By Debbie Thigpen
Tips for Challenged Gardeners
With the odd cold spells we’ve experienced this spring, you may be behind and wondering what you could plant to liven up your porches and patios.
If you’re a novice gardener or believe you’ll never possess a glowing, award-winning green thumb, here are some plants and flowers that are low maintenance, fun to grow, and are proven providers of lots of bang for your buck. Through the years, I’ve discovered a few tricks of the trade that are a feast for the eyes without being so time-consuming. Weeding, pruning, and using pesticides is not my idea of fun.
Container gardens are a great way to add summer color to your porch or patio. My mother-in-law, Betty Thigpen of Cleveland, Mississippi, each year carefully chooses colorful potted annuals to fill a wide, coconut-lined, wire basket. That basket is a highlight each year to the perennials that regularly appear on their own. Beyond garden pots, anything can be a “container”. An old wagon, a wooden box, a wooden chair, or an old boot, are all creative ways to display your blooms.
Everyone loves cut flowers. If you’re like me, I love the expensive variety, the kind you see in beautiful wedding bouquets, but rarely buy for your own enjoyment. My eyes always gravitate to the hydrangeas and peonies at the florist or grocery store. It is possible to grow your own cut flowers in a container for your own enjoyment.
While many older yards have hydrangea bushes from long ago, it’s easy to take cuttings from an existing hydrangea and root it for your own container (or yard). Most gardeners love to share pass-along plants. Planted in the ground, hydrangeas like to be on a North-facing wall so they don’t wilt as easily in our Mississippi heat.
Speaking of our Mississippi heat, it is nearly impossible to grow peonies in our state and very difficult to get them to bloom more than once every few years. After several attempts at nursing peonies in hopes of a bloom or two, I have instead enjoyed growing a very similar looking bloom—a David Austin® rose, often called a Cabbage Rose. Cabbage Roses come in a variety of colors, forms, and shapes, just as peonies do. They have multiple rows of petals and come in a variety of fragrances. It’s easy to grow a bare-root David Austin® Cabbage rose in a container by following simple instructions which include briefly soaking the roots, feeding upon planting and watering evenly and regularly. They even come in vining varieties. The fullness in their blooms makes for a spectacular display. Grouping several shades together will ensure you have many blooms to bring inside and enjoy. Eventually, their roots will need a bit more space to breathe, but they are easily over-wintered in a garage or enclosed space until that time comes. Combining just David Austin® roses and hydrangeas in a vase makes for a romantic inexpensive homegrown arrangement.
To make a larger arrangement with your container-grown flowers, add greenery from your own yard. Elaeagnus grows in abundance in our state and is often considered a nuisance. But, its gray-green leaves and tiny fragrant blooms are beautiful in a vase (even alone). Dock and Queen Anne’s Lace grow freely along the side of the road. Various ferns, Holly, Juniper and Cedar cuttings make for beautiful filler.
I also enjoy in any season, planting multi-variety pots and arranging the pots in groups of three in varying sizes. Depending on the pot size, you’ll use 3-5 plants in each pot. Make sure you group like-kind plants (same water and light needs) and that your pot has good drainage. If your pot backs up to a wall, put your tallest plant to the back of the pot. If you view the pot from all directions, place your tallest plant in the center. Slender junipers, grasses, and topiaries work well for height. Flowing or trailing plants, like English Ivy, Fig Ivy, Jasmine, Sedum, Holly Fern, Agapanthus, and Creeping Juniper work well to hang over and soften the edge of the container. For color, use an annual in any color you love. Opposite shades on a general color wheel always provide good contrast. Plant your color option on an angle so that it too will grow over the edge of the pot. Fill your pot fully with little or no space between your plants. Add Spanish moss around the edges to retain moisture.
Hopefully, with a bit of combining and angling, you too can create a lovely, lush easy-to-maintain container garden.
Debbie is the owner of Garden Interiors. Find her on Facebook: Garden Interiors – Debbie Thigpen.