Outdoor containers can use perennials
Posted: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 8:01 pm
By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Special to The Messenger
Weather, by this time, is supposed to be “warm and settled,” as the seed packets put it. Time, they say, that you can plant peppers, tomatoes, corn and beans.
Time, too, to plant up those patio pots with summer stuff. If you are industrious, you have enjoyed cool weather things such as pansies or snapdragons in them for months now, and they will soon be going by due to heat. So, the opportunity for summer color in your containers.
A big pot, planted chock-a-block with those premium summer annuals (i.e. coleus, Dragon Wing begonias et al), like Martha Stewart does it, can cost an arm and leg. She doesn’t care, but you do.
After years of being supplied, gratis, by nursery friends in Illinois with premium annuals and other things my heart desires, the well has gone dry. They, alas, sold their nursery and retired.
With my dry well and an economy that isn’t any help at all, I got to thinking. Sometimes, with me, that is a dangerous thing, but in this case I believe it did me proud. The light bulb in my head told me there is no reason I can’t use perennials in some of my myriad pots. Let them come back from year to year. The annual (no pun intended) cost would be nil.
So, I walked the place and made notes of what might work, Hostas, of course, which, fortuitously were just emerging. Then heucheras (a column to follow on them), the lowly liriope in its variegated and chartreuse forms, ornamental grasses, yellow oregano and creeping jenny, small scale shrubs and trees and on almost ad infinitum.
I went straight to work. One large planter at our front steps now has variegated liriope, chartreuse Citronelle heuchera, Regal Splendor hosta and blue oat grass. Immediate effect, with just four perennials, all primarily for foliage, though some bloom will occur.
Just across the walk, another large container has blue lyme grass which, if in open ground, will engulf everything in its path. No danger of that with it contained. Right in the middle of the grass is another hosta, this time Krossa Regal, a blue harmony with the grass and a hosta that will reach two feet tall in vase shape, thus keeping up with the height of the grass. A contrast is chartreuse creeping jenny spilling over the edge of the pot. Three plants, all perennials, make a good show. If you should want to, a single “premium annual” such as a sunproof coleus, could be added.
Our antique urinal (no misprint) you might have read about here a year or so ago hangs on the wall of our house under the deck roof. I’ve had trouble with its plantings due to heavy shade in that location. This year I am trying a medium size yellow-edged hosta, yellow creeping jenny streaming (appropriate!) over the side of the urinal, a variegated carex grass, more yellow with ornamental oregano, and another, smaller hosta, this time Lemon Lime, that is solid chartreuse. Don’t laugh until you see it.
Yet another pot, this time an elevated and rather formal urn, is centered with a variegated yucca surrounded by a grouping of yellow variegated creeping euonymous. These two plants make up a good show in themselves, but I interspersed yellow and purple pansies for the winter. They are still in good heart and will be replaced soon by a single yellow lantana.
In the woods nearby another container, this time totally informal as befits the setting, is an upturned piece of old concrete culvert found along the roadside and hauled in (with gut-wrenching effort) to its present site. It has the same yucca-euonymous combo, which I find easy and cheap. The euonymous is ridiculously easy to propagate by simply sticking pieces of it into the soil, where they root and remain in situ for years. This pot can have some three or so impatiens in an appropriate color for the summer, while the euonymous and yucca are perennials.
Yet another urn has the incomparable dwarf sumac Tiger Eyes in the center. It has leaves of yellow and orange. Though capable of reaching six feet or more in open ground, it is easy to keep it at three feet or less under confinement. With it is another heuchera, this time with yellow-edged red leaves. A variegated carex offers foliage contrast, and there is the chartreuse ornamental oregano there too. I did succumb to buying one annual for this pot. Last fall a discount store had three-gallon size tropical crotons at a give-away price. There were three plants in each pot. Last week I added one of them to this combination, leaving two more for other pots.
My ancestors were Scotch, Irish, Dutch and Welsh, heavy on the Scotch. The Scotch rears its head every time I think of dropping 50 bucks to plant up a pot, so I have taken the cheap way out. The results have been satisfactory, to say the least.
Take a look around, even now, and you can spot perennials that will work in your pots.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 5.5.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path