Some Very Good Reasons To Plant Containers For Spring

Our early spring season has been notable for its soaking and relentless rains. Daily rain. As in  “don’t go out without your muck boots on”  rainy. And  “don’t even think of stepping into the garden”  rainy. The boxwood pictured above are slated for an early landscape installation. They spent the winter indoors, in the building we use to house equipment and vehicles. By mid-March, those plants needed to come out of storage. The process was not pretty, as you can see. No gardener can tell ahead of time how the season will change from winter to spring. That transition is rarely smooth and easy. Into our second week of daily rain, the ground is simply too wet to work. We have heeled these boxwood in, not knowing when we will be able to begin planting.

These rainy days are gray and dreary. The cold is magnified by all of the water in the air. Bone chilling. I stand on the edges of my garden, knowing it is off limits right now. Stepping on the ground when it is completely saturated with water drives all of the life giving oxygen out of that soil. Compacted soil is unfriendly to any plant that is trying to grow. So how can a gardener garden early on, given these conditions? Plant some pots. The soil in containers drains much more readily than the soil underfoot. The soil of your choice loaded up in a container drains freely. Containers can be readily be planted in the rain, just ask my crews. Containers can furthermore be planted with all manner of seasonal plants that do a great job of tolerating the cold. Our trees are still leafless, and few perennial plant has dared venture forth, but for the hellebores, and the early spring flowering bulbs. What else can help soften the very early spring blues? I would suggest that a worthy preview of the spring season to come might begin with some containers confidently planted with plants that endure in spite of the cold.

These branchy style cut pussy willow stems speak to and echo the spring garden. Pussy willow is a very large growing shrub that blooms very early. If your landscape is not large enough to accommodate this big rangy shrub, the cut branches look terrific in spring containers. The blue preserved and dyed eucalyptus acknowledges that blue color that is so beautiful and reminiscent of our spring. Pansies and violas are entirely cold hardy right out of the flat, provided they have been grown in cold conditions.

We buy pansies and violas that were started from seed last summer. They are over wintered in houses with no heat. They are ready for the April chill. If the temperature threatened to go below 25 overnight I would cover them.  If I wanted to protect their blooms from a windy 28 degree night, I would cover them. This seems like a call to plant away to me.  Pansies and violas are among some of the most charming, sparkly, and cheery plants that endow our northern tier spring season. I would not do without them.

Planting in cold blustery weather is not my favorite, but I am ready for spring. So I plant anyway.  This large container is home to a Turkish hazel tree – corylus corlurna. It survived the winter in this container, and threw out scads of long pink catkins a week ago. Bravo! We planted the ground level soil with an overall mix of blue and  purple/blue bicolor pansies and white alyssum.  In several weeks, when the filbert tree leafs out, this container planting will sing spring.

Have you ever seen a spike bloom?  Me neither. This particular spike was planted in this client’s container last summer.  I wintered the plant over in a greenhouse. I was faint with surprise when we went to pick up that spike for her spring garden. Planted in this container, there is an incredibly beautiful and fragrant bloom spike that takes all of the visual attention away from a landscape that has not yet emerged. The pale lavender pansies will grow and spill over the edges.  Are spikes cold tolerant?  Utterly.

This is a favorite spring container, just planted a few days ago. The fat and fuzzy cut pussy willow branches preside over all. A cream/green preserved eucalyptus provides some mid level interest, and subtle color. The box is stuffed full of a white pansy with a purple blotch, beautifully grown and just about ready to come in to bloom. The spring gardening season is all about hope, delight, and renewal. The garden coming to life again – what could be better? The very early spring container planting season gives any gardener a chance to whoop up the coming of spring.   I like how this spring container addresses that moment.

This big container features pansies, alyssum, and lettuce underneath a centerpiece of cut pussy willow and tiger branches. Lettuce is a chilly weather vegetable, but it will wither in extreme cold. Pots planted with lettuce now will need to be covered when the night temperatures go low. I suspect the same is true for myrtle topiaries. I will confess that I have a habit of pushing the limits of plants to tolerate cold in our early spring. But my best friend in the early spring is floating row cover. Vegetable gardeners cover their early transplants with this non woven fabric to protect them from the cold. I use it to protect my early spring container plantings facing a fiercely cold night. Floating row cover keeps the temperature underneath that cover 10 degrees higher than the air temperature.

What plants tolerate a cold container environment? Pansies and violas, for sure. Dusty miller. Spikes. Alyssum. Chicago figs. Rosemary and lavender, cold grown. Ivy will take some cold. Chard, parsley, chervil and thyme shrug off the cold. Early spring flowering bulbs are great in containers.  Think daffodils. Hellebores are so beautiful in early spring pots. Once that spring pot fades, those hellebores can be transplanted into the garden. Osteos.  Marguerites.  Interested in planting early spring containers? Try everything. There will be some successes, and some failures.  Any gardener can handle and be energized by these odds.

Spring is on the way.  So excited. Am I ready? Yes I am.
















Still Spring

June 13 2014 (3)As I am writing this, the temperature outside is 54 degrees.  This morning, I woke up to 49 degrees. Why do I think this is news fit to print? A 54 degree daytime temperature is a spring temperature.  Should you be thinking that summer has arrived in Michigan, I would ask you to think differently.  In my opinion, we are still in the spring season. Opinion aside, there is plenty to suggest that each of the four seasons lasts just about three months.  I rarely see any deviation from a spring season that spans late March and April, May, and most of June.  The temperature today reminds me that we are in the late stage of spring.  The beginning of summer, the summer solstice, arrives on June 21, still a week away. I have other signs that spring is still holding forth.  This April planting of mixed colors of nicotiana and violas at the entrance to our driveway is just about peaking.  It is astonishingly beautiful and lush.

June 13 2014 (6)Spring annual planted  in April grow and peak the middle of June.  I wonder what these early planted nicotiana will do, come summer.  How could they be any better?  It used to be that no one planted summer annuals before Memorial Day.  I see many people planting out annuals Mother’s Day weekend.  I do not plant any summer annuals on May 10.  Better that all of those tropical annuals have the shelter, sun and heat of a greenhouse in May.  Annual plants in my zone like warm soil, warm days, and warm nights.  Michigan weather is rarely able to deliver those conditions until the beginning of July.

June 13 2014 (9)My spring window boxes look great right now. Lovely and lush.  Pansies and violas like cool weather-spring weather.  Once the heat of our summer comes on, the pansies and violas will fade.  As of today, June 14, they are still getting the weather they need.

June 13 2014 (10) The sweet peas are coming into full bloom.  The plants themselves are prety wild, but the flowers are beautiful and fragrant.  Having never grown them before, I am happy for the cool weather that suits them.

June 13 2014 (12)If you did not plant your pots for spring, so be it.  Every gardener has a schedule and a mission all their own.  I would only point out, on this 55 degree day in June, that the summer season is yet to come.  I did get a few of my own pots planted.  I hope to have them done by June 21. I know they will take right off, given warm temperatures and warm soil.

June 13 2014 (15)The cool weather plant club is a big one, and includes rhubarb, pansies and parsley.

June 13 2014 (17)nasturtiums and bellis

June 13 2014 (7)We did plant the front of Detroit Garden Works for summer a few days ago.. No doubt we are anticipating the summer. We cut the dinner plate dahlias back by half.  It will take them the summer to get going.  They will be at their best in September and October.  I have not planted the roof boxes yet-it is still to cold for what I have in mind.

June June 9 n2014 (25)The early summer cannot hold a candle to the peak of the spring season.  Think of it.  The start of a season is the start.  The conclusion of the season can be glorious.  I call that the super nova stage.   This spring container designed and planted by Rob-exquisite today. The  spring gardening season lasts every bit of three months.  Into late June.  Just saying.



At A Glance: Lots Of Spring Pots

spring-pots-2014.jpgTo follow are too many pictures of the spring pots we have planted up at the shop.  But too many pictures of plants growing and blooming is just what I need right now.  On this 18 foot antique Scottish railway bench, a collection of little mixed spring pots.  Ever since the day years ago that I had a 14 year old boy put a ten dollar bill in my hand, and ask me what I would recommend for his gardening Mom for Mother’s Day, I make sure I have an answer.

spring-pots.jpgThe loss of the section of boxwood in front of the store is a loss I cannot really explain.  Those plants had their roots entwined with a vision for a garden shop imagined 19 years ago. I would have been happy to have those plants there, always.  But always is not an adjective one can routinely pair with the work and unexpected trouble that it is to sustain a landscape.  Sometimes changes must be made.  Though the end of this winter is not what I would have chosen, I have plenty of options to express the beginning of a new gardening season that are charged with life, vigor, and color.

spring-pots.jpgA container planted for spring is all about a new season.  Fresh ideas that grow out of old ones.  A splash of color so welcome after an interminable winter. Spring is a season which is different every year.  Ours so far is wet and cold.  But these container plants revel in those transitory conditions.  I admire their verve and robust habits.  Bring on the spring plants.

spring-pots.jpgParsley, dwarf marguerites, pansies and violas

spring-pots.jpgStock, lobelia, alyssum and pansies

Spring-pots.jpgLemon cypress, white cabbage, variegated lavender, green sagina, white alyssum and dwarf marguerites

little-spring-pots.jpgLittle spring container plantings in fiber pots

spring-pots.jpgvariegated lavender and violas

spring-pots.jpgspring vegetables in containers

pansy-pots.jpgpair of pansy and viola pots

lettuce-in-rows.jpgbasalt tray planted with lettuce and citron alyssum

pansy-pot.jpgred, yellow and orange pansies in a mossed basket

lettuce-pots.jpglettuce bowls

galvanized-pot-with-chard.jpglemon grass, chard, osteospermum, alyssum, and dwarf marguerites

red-and-yellow-for-spring.jpgpansies and violas in jewel tones

moss-basket.jpgwire basket full of violas

chard-pots.jpgchard and orange pansies in fiber bulb pans

pansies-and-lettuce.jpgParsley, lettuce and pansies are a sure sign of spring.



Moss It

DSC_9020The signs of spring in my area are still few and far between.  I do have a few crocus just coming into bloom now – in April, for pete’s sake. My garden cannot be cleaned up yet, as a layer of ice still covers most of it.  I have winter pots still so frozen in place I cannot take them apart.  But I have other options for spring.  As in planting pots for spring.  We are in the process of planting lots of them for the shop.  Shortly we will be planting spring pots for clients.  I do have a love for mossed containers.  Nature represented in both the top and the bottom is a very good look. Lining moss baskets has always been about the art of patching.  Florist’s moss comes packed in cases of pieces.  Some moss pieces are big and thick.  Rob calls these moss hides.  Some pieces are thin and small.  A wirework basket may need a number of pieces of moss, stitched together via a puzzle of overlapping pieces.  Any natural material comes in all manner of natural shapes, sizes and thicknesses.

DSC_9021One of our suppliers had the brilliant idea of attaching moss to a biodegradable backing.  Don’t ask me how they do this-I have no clue.  But I do know that mossing a wire basket just got a whole lot easier.  For a round wirework container, Rob rolls the container in a natural arc across the moss mat.  He marks that radius with a nursery marking pen.  The marks describing the top of the container, and the bottom.  That pair of lines create an arc.  He cuts that arc big and wide- oversized.

DSC_9025That arc derived from the top and bottom of the container means that the moss mat fits smoothly inside the basket.   Of course there is a lot of fussing.  Anything in the garden that means much to a gardener requires the work of a pair of hands.  A pair of hands on a shovel, or a hose, or a rake.  As for my gardening efforts today, I am putting my hands to planting containers for spring.

DSC_9026Not that I do as good a job as Rob does.  He has infinite patience.  He eases the moss mat into place.

DSC_9028The bottom of this wirework container is filled with drainage material. By a third.  Container plantings require more drainage material than soil.  Waterlogged plants never prosper, unless you plan to pot up bog plants.  A seasonal pot planting does well with bark as drainage material. Making sure that water can drain from a container is essential.

DSC_9031After the bark, the container is filled with soil.  We use a soil mix that is custom blended for us.  Lots of compost.  A big dash of sand.  And soil.  We do not use peat based growers mix in our pots.  Soilless mixes are perfect for professional growers who can manage the fertility levels and water to a tee.  For gardeners, we recommend a soil based mix. We like dirt.

DSC_9033The upper side of the moss mat gets folded over. A rolled moss edge looks generously finished.  That thickness contrasts beautifully with the thin wire that describes the shape of the container.   That roll also helps to keep the soil right where it belongs-inside.

DSC_9034Once the wirework container is moss lined, it is time to plant the plants.  For this pot, white tulips, white English daisies, and white variegated ivy.

DSC_9038Planting a pot no doubt involves design.  Color, texture, mass-and a vision about the mature shape of the planting.  But planting a pot is also about that magical moment.  An idea. The plants. The dirt.  The act of planting.

DSC_9043This mossed wirework basket-an expression of spring.  An expression of spring?  I expect both nature and every gardener to be making news, soon.