Saturday, May 30, 2015

Pots and Planters

Pots and planters, pots and planters. I have far too many. Don't know why. I just can't seem to stop. I think it's because the patio looks bare if it doesn't resemble a display at a garden centre. I begin by mixing up a huge pile of potting soil, and then I keep filling containers until it's all gone — no sense wasting it is there?

I never seem to run out of things to fill. I have a shed full of wooden boxes, terracotta pots, galvanized

pails, a few chic plastic things. In fact, I'll turn anything that will hold soil into a planter, but I draw the line at plumbing fixtures.

I know I'm not the only gardener who does this. I once held a contest on my website to see what other people came up with and it revealed that there are some strangely creative, or eccentric, people out there.

Old work boots, open umbrellas, pots and pans, hats, purses, baskets and bowls, even eaves troughs — they've all been tried. How about the agitator from a washing machine, or the top of an old hair dryer? My favourite was an old pair of jeans that were no longer needed because the owner had lost weight and intended to keep it off. She filled them with soil and claimed the twenty pounds she lost was now represented "sitting" somewhere else.

I'll agree these things all make interesting planters. The danger lies in overdoing it. Too many "unique" items can make the backyard look like the back room of a junk shop, especially if the plants aren't thriving.

Besides ensuring plants are healthy, the difficult part is getting all the colours, textures, shapes, sizes, and scale of the plant material nicely coordinated. After doing this for years, I've discovered the secret. It doesn't matter a whole lot which plants you stick in a planter. If you give plants what they need and remember to feed and water them, most groupings turn out looking just fine, even sublime.

I know, designers are paid big money to develop ideal plant permutations. I even have a book on the subject — The Encyclopaedia of Planting Combinations, by Tony Lord. I just don't have time to read it when I'm busy planting. I really should although I'm sure Tony has come up with some of the same combinations that I've discovered accidentally. For instance, it's no secret that blues and yellows in all their hues look really good together, as do pinks and blues, and for that matter, so do yellows and pinks. Colours can complement or contrast startlingly — yellow marigolds with purple salvia, for instance.

I'll occasionally pot up a planter with just a single colour, or shades of the same colour. Know what? They look great too. Of course, I'm not blindly sticking plants in pots like mad without a thought to the process. I do plan. I always go to the garden centre with a list (which I usually forget to look at). I buy lots of plants, especially ones I've never grown before — and these are getting harder to find every year, but the breeders know this and are trying their best to help out.

When I get home, I begin the process of coordination. There is no guarantee that a planted plant will stay planted. If something doesn't seem right, out it comes, sometimes as much as week later. It's a wonder some of them ever manage to get established. Ever seen a geranium with a "Here we go again" look?

Sure, I could purchase a finished planter with the plants fully grown and all in bloom, but this would be far too static for me. When I plant up a container, I've really no idea what it will look like come July. I may have a sparse looking arrangement for a few weeks, but I wouldn't miss the joy of watching the transformation that takes place.

Once in a while, I'll know immediately that I've got it right — the perfect plants in the perfect container. I did it last week when I hauled out an ordinary looking 45mm pot from the shed. It's glazed a faded purple, and in it I planted a bronze/purple cordyline I just happened to have picked up on impulse at my local nursery. Nothing special in that, you might be thinking. No, not until I covered the surface with some Scottish moss that I happen to have in abundance. The result — lance-like, purple leaves soaring up from a carpet of pale green moss — pure elegance. Sometimes, one planter is enough.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Spring Rush

I plant far too much stuff in my garden. I can’t help it. I drop in at a garden centre for a couple of plants and I come home with a couple of flats. It’s less expensive if you fill the whole flat, they tell me at the cash register. So back I go to fill the thing, even though I only have two plants in it. It’s not that I don’t possess a degree of logic and the ability to make calculations in my head that would show it’s costing me more.

That’s not the reason. The reason is the season. In spring I have to plant and plant and plant. I admire people that can enter a garden centre with a list and leave the place with no more items purchased than were on their list. At any other store I can do this, but not where plants are concerned. It must have something to do with survival — the instinct to ensure there’ll be a good crop by fall. Except it’s mostly flowering plants I’m buying. As far as vegetables, it’s a much simpler process. I plant most from seed — beans, peas, lettuce, zucchini. I don’t have to worry about how the veggie garden looks, whether the colours are coordinated, or where to plant — in the veggie garden.

I’ve come to the conclusion that planting my garden is like doing a jigsaw puzzle without a picture to go by and, if you’ve ever completed a jigsaw puzzle, you’ll know that the pieces with flowers or foliage are the hardest ones to place. On top of that, I’m always missing pieces or I having to force in extra ones.

I spent the long weekend on an extended walking tour of my property doing just that — during the rain showers — trying to find the perfect spot for whatever plant was in my hand. Prefers shade says the tag, but the best shady corner is full. There’s space in another shady spot, but the plant in my hand is too large for that location. There’s only one more option, but the colour is all wrong. It will clash terribly — too bad, I’ll relocate the one that’s beside it. If I can’t find a space for it, I’ll start another container. There’s still room on the deck for a couple more. Then I start trying to find homes for another trunk load.

Despite the turmoil and frenzy of planting that I go through each May long weekend, it’s the best of times and it only gets better as the garden grows lush and more colourful throughout the season. I did discover one plant in particular that I hope to see flourish, it’s my find of the week, a tender perennial with the memorable name of Melongolly Blue. It has fine foliage and is Melon-scented with powder blue flowers. It caught my attention in an article I was reading some time back. I wrote down the name at the time then forgot all about it, but spotted it again while cruising the aisles last weekend. I was so pleased, I let it choose its own place in the garden.