June is time to splash around — splash color, fragrance and form throughout your garden.
Large pots can enliven a patio or deck with sizzling summer color, lighten up a shady area, punctuate entries, perfume the air in high-traffic areas, or make harvests of practical culinary plants easier. Self-contained mini-gardens offer upper-story interest, a mid-range packed with bloom, and a lower level, perfect for cascaders, soften any hard edges. In planting your pots, plan your structure around these three layer components — the thriller, the filler and the spiller — to provide constant interest in all directions.
For the tall centerpiece of an urn, a spiky plant such as a cordyline or a dracaena works well. Bright hibiscus encircled with low color gives a tropical flair to a patio or pool area. For another exotic summer statement, plant bird-of-paradise to soar over the tufts of lower flowers. A tall majesty palm also channels the tropics and is lovely spreading its emerald fronds over lush bloom below. Grasses such as “Prince Tut” dwarf Egyptian papyrus also offer pleasing height. The sturdy upright snake plant (commonly and more humorously named “mother-in-law’s tongue”) is another excellent candidate for the tall, central component. For an edible grouping, a rosemary topiary makes a fragrant evergreen centerpiece. Swiss chard is eye-catching with its colorful red stems as the central focus of pots placed near the herb or vegetable patch.
Roomier pots can even accommodate small trees or shrubs as the “thrillers.” A potted fig tree makes an interesting patio focal point with its attractive, lobed leaf. A lemon tree offers a lush, exotic look. A small Kwansan cherry tree can be potted and its container packed with spring bulbs such as tulips and hyacinth. The pop of bloom in Easter-egg colors provides a dazzling display for a spring party or wedding. Small evergreens make long-lasting centers for large pots and the surrounding plants can be changed according to the season. For entryways, try white gardenia “Kleim’s Hardy” trained into standard forms on each side of the door to fill the air with intoxicating perfume and lend a formal note with their glossy dark- green leaves against the classic white urns.
Plant a vine in the center of a large pot and allow it to climb a trellis. Heirloom bean vines are interesting as is the bright-yellow black-eyed Susan vine. Or you can place the pot near a post and tack up the vine as it grows. For a Halloween block party, an October wedding or just an autumnal theme, plant “Baby Boo” white miniature pumpkins. These may need an occasional application of insecticide to combat squash bugs that love to dine on the tender buds, so plant them apart from your regular vegetable crop or edible herbs. Fill the bulk of the pot with orange marigolds and frothy alyssum.
Colored foliage can be as bright as flowers, but it lasts longer than blooms, making great “fillers and spillers.” Caladiums and coleus add
color to shady areas. Dusty Miller gives a lacy look and adds a frosty cool tone to filler pinks and purples. Good flower fillers include verbena, petunias, dianthus and lantana, the latter especially being a big attraction to passing butterflies. Creeping Jenny is a superior spiller, its golden cascading leaves a great complement to many darker hues. Potato vines “Blackie” and “Marguerite” are also trailing favorites. Pop in trailing nasturtium seeds around the edges of any pot and enjoy watching them lengthen throughout the summer; harvest their charming disc-like leaves and cheerful peppery-flavored blossoms for salads.
Pots can range from traditional urns to artsy found objects repurposed as plant containers. A galvanized metal tub creates a rustic feel — just make sure whatever container you use has a hole for drainage. Large pots can get extremely heavy and be hard to move, so some gardeners like to fill the bottoms of large pots with plastic bottles or jugs, or the plant pots you just emptied. Traditionalists still like clay pot shards or small rocks, but popcorn pellets can provide drainage also. If you opt for the bulky, lightweight objects, spread a mesh cover over them before scooping in the dirt.
Don’t skimp on the quality of soil for the pots. Use moisture-control potting mix (such as Miracle-Gro), which contains sphagnum peat moss, coir (coconut fiber) and a wetting agent that absorbs about a third more water than ordinary potting soil. Most types include a continuous-release plant food in the mix. Some people like to supplement with Osmocote pellets or, a more organic option, chicken manure pellets. Don’t skimp on water, either. Stuffed pots require lots of watering. To be sure that the container does not dry out, water deeply until the water drains out of the bottom of the container. Also remember to increase your watering regimen as the heat goes up and as the plant sizes increase over the growing season. The exuberant beauties in maturity will make watering a ritual you will enjoy.