Favorite Flowering Annuals for Containers

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I need to be a mind reader. I’m excited to host three spring container workshops in the next ten days but I need to second-guess everyone’s tastes as I select plants for my guests to purchase and play with!

What colors might they be excited about this year? Are they tired of the tropical looking Canna or will they be disappointed if I don’t have any? Will they feel adventurous and be willing to try something completely new?

Selecting dwarf shrubs, perennials, grasses and succulents is actually pretty straightforward but the flowering annuals take more consideration. They are often the finishing touch that anchors a color scheme and certainly they are expected to give out some major flower power for the entire summer season.

As I head to the nurseries tomorrow there are a few ‘must have’s’ on my shopping list. These are often varieties that I have used for several years and know I can rely on.

Which are your favorites?

Painted New Guinea Impatiens

Painted New Guinea Impatiens and golden Creeping Jenny add sparkle under a large Begonia luxuriens

Painted Paradise Orange New Guinea Impatiens and golden Creeping Jenny add sparkle under a large Begonia luxuriens

It was a client who inadvertently introduced me to these. She insisted on having New Guinea impatiens in her pots but I was concerned that with only modest early season blooms she would be disappointed until they got into their stride. The answer was the ‘painted’ series that has wonderfully variegated leaves.

My favorite is the Painted Paradise Orange with its stunning yellow variegated foliage and red veins, Even without the flowers it adds plenty of punch. Flower color options include pink, white, red and wine

Fan Flower (Scaevola)

Pink Wonder fan flower is on my wish list for 2015

Pink Wonder fan flower is on my wish list for 2015

I have long been a fan of Whirlwind Blue fan flower in pots for the way it throws meandering branches of periwinkle fan-shaped flowers through its companions, trailing and mingling with abandon all summer long. It is one of the few flowering annuals that seems to perform equally well in full sun and part shade – especially helpful in those awkward settings where you have two pots flanking a doorway but one gets more sun than the other.

Last summer I had the opportunity to test Pink Wonder and was completely enamored by its clear pink flowers; I’ll be on the lookout for this in the nurseries this year. Be warned, that when you find it the little 4″ pot may not look very promising with just a couple of short branches and a flower bud or two. Give it a few weeks and trust me!

 

Samantha lantana

The variegated leaves of Samantha lantana add extra color to the Blue Whirlwind fan flower and Apricot Punch million bells

The variegated leaves of Samantha lantana add extra color to the  Whirlwind Blue fan flower and Apricot Punch million bells

I love the bold red, hot pink, gold and orange blooming lantana but Samantha offers something else; variegated leaves. These are especially appreciated early in the season when the yellow flowers are few.

Million Bells (Calibrachoa)

Lemon Slice million bells and Berry Luscious lantana - fabulous combo

Lemon Slice million bells and Luscious Berry Blend lantana – fabulous combo

I’ve never been a fan of petunias but these mini petunias are much better. No deadheading needed and they don’t turn to a sticky mess after rain. Some varieties win me over more than others, but in truth the results also depends on who has grown the plant. You get what you pay for; cheap plants may not have been grown in prime potting soil nor pinched out during the growing cycle to get nice bushy plants. Pay the extra for top quality and your containers will show the difference.

Some of my favorite varieties include Lemon Slice (yellow/white), Cherry Star (hot pink with yellow star) and Pomegranate Punch (bi-color burgundy and grape)

Bonfire Begonia

An explosion of orange fireworks! Bonfire begonia

An explosion of orange fireworks! Bonfire begonia

This has been around for a while now and is still my favorite variety of the Begonia boliviensis for its vivid orange tubular flowers that thrive in full sun. Bonfire is a top performer.

Other (flowering) favorites

Fuchsia autumnale - amazing multi-colored foliage

Torenia ‘Midnight Blue’ - fabulous for the shade

 

Time to go shopping……

If you’d like to join me there are just a few spaces left in my Spring Container Workshops. Details and registration info here.

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Top Perennials for Summer Pots

A shade loving Tiarella offers pretty foliage as well as white flowers

A shade loving Tiarella offers pretty evergreen foliage as well as white flowers

When I design container gardens nothing is safe! I explore everything from dwarf trees and slow growing shrubs to groundcovers, annuals and even houseplants (although I wait until night temperatures are stable at 55′ or above for those). I also include a lot of perennials in my designs; both evergreen and herbaceous types as they lend a sense of maturity and are also a good investment since they can be kept in the container for several years before eventually being transplanted into the garden.

I look for perennials that have great foliage to help establish a framework for summer annuals that won’t get into their stride for a few more weeks. I also seek out perennials that have a long bloom time but if I am including them for the flowers I also need to make sure that the leaves won’t overpower the container.

Here are some of my favorites.

Thunder and Lightning field scabious (Knautia macedonica ‘Thunder and Lightning’)

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Fun color, pretty flowers, drought tolerant, deer resistant, great foliage – why haven’t you used Thunder and Lightning field scabious before?

The distinctive jagged mid-green foliage has a cream margin that really make this perennial stand out from the crowd. Magenta pincushion-type flowers bloom for months and stand tall above the foliage cushion.

 

Deer be Damned

We featured this perennial in a combination called Deer Be Damned! in our book Fine Foliage (p10) and we hear it’s one of your favorites.

Apricot Sprite hyssop (Agastache aurantiaca ‘Apricot Sprite’)

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This drought tolerant perennial deserves to be used more in your designs. Apricot Sprite has soft orange tubular flowers that are a favorite of hummingbirds while the fragrant grey-green leaves are attractive and tidy. Combine with other drought tolerant plants such as lavender, grasses and succulents for an easy care design. 15″ tall

Trailing stonecrops (Sedum)

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Angelina and Blaze of Fulda sedums mingle with the glossy variegated foliage of a mirror plant (Coprosma) and a dwarf conifer

 

There are many to choose from but these are my top three. Blaze of Fulda stonecrop has  wonderful burgundy rosettes and hot pink flowers while the leaves of October Daphne (Sedum sieboldii) are grey blue,tipped with pink and the late summer flowers are a clear pink. Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) is a beautiful evergreen golden-yellow succulent with yellow flowers. The foliage is reminiscent in appearance  of rosemary. All are beautiful tucked at the edge of pots.

Spurge (Euphorbia)

Design by Stacie Crooks, Crooks Garden Design

Design by Stacie Crooks, Crooks Garden Design

Donkey spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) works well as a trailer in sunny pots. In the rustic teal container above it is elegantly paired with black mondo grass. The pink ‘flowers’ are usually trimmed away but this image shows just how beautiful they can be as they age.

The brightly variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge works well with purple and magenat

The brightly variegated Ascot Rainbow spurge works well with purple and magenta

Taller varieties of spurge work well as fillers in mixed designs. My top three are Ascot Rainbow which has variegated leaves of yellow, green and rose, Ruby Glow in deep purple and Silver Swan which has a pretty teal and white variegation.

Note; The sap is a significant skin irritant so always wear gloves when handling. Some varieties of spurge are invasive in some areas so check with your local County extension office before planting.

Whirling Butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri)

Love the gauzy effect of so many flowers

Love the gauzy effect of so many flowers

You can base your selection on flower color ( pink or white), foliage color (green, burgundy, striped or speckled), height (from 2′ to 5′) or hardiness but all will reward you with dancing flowers all summer long. The leaves are dainty enough to be a design element themselves while the prolific flowers make this a reliable thriller for your container or basket.

A hummingbird buffet! Pink spikes of Gaura explode from the top of this basket

A hummingbird buffet! Pink spikes of Gaura explode from the top of this basket

Named varieties include Passionate Blush (compact plants, pink flowers), Passionate Rainbow (mid-size plant, pink flowers, variegated leaves) So White (pure white flowers on a compact plant) and Whirling Butterflies (taller plants for large pots, white flowers suffused with pink).

Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii)

 

Dare to be different!

Dare to be different!

Use this where a soft fern-like foliage is needed in a sunny pot. Elegant and tall you can rely on this as a thriller and the interest begins with blue flowers in spring and continues until a hard freeze when the leaves turn burnt orange.

Fall color begins in late September

Fall color begins in late September

 

This is deer resistant and drought tolerant too!

Tip; if adding this to your landscape be sure to plant it in well drained soil and full sun. Mine never gets watered unless it rains and is thriving! Plant in broad sweeps for the best effect

Trailing Heucherella

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Redstone Falls heucherella tumbles down the side of a tall pot

 

Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella are mainstays in my designs, with varieties available for sun or shade and in many different colors and patterns. Look out for the trailing heucherella though. They can be hard to spot in a display so look for named varieties such as Redstone Falls and Yellowstone Falls. These will spill over the edges of containers for up to 2′ and look stunning!

 

Yellowstone Falls Heucherella - such lovely foliage

Yellowstone Falls Heucherella – such lovely foliage

 

They are also evergreen making these a great choice for year round interest

More ideas?

Karen Chapman container gardening instructor

If you live in the Seattle area come and join one of my Spring Container Workshops this month. Thee are a few spaces left and we have LOTS of fun. Find out more and register here.

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Pretty Enough To Eat

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Salad-in-waiting; pretty to look at and delicious to eat. (Garden of Claudia and Jonathan Fast)

Gone are the days where ‘salad’ meant a limp lettuce leaf and a dollop of salad cream (in the UK) or ranch dressing (in the USA)! Leaf crops such as spinach, peppery arugula and crunchy kale jostle with a tantalizing blend of colorful lettuce varieties. Harvest some young beet leaves, carrot tops and herbs and you have a fabulous base to add cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers and spring onions. The adventurous chef may even sprinkle in a few edible flowers for a garnish.

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Add fresh carrot leaves to your salads; Purple Dragon has purple foliage

Buying all those ingredients at the store isn’t cheap, however, and how often have you had to throw out the last of the salad leaves because it went bad? The good news is that we can grow all of these in our own gardens – even if we only have a small patio. If you’re new to edible gardening start with something easy such as lettuce, especially if you grow  one of the ‘cut and come again’ or mesclun’ blends.

How to grow lettuce 

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6" or so

If you are planting out lettuce seedlings be sure to space them apart 6″ or so

Whether you are planting in the ground or a container be sure the soil is weed free and friable (that just means that it crumbles easily in your hand rather than a wet clod of clay or superfine and sand-like). Do not fertilize; too much nitrogen can make the flavor bitter

Select an area that receives 4-6 hours of direct sun each day, preferably in the morning. Many lettuce varieties will bolt in high summer and/or hot afternoon sun and actually prefer to get direct morning sun but afternoon shade. You may be able to shade them by planting on the eastern side of a row of tall tomatoes or beans for example

Loosely sprinkle the seed onto the soil surface as directed on the packet, cover with ~1/4″ soil and water thoroughly but gently.

If you are planting out seedlings space them approx. 6″ apart to allow room for them to grow. I use a row marker to keep the lines straight.

Keep the soil bed moist.

Harvesting

Cut what you need for now - and come back for more later

Cut what you need for now – and come back for more later

For cut and come again varieties harvest leaves with scissors, leaving the main plant in situ.

For head lettuce thin to spacing indicated on the packet (eat the thinnings!)

Sow small amounts of seed every 2-3 weeks to extend the harvest

Tips

Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

Lettuce and Swiss chard are easy companions

There is no need to work lettuce into a crop rotation. Just plant them where space permits between slower growing plants.

Water in the morning to reduce the likelihood of fungal disease developing.

Problems

Squirrel damage!

Squirrel damage!

Slugs – use Sluggo Plus or set beer traps

Bolting – some varieties are more prone to this than others. Also dry soil can cause this.

Squirrels, rabbits and more! – Rabbits won’t jump into beds that are 18″ tall so a taller container or custom height raised bed may be your answer. Squirrels were an unexpected challenge when we filmed our class in San Diego but we think we have them thwarted by adding a hoop structure over a raised bed and covering it with window screen.

Favorite varieties

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

I grow Jericho head lettuce at the base of beans to make the most of space but also give some shading

There are SO many to choose from but I always leave room for;

Jericho – a crunchy, romaine type lettuce that is very resistant to bolt.

Little Gem – a classic semi-cos variety that is crunchy but tender

Gourmet Baby Greens – a mesclun mix from Botanical Interests

 

Interested in more ideas for easy vegetable gardening? You might also enjoy The Movable Feast.

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!

Take a unique hostess gift; skip the flowers!

Resources

Building a Raised Bed Garden; our NEW video class for Craftsy teaches you everything you need to know with step-by-step instruction. Discover more and get a 50% discount!

Raised Bed Workshop; live in the Seattle area? Join Andy and I in our garden May 16th for a morning of instruction, demonstration, and inspiration. Limited space – get the details

 

 

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Designing the Perfect Raised Bed

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Gardening in raised beds has become increasingly popular in recent years not least of all because it can solve so many gardening challenges. Got terrible soil? Not a problem when you add exactly the right soil mix to the bed. Problems with rabbits? Only super-athletic rabbits will get into beds 18″ or taller. Find bending difficult? Since raised beds are taller you won’t have to lean down as far.

However, there is a common misconception that all raised beds are equal but that simply isn’t true. One size does NOT fit all so it is important to identify what your personal gardening challenges are and design a bed to suit.

Poor soil

Whether you garden on hard rocky soil, fast draining sandy soil or solid clay that is saturated in winter but dries out completely in summer you’ve clearly discovered by now that growing a wide range of vegetables is virtually impossible. Creating a raised bed is the easiest solution but how high should it be?

If you are only interested in growing a few salad leaves and baby radish a 6″ soil depth is adequate, but if you plan to grow  root crops such as parsnips then 6″ is too shallow (my parsnips often exceed 12″ long). I recommend 10-12″ depth if the beds are on native soil which is nice and loose like mine. If your native soil is of the “too rocky/too sandy” variety then consider 15″ tall beds.

Ease of reach

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You will want to be able to work with a variety of different tools in your bed; a rake and hoe for soil preparation, a hand trowel, dibber and row markers for planting and probably a short digging fork for harvesting. When you decide how tall to make your raised bed be sure to consider this. A 30″  tall bed is wonderful for harvesting salad  and beetroot by hand but would you be comfortable digging up potatoes at that height? Try it and see – can you get the leverage you’d need? Perhaps 1′ tall is optimal?

Ease of reach is also about how well you can reach the middle of the raised bed. Many designs are 4′ wide but is that best for you?

My beds are 3′ wide and 12″ high. I can kneel (or sit on a little stool)at the side of the bed and comfortably reach in 18″ to plant seeds. That means I can easily reach the middle of a 3′ wide bed from either side. A 4′ wide bed is too much of a stretch for me. Again, take a few minutes to test these dimensions before you commit to building or buying a raised bed.

Are you thinking of growing beans or peas on trellises? If your bed is 2′ tall and you add 5′ trellis you’ll need a ladder to harvest! You may be OK with that – but do take time to consider it.

Would you like to build your own?

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We can help! My husband Andy and I teach an online class for Craftsy called Building A Raised Bed Garden - and you can win it for FREE.

In this seven part video class we take you through everything from site preparation and materials selection to tips to help you make the most of every square inch of your planting space. Andy teaches a great lesson on setting up an easy drip irrigation system that can be adapted to each bed, each crop and each season and we also show you how to adjust the basic bed design to accommodate a simple hoop frame.

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Now you can protect against weather and insects to further extend the harvesting season and improve productivity.

Seriously you can do this – Andy makes it so easy! Design the raised bed that works best for you then build it yourself with our help.

What’s so special about Craftsy? Their videos are exceptionally high quality, your subscription never expires, you can interact with fellow students and your instructors and if you’re not satisfied Craftsy will refund your money! What’s to lose?

Our new class goes live on April 13th but right now you can enter to win the class for free.

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Click to be entered to win this class for FREE!

 

Just click on the photo above to be entered. The giveaway ends midnight PST April 12th 2015.

Get ready to grow an abundance of healthy vegetables and fruit this year.

CONGRATULATIONS to the winner Ena Ronanyne!

Didn’t win? Well how about a consolation prize; click here to take my class for HALF PRICE.

 

Photo credit; Craftsy. Location; garden of Susi and Jose Torre Bueno, San Diego

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Punch Up the Color!

Looking for a new color twist this year? Try magenta on for size. Neither pink nor purple, magenta  leans towards fuchsia but is deeper.

Designer Daniel Mount is one of the best colorists I know. Where I would settle for a pleasing color echo he achieves that but  then kicks it up a notch to become exceptional. In the design above I love the way he has blended the burgundy tones of velvety Big Red Judy coleus with  duskier bronze foliage of Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus) before throwing in the wildly vibrant Red Riding Hood phlox. A froth of pale yellow Japanese forest grass edges the border while the rich golden Sun King aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ ) becomes the backdrop.

Red Riding Hood phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Red Riding Hood’)

Red Riding Hood phlox

Red Riding Hood phlox

This perennial grows to 2′ tall and wide in sun or part shade. The fragrant flowers attract bees and butterflies. Divide every 3-4 years. Hardy in zones 4-8

Sun King aralia (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ )

Sun King aralia

Sun King aralia

A standout in the shade garden, this golden leaved perennial grows to 6′ tall and 4′ wide. White summer flowers are followed by black fruit. Hardy in zones 4-8

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus)

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding

Kerala Red x Opopeo love-lies-bleeding – bronze foliage and magenta flowers

An annual worth growing or hunting for. In late summer long tassels of magenta will explode from the central bud. To 5′ tall. Birds will love the seed heads!

Other ideas?

Enjoy these other combinations by the same designer.

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Annual cleome and perennial lilies takes over from phlox for floral color while gold perennials are replaced by creamy white grasses.

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Distant tulips echo the rich color of the Ravenswing cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’) stem as it pierces the golden Japanese forest grass in this early season scene. (Be warned; this perennial can become invasive).

Or try these color combos;

Magenta + Black;  chic and sophisticated

Magenta + Orange; wild child!

 

Thunder and Lightening field scabious (Knautia) with hyssop (Agastache)

Thunder and Lightening field scabious (Knautia) with hyssop (Agastache) – discovered in a Seattle garden. Designer unknown

What will you pair it with?

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