Legalizing pots

In hindsight I may have gone a bit too far, but last year when my better half suggested we could use a few more plants out on the deck I ran with it.  She’s not known for her appreciation of things chlorophyll so this was unprecedented, and I’m sure you could understand my enthusiasm for encouraging an interest.  For her I thought potted plants were a big no-no, and I’ve found this becomes an even stronger no-no when their planting and repotting takes place on the kitchen table… which is kind of close to the deck table… so perhaps this new interest in the deck plantings was the first step in easing the household ban on pots.

deck container plantings

A few of the planters which were put into service this year on the deck.  This photo might be two weeks old and it’s interesting to see where all the golf balls which I picked up out of the lawn today came from…

Before this garden I used to have quite a pot habit.  The small balcony of my apartment was filled and overflowing with any container I could find and any plant which I thought would be interesting to grow out there, and at one point I was a little worried all the extra weight on my second floor balcony might one day come crashing down.  But it didn’t, and I kept on happily planting until finally purchasing my first home.

wendys wish salvia

Coleus are perfect for containers, but I far prefer the sun-tolerant, slow to bloom, cutting grown plants rather than any strains from seed.  The salvia (Wendy’s Wish) is also doing well enough, but I suspect she would prefer a roomier root-run and not sit in a cramped pot.

When the deck was opened up to planting I scoured all corners of the yard and garage for any container which might still be able to hold a plant.  Many of the old plastic pots from my balcony days came out of retirement and were slid right in next to my pretentious Italian terra cotta and glazed ceramic.  I’ll see if I can do something about that next year, but this year most of the budget went to new potting soil.  Potting soil has been a sticky subject around here since most of them stink, but I found Jobe’s Organics Potting mix and love its price and quality.  It’s made with quality ingredients, it’s airy and loose, and it’s just what I wanted for filling large planters.

Ipomoea lobata

Slowly but surely the Spanish Flag vine (Ipomoea lobata) is beginning to drape the railing.  It had a late start since this was first a spring pansy planter, and they had to bloom out before I was allowed to squeeze in the vine and grass plant.  The blue salvia self sowed in from last year… thanks mother nature!

I have plenty of favorites which I either overwinter or buy, but this year’s big treat was the Cannova Rose canna which I bought already in bloom and already nearly bursting out of the pot it came in.  It’s only done better since, and if you ignore some leaf damage from Japanese beetles and a few sloppy spent blooms dropped on the deck, it’s my idea of a perfect summer container plant.  This canna is a seed strain and because of that should be virus free, also the breeder claims these plants have been selected to thrive in cooler temperatures, which is another plus for Northerners such as myself.

deck container plantings

Cannova Rose canna.  It keeps sending up new stalks and they keep on blooming.  Between it and its overgrown spike neighbor I don’t know which I like more… although I do like the spikes!

I lost a few of my older spikes (dracaena) last year to a surprise late freeze but I’ve got a few new ones growing along.  The little ones are all over in the spring but what I really like is when they put on a few year’s worth of growth and become these big grassy exclamation points.  They’re relatively easy to overwinter and my goal is a whole patch of them towering over the other plantings 🙂

lantana in container

I need to dig out the label for this lantana.  My daughter picked it out and I reluctantly added it to the cart as I thought about lantana failures in my past.  This one keeps blooming though and never looks bad.  I wish I could say the same for the ‘Troy’s Gold’ plectranthus on the right, it apparently does not like full sun here.

The one pink and gold and lavender corner is dominated by another favorite which I nearly left to die last fall.  In the late spring last year I picked up a clearance oleander, and this summer  it’s really come into its own.  Nonstop bloom on the single pink, but there’s a double in there as well, and that one is always a mess with few blooms open and always a few brown soggy spent flowers hanging from the branches.  I try to ignore it.

oleander in container

Oleander on the deck.  It’s been in bloom since June and I love the bright pink in front of the white railing.

As we go around the deck there’s another favorite which I always end up buying new each spring.  The purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is a pain to overwinter but worth adding new every year for its dark leaves and light airiness of the seedheads.  This year I put it with a new rose and although I paid way too much for the rose, and really questioned the decision to plant it on the deck (mostly due to all the blood it drew while planting), I love the effect.

grass in container with rose

Purple fountain grass with rose ‘Black Forest’, ‘zahara sunburst’ zinnias, and ‘double hot cherry’ zinnia.

Not to name too many favorites but sweet potato vines always show up in my planters.  Some years they cover the deck, some years they hang through the railing, regardless of where they grow I like them and I like them large.  There are dwarf types but for me I far prefer the far-ranging ones like chartreuse ‘Margarita’ or the dark purple ‘Blackie’.

deck container plantings

A scented geranium growing up, a ‘Margarita’ sweet potato hanging down, and New Guinea impatiens filling the pot.  Also making a showing is my newest banana ‘Bordelon’, two weeks in the pot and hopefully on the verge of some nice new leaves and rapid end of summer growth 🙂

I apologize for going on so long,  I’m going to try and be a little less wordy as we go around to the front door plantings.  They’re much less floral, but still a mess of color.

mixed foliage planting

The hellebore and variegated boxwood are in the ground, but everything else is potted…. not that you would know since the planters disappeared a few weeks ago.

I wish I could explain my thinking out front, but it was really just a matter of using up stray coleus cuttings and overwintered tropicals.

mixed foliage planting

This pink coleus is my problem child.  While all the rest are happy growing colorful foliage the pink one insists on forming flowers.  I just keep pinching them out, hoping someday the plant gets the message. 

This unknown to me creeping houseplant threatens to take over the pot as well as the porch.  I’ve had it for a few years now and love the way it bleaches to a bright yellow wherever the sun hits.  Unfortunately if the sun hits it too hard the leaves burn…

cane begonia

Every couple days the begonia needs to be dug out of a yellow landslide.  I suspect there’s at least three pots buried under all this.

The other side of the front entry is also a horticultural tsunami.  Vacationing amaryllis (hippeastrum), a few geraniums, and some on again off again gerber daisies are trying to fend off the looming sunflowers and an uninvited pumpkin.  Serves me right for letting the pumpkins rot on the front steps all last winter, but the new pumpkin forming is almost like a self renewing Halloween decoration!

container plants

The left side of the front entrance walk.  Nothing pretentious about this entry, it’s all a comfortable hodgepodge of color and texture (including mildewed pumpkin leaves).  The lighter, divided leaf is the old (1800) scented geranium ‘Lady Plymouth’.  Obviously I haven’t had it that long…

So after all of the mess at the entry our hanging porch planters are fairly plain.  The asparagus fern gets thrown in the garage each winter, nearly dies by April, and then springs to life once regular watering resumes.  It doesn’t drop faded flowers on the porch, doesn’t mind a week or two of forgotten waterings, and cost me about $1 a piece several years ago.  I appreciate all these strengths yet she who judges doesn’t like these pots at all.  Flowers would be nicer she says.

easy plants for hanging baskets

Asparagus fern, just the kind of hard to kill plant which survives under the shade of the porch, out of the reach of any saving drops of rain.

Now if I replaced the ferns what would I put there?  Maybe she means add more pots all around the porch, that’s probably what was implied, and that might be a good starting point for next year.  Come to think of it she did say she wouldn’t mind even more potted plants out back, and contrary to what I thought, she said it’s not too much back there on the deck.  This of course kind of encourages me to find out what too much is, and it’s these kinds of challenges which fuel your imagination in February.  I did still want to add a small eucalyptus tree after all, just a small one.

Cook’s Treat!

A friend of mine likes to use the term “Cook’s Treat”.  I think he picked it up from Nigella Lawson’s cooking show, and likes to call out the phrase whenever he snaps up a particularly tasty leftover trimming or yummy browned crust.  The cook’s the one doing all the work, shouldn’t they get a break now and then?

Now my interpretation of “Cook’s Treat” is more like taking a swig of wine when I pass it to my wife for the shrimp scampi pan, so my version is a little different….. but why not try using it all over the place?  I’ve been tiling in the basement this summer, so how about a “tiler’s treat”?

new chocolate colored terra cotta pots

“Cook’s Treat” was called a few times on trips to the DIY store. Clearance sales, new pots, and irresistible plants all helped make lugging 75lb boxes of tile tolerable.

On yet another trip for mortar and grout I stopped in at a local store which specializes in liquidating odds and ends from other retailers.  Last year this store got in a load of pottery which included some chocolatey colored Italian terra cotta.  I carefully (and frugally) bought only two pots at that time.  On this visit I had my fingers crossed for an end of year sale, and almost let out an un-manly squeal when I saw 40% off.  Four more nice sized pots for just under $7 each and some $2.50 bags of potting soil came home.  The money I saved went towards an emergency nursery stop, and I picked up a dusty pink cape fuchsia (phygelius), purple aeonium, and a variegated hebe.  They were not on sale, but still a bargain compared to all the time and money spent on the stupid tile.

container plants for deck

You see deck flowers here, I see pots from last year and about five new pots which will all either have to come indoors or find some other safe spot for the winter.

New pots are becoming a problem.  The terra cotta and glazed ceramic that I hated when younger are now irresistible and I’m always bringing home another one or two.  I wish I had access to fancier ones (and could afford them) but for now the Depot and Lowes are nice and convenient.

blooming cactus

The cactus and succulent need a nice heavy pot to keep from tipping over, plus unlike plastic the terra cotta breathes, and even when overwatered the roots still get enough air to not mind.

Just how bad it’s become will only really show up in another few weeks when I need to find wintering spots for them all.  Even if I don’t bother and let the plants freeze and die, the clay pots can’t.  They’re porous and absorb water and when that water freezes and expands inside the clay it will likely crack the pots.

miscanthus in pots

The miscanthus divisions from this spring have grown huge, and although they are planted in red plastic pots which can be left out all winter without being damaged, the plants will die when winter hits.  In pots, exposed out on a deck, plants generally lose about two hardiness zones.

Not everything is in fancy terra cotta.  This pot features a struggling pitcher plant which is the focal point of my exciting new bog garden.  Although there were a lot of complaints when certain family members discovered their ‘favorite popcorn tub’ was the only container I could find without drain holes, I think it’s working out fine.  I just wanted to add that things would be much greener if it didn’t dry out completely when I took the kids on a long weekend visit to my parents.  Apparently someone here thought the weak rain we had would be enough to keep it alive…. regardless of the explicit watering instructions I left for this one little pot!

container bog with pitcher plant

Rather than bear the label of “too cheap to buy a real pot” I’d like to think of this as recycling, or upcycling one of the many disposable plastic things children generate.

….and there are still plenty of cyclamen in pots.  For as much as I try, new ones keep showing up!

hardy cyclamen sprouting in the fall

Aren’t they the coolest little things? The cyclamen in pots always seem to sprout earlier than the ones in the ground….. and no, I didn’t spend $12 dollars on the empty pot, it’s just a second label to remind me this one comes back in under lights for the winter.

Thankfully I don’t grow any colchicums in pots.  This is a new favorite from ‘Daffodils and More’ and makes a nice start to the season.

colchicum "Disraeli"

colchicum “Disraeli”

I’ll probably have to make a full disclosure of pot purchases soon enough.  This is only the tip of the iceberg.  Things will look much worse when I start staging them all together to bring them inside 🙂

Hanging out on the Deck

The deck planters are starting to look good. The tropicals love the heat and the annuals have settled in. Last year I had some big grasses in the three main planters, but the winter was too much and they didn’t make it,  so this year I returned to my roots and stuffed the pots full with my favorite all summer plantings.
‘Tropicana’ canna, black sweet potatoes, million bells, and a New Guinea impatient fill this pot. Some ‘red rocket’ snapdragons fill in the back. I’ve never done the snapdragons before but right now they look great….. We’ll see how they last in the heat.
deck planter with cannas
For some reason red was the color of choice this year. Usually I don’t buy most of the plantings and just use over wintered stuff, but this year I treated myself to a nursery run. 33% off helps and if you buy it all on one day I guess a red mood will give you red plantings.
This one has similar plants with the cannas replaced by a nice new coleus and burgundy fountain grass in the center.
deck container plantings
The aloe pot here was overwintered, but the red blooms on the dipladenia are new. Not to rub it in but I think I found it for about $2 at a local greenhouse clearance and I hope to overwinter it for next year.
red dipladenia on deck
Here’s a new coleus, overwintered geranium, and a pot of blue fanflower/red celosia combo. The celosia is ‘new look’ celosia and I really like the bright flowers and dark foliage.
coleus on deck
Herbs have a spot too; parsley, rosemary and a pot of annual vinca for color.
herbs in containers
Here’s one pot that I’m not yet thrilled with. It should have a pink ‘Alice Dupont’ mandevilla climbing up the bamboo stakes, but for some reason she won’t grow…. She blooms well, but won’t grow. It was an impulse buy at a box store and looked great, but is no bigger today than it was the day I brought it home. I can’t help but wonder if it was treated with something to trigger blooming at the expense of new growth. Does anyone have an opinion on that?
There’s a chartreuse sweet potato that may step up and take over, and also an ‘Australia’ canna coming in…. But I really like mandevillas 🙂
Oh and a big basil that’s just about worn out its welcome. I never thought it would take off like that.
madevilla on deck
So that’s the news from the deck. I’ve been away for about a week so things have hopefully grown some since, but I’m pleased with the results so far. Yes, a little yellow might have brightened things up a bit, but my planting are always a little impulsive, so each year turns out a little different. Who knows, maybe next year all the grass will be back, or cannas will take over, we’ll see!