When is the best time to garden in the South? Right now. The humidity is gone, the bugs have given up, and even the weeds are considering retirement. Better yet, it just feels good to get outside. As a bonus, lots of plants thrive in containers, so it’s easy to fill your favorite outdoor spaces with seasonal color. Think of your pots as tiny gardens, and arrange them so they’ll really put on a show. Here are a few tricks to make you look like a pro.
It’s a lot easier to care for your plants when they’re in one spot. You can water, feed, and groom them all at once. You’ll also get a lot more impact from your flowers if you have several pots in the same location. What’s the real secret? Choose pots with different shapes and sizes. This makes a much more interesting display and creates an established look instantly.
Remember, you want color, not chaos. If you’re not yet color confident, choose one flower you love in a favorite shade, and stick with it. For more texture and interest, add foliage that echoes the color of your flowers. White violas (‘Sorbet Coconut’) star in this show. Echoing the white flowers is a variegated American boxwood, which anchors the planting and gives it height, and variegated vinca, which spills over the edge of the pot and softens it. Three plants, two colors--easy, easy, easy.
Here’s another tip: You can’t beat terra-cotta pots if you are on a budget. Their warm shades not only amplify yellows and oranges but also contrast nicely with cool purples, blues, and whites.
Mix It Up If you think pansies and violas are the only game in town, you’re missing out on the incredible variety that fall offers. This time of year, you can find an abundance of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and foliage that will thrive in containers.
To create an interesting combination, think high to low. Anchor your container with a plant that gives it height, such as ‘Ogon’ golden sweet flag, variegated monkey grass, leather leaf sedge (Carex buchananii), heuchera, or autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora). Next, choose flowers and fillers. Herbs such as thyme, lavender, fennel, and Italian or triple-curled parsley fill in beautifully between colorful snapdragons, calendulas, nemesias, and sweet alyssums. For an alternative to blooms, try lettuce, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and kale. Finally, soften the edges of your containers with trailing plants, such as ivy, vinca, and ‘Angelina’ sedum.
As much as we love pansies and violas, they’re vertically challenged. Give them a lift by perching pots on benches and tables or placing them on your steps. You can also try strawberry jars of varying sizes for added height. Stacking is yet another trick. To do this, fill one large pot with soil almost to the top. Then center a smaller pot on the soil in the larger pot. Add more soil to the larger pot to ensure the smaller pot is snug. Then plant your flowers.
Everyone has a favorite seasonal flower. Our Garden editors’ favorite pansy is ‘Pandora’s Box,’ which opens up an entire range of colors in one flower. Jimmy Turner, garden designer at the Dallas Arboretum, looks for plants that “coat themselves in a frosting of flowers, not just a spattering here or there,” and is partial to Panola and Nature Series. (He also likes ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Frosty Rain’ pansies for window boxes and hanging baskets.) Every time we pay a fall visit to David Wright of Wright’s Nursery and Greenhouse in Plantersville, Alabama, we can bank on seeing a showy display of his favorite series such as Sorbet, Majestic Giants II, Supreme, Matrix, and Venus. Try any of these, and you won’t be disappointed.