Planting Containers In June

Waiting to plant seasonal containers until the soil and night temperatures warm up in our zone is an idea of considerable merit. For those of you that read this journal regularly, you already know my point of view. Here me out, again. If you are a client, you have heard me talk about how the best place for tropical plants in May is a greenhouse. Tropical plants that hail from tropical environments have evolved to not only withstand a tropical climate, they thrive in it.  Michigan is anything but tropical. Just a week ago we were having night temperatures in the mid to low 50’s. Tropical plants do not like nor are they likely to adapt to our brisk spring weather. Our spring is just about the equivalent of winter weather to an alocasia, or a solenia begonia in May. May is when gardeners want to plant their containers, but June is better.Tropical plants that go into the ground in anticipation of better weather to come will sulk, be set back, or refuse to grow. I shudder, and have to avert my eyes when I see those huddled masses of fibrous begonias bedded out in commercial settings the first freezing week of May. I am a proponent of planting containers, if only a few key containers, for spring – in an effort to stave off that longing for a summer planting until the time is right. The summer solstice, or longest day of the year, in the northern hemisphere is June 21. Planting summer containers in June helps make a success of all of the work of planting those containers.

Nothing tells a story more succinctly and simply than a picture. These boxes, as well as all the rest of this client’s containers, were planted on June 2. In 28 days, all of these heat loving plants have grown exponentially. Calocasis, begonias of several types, caladiums and licorice like warm soil, and warm temperatures. A good bit of the pleasure of tending containers comes from a collection of plants that are healthy, happy, and growing. In the healthy, happy and growing department, a lot of credit goes to my client Fred P. He is in charge of the watering of all of their container plantings. His watering skill is obvious. The only condition under which begonias fail to thrive is too heavy watering hand. He waters the solenia begonias only when they are truly dry. Their thick succulent stems will rot with too much water.  He tells me it takes all of his willpower to water each plant in this series of boxes individually, but his restraint has paid off. He tell me that he precision waters of of their containers. He never blankets any of his containers with water.  The gorgeous state of all of his container plants is a sure sign of his attention to the individual needs of his seasonal plants. These planters look sensational. It is my opinion that when he waters, he focuses only on that task at hand, and nothing else. Another word for that is relaxation. Another concept for this is that growing plants is good for people. A June planting, a master waterer, and some warm soil and heat-voila.

No plant hates the cold and windy weather more than tomatoes. The size and health of these plants makes it obvious the conditions for growth were right. The basil looks terrific. These tomatoes were 18″ tall when we planted them. The basil were maybe 4″ tall. Summery conditions have enabled them to grow.

The Black and Blue salvia in the centers of these two boxes grow to 40″ tall, and need nearly a season’s worth of time to get to their peak. But I see some signs of early blooms. Happy salvia. As long as the solenia begonias are not over watered, they will bloom profusely into the fall.

New Guinea impatiens are as notoriously adverse to cold weather as are calocasias. Unsurprisingly, New Guinea impatiens are native to New Guinea – the second largest island in the world which is located the the southwest Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, New Guinea is a tropical place. These New Guinea natives look incredibly happy here. Planted green in 4″ pots, they have grown an incredible amount in 28 days, and are now blooming profusely.

There are so many types of gardening-too many to list. To name a few: There are those growers of dwarf conifers, and those gardeners who grow vegetables, and those farmers who grow cut flowers or broom corn. Those people for whom a perennial garden is a continuing source of interest and delight rub shoulders with those gardeners who grow bananas, palms and herbs. Do not forget those who plant trees, or roses, and those who collect cultivars of hydrangeas. Those who plant seasonal containers, and those who plant shade or wildflower gardens have the same issues as those who grow dahlias, rock garden plants or meadow gardens.  The common thread? Plants are very specific about what they need. A gardener who is alerted to and caters to the requirements of the plants will be a successful gardener.

A June planting was an optimal time to plant this particular collection of plants. The plants have responded in kind to that early summer date. Even the view from the outside is a treat.

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Loud And Clear

Airy and wispy container plantings are not for everyone.  Furthermore, there are some places that they simply don’t work.  These planter boxes sit on the wall enclosing a parking lot of a restaurant only a median away from a busy four-lane road.  The speed limit is 45mph; the noise is deafening.  In the 2.5 seconds it takes to zip past this wall, there is an impression that will register with even the most garden-deaf driver.  The combination of colors is ebullient, enthusiastic, splashy-friendly.  The boxes are overflowing; the plants all look healthy.  My client takes great care of them-just like she takes care of her restaurant. That message is loud and clear.              


These large Belgian boxes are visual stoppers at the corner of this terrace.  They ask for a robust planting.  Plants with large leaves and substantial size go a long way to capture the eye.  Bananas, calocasias, alocasias, cannas, farfugium, tibouchina grandiflora-there is a long list of tropicals that can easily handle holding down the fort. Vigorously growing plants in bright colors will chime in.  The smaller planting of a lemon tree, and a pastel mix of petunias, though robust,  would be lost without the big backup.       

A solidly robust planting has much to do with the choice of plants.  The three plants comprising this pot have grown together in a shape that is dense and low overall. Just try to get by it without looking.  Chartreuse makes every other color pop all the more; creeping jenny is a vigorous perennial that loves some shade, and will grow in a bog. There is nothing subtle or airy about this planting-this is by design.   

I can say the same for this pot.  It has grown so vigorously that the pot is no longer part of the composition.  Black and red; red and green-these color combinations are dramatic.  The contrast with the off white wicker furniture is all the more dramatic.  This modern furniture is very chunky and overscaled. These two chairs have some planted company that is even larger, and more chunky. The topknot comprised of a dwarf yellow variegated dracaena and a coleus-that look is in no way planned.  Just natural.  

Gartenmeister fuchsia is an upright variety that handles hot weather like a pro. It can grow to a substantial size, and can easily be wintered over.  However, the dark foliage and small tubular dark orange flowers are rather subdued.  A tutu of lime green coleus turns up the heat.  The red geraniums,magenta petunias and lime licorice don’t hurt. This fuchsia is naturally very airy growing; its woody shoots grow every which way. The colues masks all of those wild hairs; these plants grew together densely in a cone shape.  

Big growing plants are accompanied by lot of leaves.  The leaves of the trailing verbena and petunias are barely visible in this picture, but there is no mistaking the coleus and dahlia leaves.  My office is dark, given this window box planting.  Any container design warrants some study.  Do I need this planting to block an untoward view?  Do I want a container to stand out, or integrate into the large landscape? Right now is a very good time to be looking over your container designs; I take notes.    

A very large terra cotta pot with a purple chocolate glaze is home to this monochromatic planting. Black calocasia, a purple black leaved coleus, and moses in the cradle, makes a sizeable statement about volume and texture.  Calocasia ia a very obliging tropical, in that it will grow as big as the container into which it is planted.  This planting is the better part of 8 feet tall.  This discussion of texture anf form-loud and clear.

Cannas and zinnias-they both are big growing and leafy.  A skirt of trailing geraniums and lime licorice add lots of color at the base.  A neighbor standing behind this pot on the sidewalk would not be seen.  Sometimes a blocky and solid planting can organize a space-in this case, it presides over a densely growing square of boxwood.  Solid, dense and visually clear-this is how I would describe this spot in the landscape.

Large leaved caladiums depend on their size and shape to make a statement.  I like how lush a well grown plant looks.  I am leaning towards planting a lot of them next year.  Loud and clear is much about vigor.  I would much rather work to keep a growing fool of a plant in line, than every day have to convince a prima donna of a plant to choose life.  This is a personal preference. Even the subtle and wispy growing plants that I favor are strong growers.  

But back to loud and clear.  On that list of plants that can deliver that for you-big growers, dense growers, robust growers, large leaved plants, large growing plants, brilliantly colored flowers.  Brilliantly colored leaves; leaves with great shape and texture.    It is up to you to put them all together in a way that enchants your eye.

Hooray For Shade

Shady garden spots have that quiet and peaceful feeling about them-but that does not mean they have to be to uneventfully green.  Sum and Substance hosta is notable for its lime green color; that bold chartreuse looks like someone turned the lights on.  Container plantings in shade can have just as much punch.  This pepperomia is a vibrant shade of green; the intensely pebbly surface reflects light, and attracts the eye.  Pepperomias are small growing shade loving tropical plants that can brighten a shade garden in the summer, and keep you company indoors over the winter.     

There are plenty of tropical plants that are completely happy in shady places outdoors.  These bromeliads are anything but shy in appearance.  I wanted to planty some pots I could keep in the shade of the lindens at the shop.  This red/orange and green duo is just the sort of plant that will brighten that very shady spot.

This pepperomia Jayde features deep green, glossy, and perfectly heart shaped leaves.  It looks juicy enough to be a water plant.  It will make a great companion plant in a container.

This black leaved Calathea is an attention getter.  The shape of each leaf is described by a simple outline and midrib in hot pink.  The green blobby flowers you see pictured here cannot hold a candle to those strikingly beautiful leaves.    The surface of these pale green lance leaved Calathea leaves look as though they had been hand painted.  The pattern reminds me very much of rustic French or Italian china.  Where did I find these plants?  Telly’s Greenhouse, of course.  George has a great eye for unusual and beautiful plants. 

This particular green caladium glows white in the centers of the leaves, and is puinctuated with terra cotta colored blotches; it shines in the shade. 

Putting it all together is the fun of summer container gardens.  A window box in a shady spot can be very lively indeed.

Green Schemes

Containers planted with an all green color scheme can be very beautiful.  Eliminating color as an element in container design means that other elements, such as texture, mass, form, scale, and proportion, become very much more important.  The frosty white Victorian parlor ferns in this planter are a lacy contrast to the big leaves of the white caladiums.  The languid and lax habit of the tradescantia fl. Variegata contrasts to the tight soil skimming habit of the lime green club moss, known as selaginella.  Overall, the planting is loose, and airy-just like the container.  The container itself is such an important element of the overall composition. 

I planted this pair of Italian pots with 2 gallon size zebra grasses, and finished up all around with lime variegated plectranthus.  The colors in one plant mirror the colors of the other-so all of the visual interest is the contrast of the tall narrow grass blades, and the thick felted trailing leaves of the plectranthus.  I pinched the plectranthus, which is related to coleus, all summer long.  This made for an overall shape that was widely horizontal.  The tall grass, in contrast to the very wide plectranthus-a certain visual contrast that satisfied my eye.  The glimpse I still see of the pot at the bottom is just enough to complete the picture.  The planting does a good job of describing what the planter looks like, though you cannot see so much of it. This is a very simple planting which to my eye is very visually engaging.     

Big leaves-do you not love them? This severely contemporary v-shaped limestone  planter benefits from a planting of the paddle-leaved tropical plant dieffenbachia.  The pale yellow green leaves can dramatically lighten a very shady spot.  The yellow variegated ivy once established, I kept trimmed to the inside edge of the stone, as the container itself makes such a strong statement.  The overall shape of the planting seems pleasing to me.  This planting greatly complements the container.      

This planter located on a city street got planted with a lime green version of dawn redwood-a lime green version of Metasequoia.  Small trees can be great in containers; they can be planted in the ground at the end of the summer season.  The  fiber optic grass and Scotch moss are just about the same shade of green.  This planting is simply about texture, and plant habit.  The relationship of one plant to another is enough to keep me gardening.   

The lime green dracaena Jenny Craig is another great tropical plant suitable for containers in shady places. The strappy leaves cascade like water from a fountain.  The variegated licorice petticoat pictured above provides some width that helps to balance the composition.  The detail of the urns is still visible.  I spend a lot of time picking and choosing what of a container gets hidden by draping plants-and what stays exposed.   

This cardoon is a very architecturally striking plant.  The leaves have a prehistoric, slightly menacing look about them. They have an aura which is so strong-they have the visual power to organize a space. The blue green succulent planted at its base-I have no idea what this is called-sorry.  My eyes and my instincts just told me they would work in this container.  These succulents do a great job of softening the look of the cardoon-even though the foliage is stiff, and needle-like. The silver falls dichondra drapes down the corners of this lead container, and puddles on the ground-a languid, and gorgeous contrast to those stiff cardoon leaves.  In general, it is easier to achieve a balanced compostion with three elements, as opposed to two. A container with one or two elements will need thoughtful work on the shaping as it grows, to keep the arrangement visually interesting.  A single well cared for topiary plant in a pot would be a good example of this kind of grooming.  

The lime green flowering nicotiana alata is one of my favorite flowers.  Green flowers-not so ordinary, but eminently satisfying.  The tuft of verbena bonariensis at the top loosens up the entire planting.  The wide outer border planting of white million bells, green and white plectranthus, and Kent Beauty showy oregano, softens the top edge of the container, and balances the height of the nicotiana and verbena.    

These bronze containers are very intricate, and beautiful.  Given that they flank a front door, I plant them tall.  The King Tut papyrus provide great height.  The tall white zinnias read mostly green.  The lime sweet potato vine- they speak strongly to lush. A planting of white mini petunias add some froth where some width is needed.    


Any predominately green composition gets attention from me on lots of  levels.  I cannot really explain this-except to say that great color enchants, and distracts me.  No doubt beautiful color gets my attention.  But when I design, I imagine every element in black and white.  Composing containers in green and white is like looking at the natural world in black and white.  Black and white-this teaches me plenty.