For The Love Of Gardening: Gardening In Containers
In 2005, I wrote a book called Gardens to Go: Creating and Designing a Container Garden. It is chockablock with color photographs by my friend Steve Silk, who has been honored for his work with two best portfolio awards by the Garden Writers Association of America.
Steve is also a passionate home gardener. During the summer we were working on that book, we both went overboard with tall canna lilies and tender shrubs, like Brugmansia from South America. Big plants like these demand big pots — 20 inches across and 18 inches deep, or half whiskey barrels, which measure 2 feet across by 18 inches deep. Invaluable for its tree-like proportions, Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ dazzled us with the exotic perfume of its huge, downward flaring trumpet flowers.
In its native land, Brugmansia is pollinated by bats, thus the powerful scent of its blossoms does not develop until evening. But as the sun begins to set, an amazing thing happens. The drooping trumpets actually move, rising ever so slowly to admit pollinators drawn to the exotic perfume. While our Connecticut bats are immune to its charms, gardeners are blown away by the beauty of the flowers and by their wonderful fragrance.
The cultivar ‘Charles Grimaldi’ is the best of the best. Growing to a height of seven or eight feet in a single season, it produces trumpets that open pale yellow and mature in a few days to a lovely apricot color. Once they begin to bloom, they produce new flowers about every three weeks, all season long. Cut back to a manageable height, mine winters in the cellar, where the temperature gets down to between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the Brugmansia stars in my container garden, coleus plays an in important supporting role. A reliable foliage plant that maintains its good looks throughout the summer, coleus comes in an incredible range of colors and patterns.
This year, the dominant hue on my terrace is orange, and I found a coleus suitably named ‘Vulcan’ for the Roman god of fire. I would describe the hue as burnt orange with an undercurrent of flame. It provides a startling contrast with the bright yellow-green of the sweet potato vine ‘Margurite.’
There are two ways of using color in the garden: contrast or harmony. As in human relations, opposites attract and create a certain excitement, while colors that are similar result in harmony.
In a container garden, you can experiment with both. (It is useful to have a few really big pots: A pot 20 inches across and 18 deep is a good big pot. A half whiskey barrel is 24 inches across and 18 inches deep, and I have three window boxes 11 inches wide, 40 inches long, and 11 inches deep. You can grow a lot of plants with that many containers!)
For bold contrast, in one container I planted coleus ‘Vulcan’ and ‘Inferno’ with the yellow green perennial grass Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola.’ But I wanted harmony in matching pots on either side of an opening in the low wall surrounding the terrace. Here, I repeated the burnt orange coleus, but with matching miniature dahlias and a filler of firecracker plant, Cuphea ignea ‘David Verity,’ which is covered with masses of little orange tubular flowers. As a bonus, these attract hummingbirds!
A metal table and four chairs were painted a school bus yellow last year, and they work perfectly in the orange color scheme. (I paint the furniture a different color almost every year; it has been white, bright blue, sage green, and now, this warm, full-bodied yellow!)
Love your gardening, ‘til next time!
Sydney Eddison has written seven books on gardening. In addition, she collaborated with the Color Wheel Company on The Gardener’s Color Wheel: A Guide to Using Color in the Garden.
For her work as a writer, gardener, and lecturer, she received the Connecticut Horticultural Society’s Gustav A. L. Melquist Award in 2002; the New England Wild Flower Society Kathryn S. Taylor Award in 2005; and in 2006, the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut’s Bronze Medal. In 2010, her book Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older won The American Horticultural Society Book Award.
A former drama teacher, lifelong gardener, and Newtown resident for sixty years, Eddison’s love of the English language has found its most satisfying expression in four volumes of poetry: Where We Walk: Poems rooted in the soil of New England (published in 2015); Fragments of Time: Poems of gratitude for everyday miracles (2016); All the Luck: Poems celebrating love, life, and the enduring human spirit (2018); and Light of Day: Poems from a lifetime of looking and listening (2019).