R5 Going To Pot

Going To Pot

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Got a very shady spot out back? Or one on which the sun beats all day? Perhaps, you want lots and lots and lots of color?

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By Laura Joseph Mogil

Photography by Phillip Jensen-Carter

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No doubt about it, container gardening’s popularity is growing. Nearly half of all homeowners do some form of it, according to 2006 Summer Gardening Trends Research published by the Garden Writers Association Foundation. The reason? “Container gardening is very easy to do and it doesn’t take as many plants to make an impact,” says Bruce Butterfield, research director for the National Gardening Association, based in South Burlington, Vermont.



And make an impact it does. Container gardening is a great way to bring colorful summer plants—from purple petunias to pink hibiscuses and red cosmos—up close and personal in your outdoor living spaces, whether that’s your front steps or back deck. Not only are planters bright and beautiful, they’re also more economical (fewer blooms are needed to create a beautiful effect than planting in the garden) and less arduous (no heavy digging or weeding required, which your back and knees will thank you for later). What’s more, you can plant your blooms in an ever-growing array of decorative containers, from antique terracotta urns to decorative concrete pots or glazed ceramic vases. Or you can be a little bit daring and go for a weather-beaten wheelbarrow or a vintage bathtub.


Now that we’ve got you interested, we thought we’d help you out by posing the most frequently asked questions about container gardening to six local garden design experts. The beautiful results will be donated to the charity of their choice.




Can you recommend a colorful planter I can place near the pool that can take the hot sun all day long?


Ann Acheson, a landscape designer at Nabel’s Nurseries in White Plains, certainly can—but first, she says, consider your container. She did that here, opting for a ceramic-glazed planter in bright lime green. “The pot can become part of the design so you don’t have to just rely on plants,” she says. “In fact, the container sets the whole color scheme for the planting.”



Acheson filled the container with flowering plants that thrive in the sun and heat. For the “thriller” at the center of the pot, Acheson chose the towering tropical plant Canna ‘Praetoria,’ which can grow up to several feet tall and has striated chartreuse and bright green leaves and grapefruit-sized orange flowers that bloom all summer long. For “fillers,” she added lavender for its blue-gray foliage and tight little purple flowers and the light and airy Cosmos ‘Sonata White.’  The bottom layer, which brimmed over with what Acheson terms “spillers,” contains Sedum cauticola ‘Lidakense,’ chosen for its succulent gray-blue foliage and its smooth, flat-leaf texture; Petunia ‘Double Ruffled Lavender’ and Petunia ‘Cascadia Lime’ to further complement the color scheme; and for the final touch she added the bright green leaves of the Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea.’

Acheson suggests grouping several pots for maximum effect. “You can use big, medium, and smaller pots and you can either keep the same style and vary the color, or keep the same color and vary the style. That way, you can create interest without needing to fill, move, or store huge pots.”


[Nabel’s Nurseries is donating this planter to the White Plains Family YMCA.]




I just bought beautiful wrought-iron furniture with black and cream cushions for my deck. Do you have ideas for a planter that would complement my new purchases?


To set off wrought-iron furniture, Alison Friedland, greenhouse manager, and her team of experts at Mariani Garden in Armonk, created this planter. They began by choosing a walnut-finished concrete urn with a pedestal base. 



For the centerpiece, they selected a giant Croton, a tropical foliage plant with large leaves in fantastic shades of green, red, yellow, and black. “It’s very complementary to the wrought iron and fabric, which act as a backdrop for nature’s beautiful color palette,” Friedland says. As an underplanting, she added Bacopa, which has small, delicate white buds that flower profusely throughout the summer. “It offsets the dark aspect of the Croton and gives the planter a lighter color and softer tone.” A burst of color is added with deep purple petunias cascading over the urn, and finishing off the look are two alternating sweet potato vines, Ipomoea ‘Blackie’ in purple-black shade and Ipomoea ‘Margarita’ in chartreuse. “The trailing vines give length to the urn and accent the colors as well. You get that dark tone as well as the lighter shades of the Croton; it’s almost a perfect match.”


Declares Friedland,  “What’s great about this pot is that it’s low maintenance—you shouldn’t need to deadhead anything.” In case you’re itching for something to do, she recommends buying a 20-20-20 water-soluble fertilizer. “It helps blooms burst and reduces stress to plants.”


[Mariani Gardens is donating this planter to Providence Rest, a long-term care/short-term rehab facility serving the needs of the elderly, run by Sisters of St. John the Baptist in the Bronx.]




I’d like to have a planter by my front door that not only looks beautiful but also smells terrific. Got any ideas?


To capture the sweet smells of summer, Andrea Donnelly of Rosedale Nurseries in Hawthorne suggests creating a planter bursting with both flowering plants and herbs to perfume the air around your front entryway. A Dwarf Fothergilla with bottlebrush spiked flowers in creamy white anchors the decorative concrete container. According to Donnelly, “the plant has a soft sweet fragrance and interesting crisp, blue-green leaves that turn a beautiful orange and red in the fall.” 



Building on the fragrance are jasmine with heavenly scented tiny white flowers, stalks of lavender, heliotrope, purple blooms with a haunting vanilla fragrance, yellow-orange Stella Dora daylilies (which bloom early to mid-summer), and pale yellow Fragrant Treasure daylilies (which blossom mid to late summer). Rosemary imparts a crisp, sharp scent to the pot, complemented by the citrusy fragrance of Lemon Thyme, and the peppery air of the nasturtiums. Yellow and dark red wallflowers (an early flowering annual) were added, as well as stock, an old fashioned garden flower with very fragrant lavender blooms and blue-gray foliage.


When contemplating the scent for the container, Donnelly tried not to select any plants that had an overpowering presence. “I want people to discover each plant on its own,” she says. And the pleasure derived from this sweet-smelling planter doesn’t have to stop at summer’s end. Once the season is over, you can still continue to enjoy the scent of some of the aromatic herbs, such as lavender and rosemary, by drying them and making a sachet. And if you cut off sprigs of rosemary and put them in an air-tight plastic bag inside your freezer, you can use them for up to two years.


[Rosedale Nurseries is donating this planter to the White Plains Beautification Foundation, which maintains 50 gardens throughout the city.]




Could you suggest a container   filled with herbs that both can be used in the kitchen and look great on my deck?


Sun Valley Nursery’s Vincenzo and Antonietta Bomba, who both love to cook and know a thing or two about gardening—they’ve been in the business for 32 years—recommend creating a planter full of herbs and beautiful blooms. Theirs is filled with a variety of kitchen favorites, from the popular Genovese Basil, French Tarragon, and Vietnamese Coriander to Italian Oregano and Barbeque Rosemary (there’s also some tasty peppermint and spearmint, as well as curly and flat leaf parsley).



Vincenzo also chose some Lemon Thyme and Lemon Verbena to impart a pleasant citrusy aroma and made it eye-catching by adding colorful Nasturtium Alaska, which has orange and red blossoms that not only dress up a salad plate but are edible too. He topped the pot with a small hibiscus plant, whose dazzling yellow flowers will bloom all summer long (don’t eat them though!).


Vincenzo recommends filling the bottom of the container with a handful of gravel to help with the drainage and using good potting soil to give plants the best growing environment. The herbs love a half day to a full day of sun, and trimming the tops of plants like basil and rosemary will make them bushier.


Once you’ve put together this pot, you’ll reap the benefits as the Bombas do with their own herb containers—making their favorite aioli sauce out of fresh basil, Italian parsley, rosemary, and tarragon. Another family favorite is roasted lamb with snippets of rosemary, Italian parsley, basil, and oregano. As Vincenzo says, “What better way can there be to delight all of your senses?”


[Sun Valley Nurseries is donating this planter to the Ossining Open Door, which provides quality healthcare and human services at affordable prices to the economically disadvantaged.]




I like potted plants on my covered porch, but it’s very shady. Can any flowers survive without direct sunlight? 


Of course, assures Sheri Silver of Fiori Garden Design in Irvington. A onetime interior designer, Silver now uses her skills to create dynamic and unusual flower and foliage combinations, developing, she says, “color palettes you wouldn’t traditionally find in gardens but more likely in a wardrobe or a home.”



For this planter, she complemented the burgundy foliage and bottle-brush plumes of the towering annual fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) with the bright green, dark burgundy and fuchsia leaves of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Violet Tricolor’), interspersed with the colorful blooms of Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens ‘Haskell Purple’). Trailing the sides are ornamental sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’), which she notes “have nice large dark leaves that are very lush and grow rapidly.”


Silver advises that you pinch off the flowers of the coleus plant when it starts to bloom. “The flowers tend to detract from the foliage and don’t allow the plant to expend all its energy into the leaves.“ Also, she notes, flowering annuals such as Heliotrope and Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana) may stop blooming mid-season and should be replaced with other summer bloomers such as Annual Sage (Salvia), or Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia). “If you refresh whatever plants are looking tired, you can really extend the life of a container all the way to the frost.”


[Fiori Garden Design is donating this planter to Abbott House, a childcare agency and residential treatment center in Irvington.]




I have a sunny open space on my deck between my pergola and my house that I’d like to fill with a potted planting that lends a certain amount of height. What do you recommend?      




According to Jan Axel of Delphinium Design in South Salem, “You can add height in several ways: with your planter, with your plantings, or with a combination of the two.”


Axel chose the third option to fit this homeowner’s requirements. She opted for a tall vase-shaped terracota planter and anchored it with a Canna ‘Tropicana,’ a tropical annual that boasts large leaves with musty purple, bright green, orange, and maroon stripes and a brilliant orange flower that can easily grow four- to six-feet high.


To fill out the container, Axel used Centaurea gymnocarpa, which has, she says, “a felty feel and gray-green foliage that brightens up the pot and adds another layer of texture.” Drawing the eye further down the planter, Verbena Scarlet drapes over the pot and has a cherry red flower. For a finishing touch, Axel added the sweet potato vine, Ipomoea ‘Blackie,’ whose cascading dark purple foliage echoes the color of the Canna leaves. She points out that you don’t need a lot of different types of plants to make a pot look great. What you do need is to “always plant closely and make sure the container looks really full.”


[Delphinium Design is donating this planter to the Katonah Museum of Art.]


Laura Joseph Mogil lives in Briarcliff Manor and is a frequent contributor to Westchester Magazine and Westchester Magazine’s Home & Garden.


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