I have just returned from a long day of placing annuals in pots and window boxes and tenderly planting them in the dirt. I literally had to soak my hands in the bath tub and scrub them with a nail brush for half an hour but they are still not clean. Everyone should have at least one day like this as a spring initiation each year; I have about twenty.
Thus is the nature of the gardening business. Today was special though because it was actually the first warm day, where we could relax and enjoy the flowers as we planted (stop and smell the flowers) and we did not have to curse the wind. This spring has been a long time coming and I am glad it's here. We are not officially past May 15th, the last average frost date, but pots and plants that warm up in the sun and are surrounded by buildings or flagstone to keep the warmth in should be fine.
The art of arranging pots and window boxes has been acquired by many years of practice, of recognizing patterns, and years of attention to what plants thrive where. Every pot is like a person, and the flowers are the different aspects of her personality. There always has to be an anchor of something tall, and my three favorites are dracaena, tall snapdragons, and nicotiana (see August article). Sometimes for shade pots I will use tall grasses, ferns, or even house plants as the backbone. The backbone works better at the back, not the center.
Next, all pots and boxes need a variety of middle ground. The ones that will always thrive include red and blue salvias, margarite daisies, which come in white, pink, and yellow, and geraniums. Use Ivy geraniums if you do not have full sun. They will spread and trail and bloom profusely. I am not a big zonal geranium fan, but there is a deep violet that I find a perfect bold color statement for many pots. Mix in dusty miller to your middle to break up all of the greens.
After the middle ground, you need your foreground. This can be achieved with petunias. Petunias have grown on me over the years because of their great abundance of blooms, and smell. My favorite petunia is burgundy madness, appropriately named. Mix it with plum madness and super cascade white and you will not be disappointed. Of course, after all this you need to plant the drip over the edge plants, alyssum and lobelia.
I hope this will you a background. Another of my favorite tricks is to mix in small amounts of high contrast, almost clashing plants. For example, one safari orange marigold will look excellent next to a burgundy madness petunia. Also, of course you pots will reflect your own personality. I love to mix in herbs like lavender and rosemary; sometimes strawberries are wonderful. Perennials such as santolina and sages are also amazing. Like all things in life, a container garden has to find the perfect balance of conformity and radicalism.
To do your own wonderful container gardens, check out Joel and Marie of Cedar Grove Nursery at the Farmer's market. Tell them I sent you.
And please, always add agrosoak, water holding crystals that will absorb water to keep your pots from drying out and needing too much water. But do not let anyone tell you that containers are water hogs bucause they are just the opposite, contained.