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On Gardening: Dazzling with cool season planters

November 28, 2016

The trailing Orchid Frost lamium, sedum pansies and dianthus create an artistic planter for this Old Town home.

Recently, I was schooled, so to speak, on ‘Pansies and their Partners’ as I was invited to visit Old Town, a 2016 Southern Living Community of the Year award winner in Columbus, Ga. I’m a pretty good cool-season container guy but everywhere I looked was foliage and cool season color combinations I had never tried.

This community may be one of a kind, nature trails, and waterfalls, streets named after camellias like Frank Houser and Massy Lane, with new homes that look like yesteryear. There is an upscale apartment complex called Swallowtail Flats with individual units named for butterfly plants like milkweed and plumbago. Cool season color was growing everywhere which has to bring a smile to the face of all residents.

It was evident that trailing foliage and flowers are equally paramount to designing mixed baskets and containers in the cool season. Throughout Old Town community were planters that caught the eye with artistic spillers. One such plant was the Orchid Frost Lamium or dead nettle that dazzled with both its silver and green variegated foliage and lavender blooms. Orchid Frost, known botanically as Lamium maculatum is cold hardy from zones 3 to 8.

In some containers, Orchid Frost was used with Dash dianthus, pansies, and sedum. In other areas it was partnered with pink snapdragons, thyme, and the silver leafed Carolina Sapphire Arizona cypress that created a most stunning thriller, spiller, and filler.

Some of my favorite containers used Goldilocks Lysimachia or creeping Jenny. While this is nothing new it was the application I found intriguing. In white street-side box planters, Goldilocks was tumbling over the rim in combination with dark colored blue Matrix pansies for a screaming complementary color scheme. In other containers, the Goldilocks was planted adjacent to Lemon Ball sedum for a frenzy of golden-chartreuse.

It was also apparent in Old Town that pansies too had indeed become colorful spiller plants for the designer of cool season containers. Whether it was on some one’s private porch, patio or in street side planters both Cool Wave and Freefall pansies were making a colorful statement.

The horticultural designer also used interesting textures of lemon thyme, creeping red thyme with its tiny leaves and ground-hugging habit and ajuga or bugleweed with ornate variegation. All of these made me realize I had gotten a little boring or complacent in my own designs, and maybe like you, have ignored the artistic opportunities these plants offer to the mixed container.

We can take some cultural tips from these containers too. First, choose a container large enough to hold several plants and equipped with mandatory drainage holes in the bottom. If you are using the lightweight containers that look like terracotta or stone, you may have to drill your own holes. While you are at it, add four or five holes that are about three-fourths of an inch in diameter.

The potting mix used in the containers was the key element to the long cool growing season. Choose a good lightweight, fluffy potting mix that already has controlled-released granular fertilizer mixed in.

Choose some containers large enough, to incorporate thrilling evergreen like a juniper, lemon cypress, holly or topiary rosemary as the center plant. The designer of the Old Town containers not only used these but also camellias.

Even though the temperatures will be much cooler during your pansy growing season, we must pay attention to plants' water and fertilizer needs. Here they used a soil mix with fertilizer but continue to feed regularly with a dilute water-soluble fertilizer. In other words, they mix up like you do at home except they don’t have a jug with blue water but a large tank.

Old Town is special with flowers blooming 12 months of the year but even if winter dictates a much shorter season for you, there are still ample opportunities for you to show your creativity with artistically designed containers around the porch patio or deck. To me the cool season offers the best of container gardening.

 

 


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