Planting a Mixed Container

Bountiful and beautiful when massed in clusters, stately and classic when planted with a single variety–container gardens are the ultimate canvas for garden experimentation. They are perfect for trying out a new palette for a future garden, growing challenging plants, or simply creating an inviting patio area. Regardless of your intent, revel in the instant gratification. It is a magical moment when plants, selected for their colors, textures, and forms, are arranged together and materialize as one.

Because I like to change my containers out seasonally, I view them as I view floral arrangements. They should be artful and simple and should successfully convey my intent. Perennials, annuals, g shrubs, bulbs, and “sticks” are all put to use, then recycled back to r the garden or cut and used in my interior arrangements.

In this planting, I was looking for a temporary home for some newly divided hellebores and experimenting with some burgundy tones that I’m a little apprehensive about adding to an orange-and-rust-dominated border. I added the mauve hyacinth for a pop of color and more fragrance.

Step-by-step planting:

1. Prepare for planting
Ensure your container has adequate drainage. Fill the container with about two inches of gravel; this gives a little extra drainage and stability. Next, fill the container with container-appropriate soil. Select one that is full bodied and rich-I prefer one that is organic and compost based, because it means less watering. Add slow-released fertilizer.

2. Remove soil
Be sure that the plants are thoroughly watered. Fill a bucket and submerge the pots until all the air bubbles disappear. Remove plants from grow pots and remove as much soil as needed from the roots. I tend to remove more soil from bulbs than from other plants. In a case when I am trying to achieve an instant look, I remove significant amounts of soil and really stuff the plants in.

3. Center fill
The container should be filled with enough soil to accommodate the longest roots of the plant material. Start with the centermost plants; this usually will be a plant that has a vertical element, but not always. (Container gardening does not have to be limited to the “spikes, spillers, fillers” method. Think outsiide the box.) Once these plants are placed, secure them in place with more soil.

4. Add texture
Finish the planting by adding a selection of textures. Bold, glossy, spiked, or fuzzy-different textures create a more interesting planting. Be sure that all the plants are properly tucked in and that you have about two inches of space between the soil and the top rim of the container, for watering.

5. Add sticks
Branch material is a great element, especially if you are using flowering plants or bulbs. I used black pussy willow for height in some plantings. When I deadhead the planting there will still be balanced height in the composition.

Maintenance: Container gardens still need to be gardened. Trim, deadhead, fertilize, and water. You may wish to refresh the container with a water-soluble fertilizer high in potassium to encourage blooms.

Some plants will grow faster than others. Clustering plants can create an environment conducive to mildew or, conversely, to over-drying-be aware, attentive, and adaptable. 

Try this combo:
African basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Kilimanjaro’)
‘Amethyst’ hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis Amethyst’)
Black pussy willow (Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’)
Chocolate-scented geranium (Pelargonium quercifoliurri)
‘Kentucky Colonel’ mint (Mentha spicata ‘Kentucky Colonel’)
‘Sunshine Mix’ hellebore (Helleborus X hybridus ‘Sunshine Mix’)
Veronica peduncularis ‘Georgia Blue’

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