Simple container designs can be both beautiful and elegant. One way to keep things simple when you’re designing containers is to stick with one flower. I love petunias, and use them a lot in my window boxes and containers.
Simple Container Designs with Petunias
Petunias are a versatile and fairly easy to grow annual flowers. You can grow them from seeds, but they are so inexpensive that it’s easy enough to buy some at the garden center.
There are plain petunias and the “Wave” brand petunias that promise cascades of flowers. All petunias will flow or cascade to some degrees. They prefer cooler temperatures than what our hot Virginia summers provide, but in semi shade, as my pots of petunias are on the front porch, they thrive.
They need rich, well-drained soil, plenty of sunshine and water, and that’s about it. You can pinch off the spent blossoms to encourage the plants to product more flowers. Pinching the stem ends will also encourage the plant to grow in a more rounded, bushy form.
My simple container designs with petunias use petunias in various color combinations ranging from a monochromatic (one color) look to alternating colors and patterns. I also combine petunias with other flowers.
Pink, purple and white petunias. Note that I’ve planted them in a plastic container which slips inside the decorative ceramic pot. This ensures that water drains out. During a heavy rainstorm, I can pull the pots out and let them drain directly into the soil.
Here I’ve grouped several pots of petunias for color and fragrance. The top pot was supposed to be all white, but the petunia had other ideas!
This window box combines a geranium with dark pink and white petunias. Hummingbirds love it.
Petunias are also great in hanging baskets. Many municipalities in cooler climates hang baskets of petunias along the main street. I’ll never forget a vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains and watching the watering truck moving along the town streets in the early hours of the morning as the workers watered the enormous baskets of petunias hanging from the street lamps.
Petunias are rarely bothered by bugs or diseases. If they start turning brown and sulking, it’s probably too hot. Mulch, water, and wait. In the fall, they’ll probably come back for round two!
They will withstand a light autumn frost or cold temperatures, but a hard freeze will kill them. Until then, enjoy the light, lively fragrance of petunias and all the pretty colors available to you.
Say that three times fast: ominous genus Oenothera. In English? I planted the wrong type of Oenothera (Evening Primrose) in my garden when I first moved into my house, and I’m still battling its invasive nature. Native perennial or not, the pink Oenothera speciosa is invasive, and the yellow, Oenothera fruticosa, which is what I wanted from the start. If this doesn’t convince you of the importance of using Latin names for plants, I’m not sure what will.
So here is a tale of two Oenotheras in my garden.
The demure, the contained Oenothera fruticosa with its pal, salvia “May Night” in my butterfly g arden.
The Genus Oenothera
The genus Oenothera refers to 145 species of flowers native to the Americas. Hurray for native plants!
Although one of the common names for Oenothera is “evening primrose”, they aren’t true primrose plants like English primrose. Other common names including sundrops and sun cups may be a little more accurate. The native flowers found in the American desert are white. Other wild species are white, turning pink and darkening with age. At the garden center, you are most likely to find Oenotherafruticosa, the yellow evening primrose. They like full sunshine, tolerate drought and poor soils, and will spread easily if given half the chance.
The USDA says that Oenothera can become “invasive” and have a “weedy” habit. Oh fellas, you don’t know the truth. That’s putting it mildly.
A Tale of Two Oenothera
So here’s my story, a tale of two Oenothera. My mother grew the yellow sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa, in our tiny urban yard. She had them planted along the garage, pretty yellow things against the pink and red roses climbing the white washed garage wall, and I love them.
Then my father ripped out all the flowers to build a greenhouse.
I was so angry! We saved the pink rose bush, which now lives at my sister Mary’s house. But the rest of the lovely flowers were gone.
For years, I carried in my heart a secret desire to recreate that little garden that was gone by the time I entered first grade. I saw a photo of myself at age 4 or 5 taken in front of that garden and I thought, “I want to grow those sundrops.” When I saw them again in my brother’s Long Island garden years later, I thought again, “That’s the plant for me!”
I did a quick internet search, found the Latin name (very important for identifying the correct plants – yeah, right, remember that), and then as the seed catalogs arrived, I scanned them eagerly for the evening primrose, the Oenothera of my youth.
At last I found it – or so I thought. I sent away for the seeds, lovingly planted them in the spring of 2008, watered them, and….they grew.
Damnit, they grew into the driveway. Through the cement. Under the gravel, or very the edging, into the lawn. I was pulling them up as fast as they grew, and I swear, they were laughing at me as they grew.
In May, their pretty pink cups are a delightful carpet in the garden. The rest of the year? It looks like a bed of weeds.
It looks so innnocent, but Oenothera speciosa invaded the iris beds, the walkways, and the driveway.
My husband keeps begging me to use Round Up on the bed. “Please, let me put us out of their misery,” he cries.
“No!” I reply immediately. “They’re growing over our water well! I don’t want that chemical in my water supply!”
I resort to pulling them by hand. I plant new flowers that I hope will smother them – Rudbeckia, daylilies, you name it. This year, Agastache, Monarda, Dahlia and Clary Sage are replacing more square feet of the pink Oenothera.
They don’t care. They continue to march further into the driveway, requiring more yanking of weeds on hot days.
A pretty spring carpet of pink…which you pay dearly for in hours spent weeding it from everywhere.
Now here’s where the second Oenothera comes into the picture. Always a glutton for punishment, and stubborn to the core, I just HAD to have the yellow Oenothera. Okay, so I’d made one mistake. No problem, everybody makes mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that the yellow will be a mistake, right?
I finally found the correct plant at the Heart of Virginia Master Gardener Plant Sale two years ago. I dug it into the butterfly garden, and happily, it has spread but is nowhere near the invasive weed its pink cousin is.
Ah, that’s better. Oenorthera fruticosa.
Today I yanked up more of the pink Missouri primrose, Oenothera speciosa, the native plant from hell that completely took over an enormous flower bed. I planted more dahlias. And prayed. Lots of prayer. Mostly that the sprigs I tossed into the woods wouldn’t root and multiply.
Just a little, USDA…just a wee bit, a tad bit, invasive….
If you’re going to plant these guys, plant O. fruticosa. The yellow, happy sundrop. Leave the pink one to the prairies of Missouri, where hopefully, something eats it and keeps it in check!
I planted butterfly weed, Ascelpias tuberosa, last year, and thought it had died. But this plant is a strong native plant that thrives in almost all garden conditions. Nothing could hold it back, and this year it is rewarded me by joining the other perennials in the butterfly garden here at Seven Oaks Farm.
Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa
Planting Butterfly Weed or Asclepias Tuberosa
Butterfly weed, known by the botanical name Asclepias tuberosa, is a beautiful native perennial flower that can be hard to get started in the garden. But once it does get started, it’s tough as nails, and returns annually to support local butterfly populations – especially the Monarch butterfly.
I’m not sure why so many of us are fascinated by Monarch butterflies. Perhaps it’s the migration. The thought of millions of insects flying by pure instinct each year boggles the mind. How do they know where to go? How do they remember the route?
What do they do when mankind builds over the fields, meadows and forests that their ancestors have used for generations as rest stops along the way?
It’s like driving from Florida to New York, only to find that the highway department has removed all the off ramps AND the rest stops. Not only can’t you get gas or food, but where the heck are you going to go to the bathroom?
See the problem? All because we humans have to have our housing developments and new shopping malls and everything else we really don’t need…because we’re drowning in it already.
Okay, so I’ll get off my soap box and get back to this beautiful plant. It really is a beauty. The butterfly weed is poorly named. Yes, it grows like a weed, but the yellow, orange or red flowers are stunning.
Butterfly weed can be started from inexpensive seed packages, but be warned: it is hard to grow. Once the seedlings emerge, they must be tended carefully and watered well after transplanting into the garden.
During the first year, the plants won’t do much of anything. I was convinced that mine had died, and if I wasn’t such a lazy weeder, I’d probably have weeded them right out before the patch matured. Fortunately, all the rains this spring kept me from thoroughly weeding the butterfly garden, which gave the plants a good head start. They are also hidden in a thicket of cardinal flowers, which kept them from being weeded up as well.
Butterfly weed needs full sunlight, but it tolerates a wide range of soils including sandy, acidic and poorly drained soils. Here in Virginia, it’s not uncommon to see great swathes of Asclepias tuberosa, along with traditional milkweed, growing along the sides of the road.
The plants start blooming in late spring or early summer and continue until the fall. They support numerous native butterfly populations by providing both nectar and host plants for the young.
Because they are native plants, they offer an important food source for many butterflies who can’t live on non-native imports. Butterfly weed shouldn’t be confused with butterfly bush (Buddleia), an invasive Chinese plant that does attract butterflies but does not provide hosting materials for our native species. No, only native plants that evolved alongside the native insects provide the right conditions for their young to develop.
Butterfly weed grows well once it is established in the garden. It spreads, but isn’t aggressive like Butterfly Bush and won’t take over your entire yard. If you have a sunny spot in your garden, consider planting butterfly weed. The butterflies thank you.
When I worked in the nursery and garden center business, the lady who designed container gardens for our customers was a trained visual artist. There’s a good reason for this: container garden design is really an art form. The best containers follow and aesthetic rule called the rule of thirds in which the entire composition is divided into thirds.
If you follow this rule of thirds for your container garden, and follow it throughout the design, you will have a beautiful container. Here are 10 tips for beautiful container gardens.
Choose a large enough container: Don’t skimp on the volume of the container. The container must be large enough to hold plenty of soil as well as the plants. If the container is too shallow for your plants, the roots won’t have room to grow, and the plants will be stunted.
Place large containers where you want them to end up before you fill them with soil. They are heavy!
Use packing peanuts at the bottom of the container for added drainage without the weight.
Choose plants appropriate to the light requirements and for a container garden. Annuals make great container garden plants. Perennials should be moved to the garden or kept in the garden for best growth.
Make sure that the plants you choose will attain the final heights that you want them to. Look at the labels on the containers. Just because a plant is small now doesn’t mean it will stay small during the season!
Keep your container well-watered during the growing season, especially during the summer. Container gardens dry out more quickly than gardens in the ground and may need more frequent drinks of water.
Use the rule of thirds for the plants added: add a thriller, a filler and a spiller. A thriller soars up and offers a focal point. Think dracena grass, a shrub, or a tall, attractive flowers. A filler takes up room in the midpoint inside the container. Think mid-size flowers like impatiens, marigolds, begonia. A spiller literally flows or spills over the edge of the container, making a graceful transition to the container itself. Ivy or petunias make great spillers.
Green is a neutral color in gardening, like black and white are neutrals when you’re choosing clothing that goes together. Any other color goes with green. You can use green as a background color or to offset very bright colors like yellows, hot pink, etc.
Remember that light colors attract the eye while dark colors make the item recede. White, yellow and bright pink will all make the plant and container stand out while dark purples and other dark colors make the flowers recede into the background.
Beautiful container garden designs start with the right materials. You can use any type of planter or container as long as it’s large enough. The container below shows a clever use of an old colander. Even though it uses “found” objects, it still adheres to the rule of three:
License: CC BY 2.0 | SteveP2008 Flickr Creative Commons
I hope you enjoyed my tips for container garden design. Happy gardening. Keep GROWING!
Container garden tips to help your beautiful new garden thrive!
Container Garden Tips
I’ve seen a lot of really beautiful container garden ideas on Pinterest and other blogs this week. It’s the season for planting flowers, vegetables and herbs, after all, and everyone seems to want to share the joys of the season by suggesting beautiful containers.
This week alone I’ve seen suggestions for planting herbs and vegetables in:
Now, don’t get me wrong. All of these ideas are clever. They use recycled materials, which I love. And the pictures the bloggers displayed were beautiful.
There’s only one problem with every single one of these clever ideas….
Not a single one of these container gardens has drainage holes!
You can clearly see the drainage hole on the big pot!
The Importance of Good Drainage
A plant’s roots perform many functions. Roots anchor plants into the soil. They bring water and nutrients from the soil up into the plants xylem tubes, sort of like a plant’s veins. Xylem transports moisture and nutrients up into the cells throughout the plant.
Around a plant’s roots are tiny micro hairs that attract specific fungi and microorganisms. These form little colonies around the roots, helping the plant break down soil matter into nutrients. Soil is a living organism filled with all sorts of fascinating critters. I guarantee you, spend a day with me in the garden and you’ll never refer to it as ‘dirt’ anymore!
Anyway…back to the roots. Roots need soil. Unless a plan is an aquatic plant, roots cannot stay in standing water. A mature, healthy plant needs soil around its roots in order to breathe. If the roots are destroyed, the plant is destroyed.
Drainage holes in the bottom of your containers make sure that the plant doesn’t stay in standing water for too long. Water drips slowly out from the bottom of the pot if there is a drainage hole. Gravity draws it down.
Now on to those clever mug gardens, Mason jar gardens and so on…they lack drainage holes, especially glass canning jars and coffee mugs. If you follow the instructions found on these Pinterest tips or blog posts, you’ll end up with a dead plant, especially if you tend to water too much.
The following container garden tips can help you use these beautiful and clever ideas without killing your plants:
Find a plastic pot with drainage holes that slips into the container of your choice.
Fill the plastic container with soil. Rocks or pebbles aren’t necessary.
Plant your herb or small vegetable plant inside the pot.
Slip the entire pot inside the outer pretty container.
When you water your plants, if you overdo it and there’s standing water in the bottom of the container, gently pull out the plastic pot and the plant, tip the water into the sink, and replace your plant and pot.
The geranium is planted inside a plastic container with drainage holes. I lift it out, tip the pretty exterior pot to pour out the extra water, and replace the geranium.
If you use this method, you’ll be able to keep your plant healthy. You’ll prevent it from getting water-logged. It will live longer and thrive inside your pretty little containers.
Container gardening tips aren’t just about beauty. Sure, we all want a pretty window sill garden or container garden. But if the plants aren’t healthy, they sure won’t be pretty. Go for healthy plants first, beauty second, and you won’t go wrong.
I put together these iris care tips for the average homeowner because I’ve found that so many people love iris. Tall, bearded iris, Dutch iris, you name it…we can all learn some iris care tips so that these gorgeous plants flourish for many years to come!