In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
July, 2010
Regional Report

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A trio of gorgeous geometric containers overflowing with a summer flush of small petunias, Verbena bonairiensis, scaveola, Persian shield, and papyrus.

Pretties at Eye-Level

And nibbles within arm's reach. Beautiful, convenient, simple or elegant, container gardening is coming into its own for either minimal gardening or over-the-top art. Everyone can enjoy fresh flowers, herbs, and vegetables in varying quantities by gardening in wooden, clay, plastic or metal containers.

I was soooo tempted (and impressed) just last weekend by the healthy red beets and Swiss chard brimming from a wooden box on a stranger's patio. We had the good fortune to tour a few private and public gardens. It's always fun to see what other plant lovers are up to. One homeowner had cleverly designed a 15' by 15' wooden plank deck. One wall held elbow-high, raised beds for lettuces, beets, and greens. Mid-deck were waist-high boxes boasting lush tomatoes and basil. Scarlet bee balm and white gaura spilled from an ankle-high perennial border on an opposite wall.

In another garden a wall of bean, cucumber, and melon vines climbed rectangular trellises. Their roots were substantially anchored in a calf-high, wood raised bed 5' long.

Drama
Some container combinations beckon us to touch and smell their flowers and leaves. A mound of lavender invites the fingers; the scent lingers yet I often return once or twice more to touch the flowers, buds, leaves. The container makes no difference. Any flowers are a bonus. Lavender always calls me to reach out to refresh my fragrance memory.

Other container styles and plant combinations draw us to admire and savor their colors and textures. The trio of tall, slender, sage-color pots on bright white broken oyster shells pleases the eye at the Heritage Museum entrance in Sandwich, Massachusetts. The cascades of bi-color, pink mini-petunias under tall, wispy papyrus stems- well, together they're breathtaking. Plus they encourage us with promise of more beauty ahead.

From the Roots Up
Plants in containers are confined to the soil and water we give them. The roots can't explore richer ground or reach far and wide for moisture. That's why nutritious, healthy, moisture-retentive soil is so important for the homeowner's container planting. I know I don't have time to water and fertilize daily, as would be assigned a public garden or nursery staff member.

When doing Container Gardening programs, I encourage everyone to combine a high-quality, soilless potting soil with humus, compost, or leaf mold and add organic or slow-release mineral fertilizer. The soilless media of peat and perlite bring air and lightness. Humus, compost and leaf mold are organics that bring nutrients and moisture retention. The ratio can vary. One-half soilless mix and one-half compost/leaf mold/humus is a good starting point. I like to mix everything in a wheelbarrow and fill the containers I intend to pot up. I store what's left in a covered bucket that's easy to retrieve, open and use later.

Moisture Matters
Plants in containers tend to dry out quickly. So the larger the pot, the better. This season I'm crumbling coir- coconut fiber- into the soil mix in hopes it will help retain water as advertised, especially for annuals, vegetables, and basil with nasturtiums. Time and heat will tell....


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