Archives for April 2010

A Dirty Little Secret

I happily buy pots from Nancy LaMotte.  Her firm, Anamese Garden and Home, which is based based in Louisiana, designs beautiful glazed pots which are made in Vietnam.  The shapes are beautiful; the construction is superb. She asked if I would write an essay about planting pots for her newsletter.  Why not?  As I am ready to post a tutorial or two about my methodology for planting containers, I am happy to plant a trio of her pots.  How beautiful they are; these glaze drips running over the interior terra cotta surface are a preview of what is to come.   

Successful container planting is much about the dirt, and the drainage of that dirt.  Once you have chosen a beautiful pot, container, or urn-what stacks up on the inside has much to do with a planting living up to the beauty of its home.  Number one for me-insuring good drainage.  I fill every pot at least one-third full, maybe more, with a porous well draining material.  Coarse gravel, bark, terra cotta shards, cell pack plastic liners-a thriving pot planting drains instantly. A layer of non-woven landscape fabric will keep your soil from sifting down into, and plugging, the drainage material.  Most plants love regular and reliable water, but they hate sitting in it. 

Perhaps even more important-the soil.  Every gardener has a mix-I am no exception.  I like a heavy soil, leavened with lots of compost and a big dollop of sand.  Though plenty of garden centers sell giant bags of peat based “planting media”, I am a fan of  topsoil.  As in the closest thing to good garden dirt that is available.Peat based plant mixes are light-you can carry a giant bag to your car.  But peat based planting media implies a professional grower on the other end who will feed that sterile soil at whatever parts per million it needs to produce good plants.  My dirty little secret-good and hefty soil is essential for great plantings.  A compost based soil that does not dry out too fast, that has nutrients, is perfect for garden variety gardeners.  I am no fan of hauling forty pound bags of soil around-so I farm that job out to whomever I can persuade to help me.  This is worth the trouble-making sure the pots get filled with great soil.

I topdress my soil with Osmocote, a time release fertilizer. A small amount gets released, or osmoses through the wall of the granule, immediately.  The rest will release over time in response to temperature.  The warmer the weather, and soil temperature, the faster the rate of release.  The plants you buy at nurseries and farmer’s market’s are grown in fertilized soil, but at a certain point, the care and feeding will be up to you.    

I mix the osmocote into the top 4-8 inches of soil-this is an essential part of the process.  Potted nursery stock that has osmocote on the surface-the person who applied that is very careful not to do too little, or too much.  Too much feed is worse than no feed at all. 

These gorgeous pots are ready for some plants. How will I choose?  Nancy calls this glaze “swamp”; this color has a lot of possibilities, does it not?  The next essay-all about the sheer fun of planting a spring container.

Breaking The Ice


I am sure you can spot the dismay on Howard’s face-he had just discovered that his favorite water dish/fountain was iced over a couple days ago.  This shocked him-but he did go ahead and break the ice.  There are those spring plants that brave the vagaries of Michigan weather, including waking up to the ice.  Those tiny corms one plants by the twenty-fives or hundreds in the fall have a persistence in the spring that belies their small size; the crocus is one of the best known harbingers of spring. 

Last spring came in fits and starts.  These crocus “Pickwick” had sent up leaves and then flowers-only to have to endure the above weather.  The crocus season can be short or long; the weather calls the shots. Both the leaves and the flowers are covered in a waxy cuticle-that protects them from a late winter blast.  The species crocus-my favorite is crocus sieberi- are less robust in their form than the crocus vernus hybrids, but equally as weather tolerant.

I have a modest patch that came with the house fifteen years ago.  They thrive and increase slowly-via seeding, I am sure-and really demand nothing from me.  Like most gardeners, when they finally appear, I wonder why I did not plant scads more the previous fall.  Maybe this coming fall I will do better. 

Of the large flowered hybrids, Pickwick is my favorite.  The stripes are great; the intensely orange stamens are even better.  In a great spring, I will have them the better part of two weeks, maybe more. 

Their small flowers make planting them en masse a good idea.  This area of my garden has other spring flowers to come-like phlox divaricata, and a planting of European ginger that seems finally to be taking hold.  Later in the year, the hostas hold forth into the fall.  The crocus do not seem to be deterred by the companionship to come.  It seems fitting that a perennial as ephemeral as this would ask nothing in the way of care.  They just show up to the party every year, regular as rain.

The grassy foliage is distinguised by a white stripe down the center.  You really do have to get down on the ground to fully appreciate how beautiful a plant they are. I have not put my new knee to the kneeling test yet-but maybe tonight.  My weather forecast-81 degrees today, and 32 degrees overnight.  Can you hear me sighing?  If not tonight, I may need to wait until next year to get as close as I would like. I am sure my PT would approve of the gesture-he is determined to get me down on that knee.

However, crocus are not at all bad from overhead, either.  It is important to place them where they can be properly appreciated. I leave this part of the garden cleanup until after all of my spring plants have come and gone.  I think they like all the debris that seems to appear in spring, no matter how well I clean up in the fall.  Part of their charm is how jewel like they are, laying in their compost bed.

Should you have no crocus, or any of the small spring bloomers from eranthis to muscari, snowdrops and chionodoxa, now is the time to decide where to plant them come fall.  I will take pictures of some spots, and hope for a small bulb plant fest come October.  Should you think of it, will you try to remind me?

So many beautiful things are coming my way; the crocus are only the beginning.