then water again with the fertilizer-mixture. In addition, I find that a once-monthly application of Epsom Salts solution (see recipe below) makes for a particularly enthusiastic floral display.

4) Right Plant, Right Place: Hanging basket not blooming? Most annuals require full sun to produce flowers, but of course there are some exceptions to this rule. Most fuchsia and begonia plants prefer partial shade, but lobelia and petunias demand full sun. When selecting a hanging basket, it’s best to make a note of how much light the chosen spot will receive, in order to select the right plant for the location. Check the plant’s tag if you are unsure of the species you are growing, and if care instructions aren’t given, Google that plant to find out what it needs!

5) A snip, snip here & a snip, snip there: Pruning and deadheading hanging baskets can do wonders for improving their mid-season appearance. Use a clean, sharp pair of scissors or pruning shears (a rag soaked with rubbing alcohol works well for cleaning garden tools) and cut away any straggly vines, withered, broken or dead stems and spent flowers. Some annual plants will actually go to seed and stop flowering if they aren’t deadheaded, so I like to pinch off withered blossoms daily, just below the pod.

6) Emergency Rx: Even the best gardeners sometimes forget their plants. Unplanned absence from home? Bring your withered basket indoors and set it in a tub of tepid water; letting it soak until it begins to revive. Drain water and bring the plant back outdoors to a shady spot while it continues to recover.

By Mid-Summer, Dense Root Systems and Shallow Containers Make for a Thirsty Basket. Loosen Dense Roots by Pushing a Dowel Through the Plant in Several Places; Allowing Water to Pass Through, Rather than Roll Off the Top of the Basket

Epsom Salts Super-Flower Solution

1/2 cup Epsom Salts

1 Gallon Sun-Warmed Water

Fill a gallon sized watering can with tepid water (or warm a can of water in the sun) and mix in 1/2 cup of Epsom Salts until dissolved. After watering as usual for the first round, return to each basket with the Epsom Salt solution. Avoiding the foliage, pour about a half a quart of solution into each hanging basket. Repeat monthly throughout the growing season.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Bye, Bye Boring… Hello Blackbird! Euphorbia Euphoria in Pots

June 24th, 2012 § 4 comments § permalink

Euphorbia hybrid ‘Blackbird’: Here on the Studio Balcony in an Oxblood Pot with Senecio mandraliscae and Sedum ‘Sunset Cloud’

Oh my, would you look at this smoldering, velvety loveliness! What a dark, gorgeous beauty! From the moment I saw this stunning spurge, my heart went a flutter and all I could think was, “Bye, bye boring container… Hello beautiful Blackbird”. I think I have found true Euphorbia euphoria! While out shopping for my client’s containers, I couldn’t help but notice that there are some gorgeous, marginally-hardy spurge hybrids moving into garden centers in my neck of the woods. And among them, so far ‘Blackbird’ is my absolute favorite.  I always fall hard and fast for the dark ones!

If you are lucky enough to live in zone 6 or a warmer locale, this beautiful Euphorbia hybrid will be easy to overwinter in beds and borders. But here in zone 4/5, I will be enjoying ‘Blackbird’ and her sexy friends —colorful Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ and succulent Senecio mandraliscae— sunning on the deck. Given good drainage and full or mostly sunny locations, spurge are easy plants to please. Stunning in springtime with their contrasting lime-green to chartreuse-gold blossoms, the Euphorbia have long been among my perennial garden favorites. But why limit yourself to terra firma and zone appropriate choices? Wild combinations and experimentation on your mind? Well, that’s what containers are for! Summer love with no commitments! And what seasonal fun I am having up on my Secret Garden’s roof!

Euphorbia hybrid ‘Blackbird’ is hardy in zones 6-10, requires excellent drainage, ample sun and a lover of bold color. At maturity, she forms a lovely 18-24″ mound, so give her plenty of room and situate her near some colorful companions. Imagine the shimmering gold, copper and ice-blue possibilities! Kaleidoscopic, eye-popping candy for the container garden!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Pots in the Garden: Designing, Planting & Placing Containers in the Landscape… Part One: An Introduction to Color!

May 29th, 2012 § 7 comments § permalink

Weathered to Sweet Perfection: The Red-Orange Hue of an Old Terra Cotta Urn Complements a Carpet of Springtime Blues (Muscari armeniacum in foreground and Phlox divaricata in background)

Late spring is the time of year when I begin planting and placing pots in the garden. Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection of urns, vessels, second-hand terra cotta pots and various other containers. I find that even before they are filled with colorful annuals and exotic tropical plants, their shapes, hues and textures add a touch of beauty to the landscape. In my career as a garden designer  —using my own landscape as a design lab— I’ve created a wide variety of seasonal containers for my clients. And every year, right around Memorial Day, I head out to the garden center with an open mind, looking to try something new…

Colorful, Dramatic Pots Add a Welcoming Touch to My Studio Entry and Stone Terrace (Stonework by Vermont Artist Dan Snow, See Below for Complete Listing of Container Plants)

Earlier this month, I presented a seminar on container gardening,”Pots in the Garden: Designing, Planting and Placing Containers in the Landscape” sponsored by Walker Farm. Creating beautiful, annual garden displays with potted plants need not be difficult, time consuming or expensive. However, understanding the basic principles of design —as well as how to properly plant pots and follow-up with care and maintenance— is key to success with container gardening at any level. Balance and proportion, form and mass, texture and color, and line and repetition are some of the more important elements to consider whether designing a single pot, or large group of containers.

The Gardener’s Color Wheel

There are many decisions to make when designing a container garden, but color is always right at the top of my list. Color, like music, evokes feelings and sets mood. When designing a garden of any kind, I think about how the space will be used and what sort of feeling I want to create. If you are unfamiliar with how to work with color, the gardener’s color wheel (pictured above) can be a useful guide. When choosing a color scheme for a container garden, I keep in mind not only the foliage and flowers, but also the color of the pots, the surrounding space and nearby objects. Look carefully at walls, floors, arbors, shrubs, trees and furniture. Keep those hues in mind when designing containers for your outdoor rooms.

Monochromatic and Analogous Color Relationships Need Not be Boring. In Fact, By Working with a Limited Palette, a Gardener can Emphasize Other Design Elements; Such as Texture, Form, Mass and Placement. Here, a Mass Planting of Orange-Hook Sedge (Ucinia egmontiana) in Oxblood-Colored Pots, Creates a Soothing Screen in Bold Color. Notice How the Orange-Red Colors Bring Out the Rusty Undertones of the Steel Deck. Bold Harmony.

When I want to set a calm and relaxing mood, I usually opt for a monochromatic color scheme; using a single color on the wheel, playing with only a few, subtle variations of tone. Notice how each color on the wheel is shaded, working toward the center? A pot with foliage and flowers in only one color can be quite beautiful. To keep such an arrangement interesting, I would play with the other elements —like form and texture— to create a dynamic design. Analogous color relationships —side by side colors on the wheel above— such as green and blue or violet and red, are also quite soothing in combination, but offer a bit more design drama…

A Broken, Turqoise-Blue Vase adds a Bit of Drama to this Calm Arrangement. Quiet Harmony.

Things really start to get interesting in the garden when complementary colors are played off one another in a design. Opposites on the wheel, complementary colors tend to bring out the best in each other when placed close together. The more intense the hue —or strength of saturation— the more dramatic the result. For example, I like to play gold against violet. Purple, plum, maroon and lavender all look richer when they are placed near mustard, gold, honey and wheat. To bring out the beauty of violet hued foliage and flowers, I choose pots with mustard-colored glazing or add plants with golden foliage to my container design. Complementary color schemes tend to be bold and attention grabbing; use them to draw attention to an area or create a an energetic mood…

The Golden-Chartreuse of Lysmachia nummularia (Golden Moneywort) Enriches the Angelonia (A. angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’) in this Arrangement, and Enhances the Purple-Hues of Nearby Stobilanthes dyerianus (Persian Shield) and Verbena (Glandularia canadensis ‘Homestead Purple’)

Simple, Mustard-Glazed Pots Work to Bring Out the Beauty of Lavender Colored Asters in This Cascading Group

Polychromatic relationships —or mixtures of many colors— create something of a pinwheel-effect. These arrangements tend to be very bold. When I want to really jazz up a space, I will reach for the most dramatic relationships on the color wheel and spin them into a frenzy. Think outrageous succulent arrangements, tropical plants with fabulous flowers and candy colored containers. Fun!

Blue-Hued Mexian Rose, (Echeveria ‘Pearl’) Plays off the Orange-Red Pot and a Trio of Silver and Gold-Tinted Foliage. Also Pictured Here: Variegated Elephant Bush (Portulacaria afra variegata) and Kalanchoe ‘Pumila’ 

Read More about Creating Beautiful, Bold Succulent Container Gardens by Clicking Here

Colorful pots can accent outdoor tables and dress up stairs, change with the seasons or to suit special occasions. Container gardens offer great opportunities to experiment with design, and yet they require minimal investment in terms of time and money. Don’t like a particular arrangement? Remove a plant or two and try something fresh! Little garden design experience? Begin with a few, inexpensive annuals and a simple pot. Fill your container with soil, keep the plants in their original pots, and try various arrangements before planting. Have a great, colorful container? Try enhancing the hue with annuals in an analogous or complementary color. As you grow more confident, reach across the color wheel for more unusual combinations and visually stunning results.

Bright Orange Flowers Against Green Foliage are Mother Nature’s Finest Example of the Power Complementary Color Relationships. Here, My Mustard-Glazed Pot Provides an Analogous Backdrop to this Simple but Bold Display. Calibrachoa ‘Callie Orange’ Tops the Terrace Dining Table in Late May

For more inspiration, design ideas, maintenance tips and planting ideas check out some of these great, container gardening books…

Container Gardening A Great Guide Book with Useful Information & Beautiful Photos from the Editors of Fine Gardening

Pots in the Garden Beautiful & Inspired Design Ideas from Ray Rogers (Timber Press Publishing)

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Gathering Beauty Before the Storm …

August 27th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Riding the Storm Out: Fragile Pots & Plants Gathered Safely Inside {plants, clockwise from bottom left: Verbena canadensis with Stobilanthes dyerianus (Persian Shield), Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Red’ (Butterfly Weed), Angelonia angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’ with Lysmachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny) and repeat}

Sunlight & Calm Before the Storm {Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Red’ and Verbena canadensis. Campo de’Fiori pots available at Verde Garden & Home and Walker Farm in VT and online at Terrain.}

Lovely Lavender Haze: Verbena speciosa ‘Sterling Star’ Beside the Door

With voluptuous hydrangea blossoms gathered by the armful, and fragile pots all collected safely inside, there’s little left to do but wait out the storm. It feels a bit eerie, looking out at the summertime terrace –dining table and chairs folded neatly away–  the empty expanse of grey stone, naked without its bright riot of floral color. But here inside –nestled in every nook and cranny– potted plants and freshly cut blossoms fill the house with beauty and fragrance. At the moment, I feel like a guest in an extravagant hotel conservatory, which gives me all sorts of delightfully outrageous ideas…

Freshly Cut Hydrangea from the Garden (H. paniculata ‘Limelight’)

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Helianthus: Radiant Halo of Gold …

August 8th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Helianthus annuus ‘Double Quick Orange’ in the Kitchen

Sunflowers: welcome, radiant, golden beauty of the late summer garden! Is there anything quite so uplifting as a vase filled with their bright, nodding faces? I’m a big fan of annual sunflowers, and every year I grow a wide variety of Helianthus annuus in my potager; both for cutting and for simply enjoying while I work. Giant flowering types like ‘Double Quick Orange’ and long-stemmed cultivars like ‘Sonja’, ‘Sunrich Orange’ and ‘Autumn Beauty’ are some of my favorites for cutting. I also adore the darker sunflowers, such as ‘Moulin Rouge’, ‘Chocolate’, ‘Velvet Queen’, ‘Little Becka’. If you are short on space or gardening on a deck, terrace or balcony, dwarf varieties like ‘Sunny Smile’ and ‘Big Smile’ are great for even very small containers …

Helianthus annuus ‘Lemon Queen’ on the Dining Table

Provided full sun (8 hours a day is best) and good, compost-enriched soil, sunflowers are easy to grow, and a fun way to introduce children to gardening. When growing small numbers of sunflowers, some gardeners like to germinate seed indoors between damp paper towels. However starting sunflowers too early will often result in long, spindly, weak stems. I prefer to direct-sow sunflowers in my potager after the danger of frost has passed and the soil is thoroughly warmed (sunflowers require heat to germinate well). Wide spacing is important —particularly for large varieties like ‘Mammoth’— and providing a means of support —such as fence, wall or other structure— can help prevent toppling in high wind. When planted in May, I usually apply an organic fertilizer to my sunflowers —such as fish emulsion— mid-way through the gardening year.

Common sunflower pests include aphids, caterpillars and powdery mildew. Aphids can often be controlled with the blast of a hose or spot applications of insecticidal soap. It’s best to hand-pick caterpillars when possible, or target munched leaves with Btk (caution: Btk kills all caterpillars, including butterfly caterpillars, so use with discretion and in a targeted manner only). Powdery mildew can be treated with a homemade remedy (click here for previous post and scroll down for instructions on how to mix a home-made, anti-fungal treatment). Because fungal infections can be a problem for sunflowers, it’s a good idea to rotate their location in the garden each year. In addition to their stunning beauty as cut flowers, sunflowers also attract beneficial insects —such as bees and butterflies— to the potager. See a sunflower you like at the farmers market this year? Make a note of the variety and give it a try in the garden next year. I love growing a wide range of colors and sizes, planting early and late-maturing Helianthus annuus to span the entire growing year…

Helianthus annuus ‘Sunrich Orange’ Beside My Potager Seat

Helianthus annuus ‘Teddy Bear’ in the Cutting Garden

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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