In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
November, 2006
Regional Report

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Winter evergreen flowerboxes filled with Skimmia shrubs, sprigs of artificial berries, and swags of small-leaf English ivy decorate a Philadelphia condominium.

Decorating in Outdoor Planters

Non-gardening friends are losing patience. "You can't still be busy gardening! It's November!" they plead. Yes, it IS mid-November, and many fortunate northeasterners are savoring rare, last-minute days of T-shirt and shorts weather. Which makes doing late-autumn garden chores so much more pleasant than being bundled in layers.

We down-and-dirty gardeners in Philadelphia and environs are taking full advantage of the sunny days in the high 60s. With winter in the wings, folks switch out summer clothes for cold-weather duds. Many gardeners have another charge -- switching out summer-flowering annuals in windowboxes, hayracks, pots, and containers. To fill the vacuum, we search far and wide for flowers, small shrubs, nature's treasures, and tacky ornaments. Anything colorful, artful, whimsical, odd, textural, elegant, seasonal, and otherwise intriguing to perk up those empty spaces.

Center City Flower Boxes
At the Lanesborough building at 16th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia, urban garden designer Toni Ann Flanagan switches out flower box plantings four times a year. For this autumn's scene, she planted green-leaved Skimmia shrubs in the shady windowboxes high above eye level. She added prominent copper-burgundy berry clusters for texture and rich color just below the Skimmia leaves. To complete the picture (tall, middle, and low/cascading), she kept summer's small-leaved English ivy but cleverly wired its long stems into swags, which are ready to decorate with holiday lights or glistening garland.

Toni Ann plants her winter container favorites in October and November: Skimmia, boxwood, yellow arborvitae, Sedum rupestre 'Angelina', Sedum reflexum 'Blue Spruce', coral bells (Heuchera) for leaf color, Euphorbia 'Efanthia', wintergreen (Gaultheria) with berries, and red and gold twig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) 'Midwinter Fire'.

Containerized plants need water especially in winter, Toni Ann reminds us. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, things are underwatered! In the shade, water plants two to three times a week."

Streetside Brick Planters
Off Head House Square, my helper, Ky Mettler, and I transformed eight red brick planters fronting Lombard Street condomiums. Creating an exciting, yet uniform look (the condo association's preference) on this sunny and shady block is always a challenge.

After pulling out dying sweet potato vines, coleus, and still-blooming vinca, we sprinkled slow-release fertilizer to feed the winter display.

For bright color and contrasting textures, we placed one golden and green-leaved ornamental grass -- Acorus 'Ogon' -- front and center per planter. We surrounded the Acorus with shoulder-to-shoulder 'Lemon' pansies for pizzaz and spring rebloom.

On two sides, we draped creamy white and green variegated ivy (Hedera helix 'Glacier'). For sparkle and unifying color, we packed blue/white yellow-eyed pansies from ivy to condo wall. To polish off, we topped with cedar bark mulch, then watered and fed with diluted kelp and water-soluble fertilizer.

Country Cottage
Inspired by warm sun and a fragrant, chartreuse new plant find, I came home and rejuvenated the cottage hay racks with golden Acorus; two short, gorgeous lemon cypress trees (Cupressus macrocarpa 'Wilma'); leftover pansies, ivy, and hemlock branches. Wow! There's almost room for a tacky holiday accent.


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