Perennials, Herbs, and Vegetables
Herbaceous perennials are valuable in the container garden. In planters, raised beds, and large boxes, they contribute greatly to the garden design with their distinctive foliage and attractive flowers. As a group, perennials are adapted to a variety of conditions, tolerating sun or shade, moist or dry locations. For the most part, they are hardy, but some require winter covering.
Select some perennials with good all-season foliage. When daylilies, peonies, phlox, coral-bells, gas plant, astilbe, and hardy candytuft finish flowering, their leaves remain attractive. With Oriental poppies, bleeding hearts and primroses, the leaves turn yellow once blooming is over, though this does not mean they are undesirable. Bare spots left by them can be concealed by other plants like quick-growing annuals, get a list at container-gardens.com.
Perennials like daylilies and iris thrive where it is hot; lupines, delphiniums, and astilbes prefer cooler temperatures. You can have some biennials, too-foxgloves, canterbury-bells, sweet williams and verbascums-and discard them after flowering.
Today, nurserymen and garden centers offer mature perennial and biennial plants in tins, baskets, tar paper, papier-mache, and other temporary containers. They provide for quick, colorful effects.
Acanthus or Bear's Breech. Tall and striking from southern Europe, whose leaf the ancient Greeks adapted for the capitals of Corinthian columns. Arching, deep-cut, thistle-like leaves, two feet long, shining dark green, are surmounted with tall, white, rose-tinged spikes. Give plants large pots with good drainage and full sun. Not hardy in the North where they need winter protection.
Asters. Handsome with starry blossoms for rich purple, lavender, rose, pink, and white autumn displays. Many varieties vary from nine inches to four or more feet. Plants need full sun and respond to feeding and watering, but are otherwise easy. They are best divided each spring.
Bearded Iris. Number one favorite, beloved for its exquisite blooms in rainbow colors. Hardy and easy to grow, spearlike leaves provide accent among other plants. Clumps need dividing every third year. Borers can be controlled with repeated sprayings, starting in early spring.
Chrysanthemums. Free-flowering and invaluable for the pot garden. With these alone, you can enjoy riotous color from August even to December. Grow your own or buy plants in bud from commercial growers. They move easily when in bloom, if you take care to keep them moist. After flowering, plant in garden or cold frame and give winter protection or discard the roots like annuals.
Daylilies or Hemerocallis. Thriving in hot and cold climates, in shade or full sun. Straplike foliage remains attractive all season. For warmer regions there are evergreen varieties. Trumpet flowers, mostly yellow and crimson, open over a long period, even though each bloom stays fresh but one day. The Greek name, hemerocallis, means "beautiful for a day."
Delphinium. Regal plant with tall, stately spikes in shades of blue, purple, and white. Sow seed in February or March for flowering plants the same season or purchase seedlings in spring for large containers. Seed sown in June or July will bloom the following summer. Delphiniums need sun and staking up to their heads. Try some of the gorgeous Pacific Hybrids.
Hostas. These handsome perennials have broad leaves, green or variegated. Low growing types are ideal to edge large planters. Hardy, pest free and easy. Consider the August lily, with fragrant white bells in summer; Honey-bells, with tall spikes of purple flowers; and Thomas Hogg, with green leaves edged white.
Phlox. Dependable for bright color in July, August, and September. Thrives in sun or partial shade and needs plenty of water. Allowed to dry out, phlox wilts and the lower leaves turn brown. Comes in pink, salmon, rose, red, scarlet, lavender, purple, and white. If tips are pinched when plants are six to nine inches high, flower heads will be more numerous, though smaller.
Rose Mallow or Hibiscus. Spectacular for tall, bold effects. Large flowers, like single hollyhocks, appear during late summer and fall in red, rose, pink, and white. Hybrids measure nine and more inches across. Good for screening hedges. Plants like rich soil, abundant moisture, and full sun though partial shade is endured.
Canterbury-Bells. Choice biennial, with long-lasting bells in purple, lavender, blue, pink, and white. Worth the effort, even if they die after flowering. In the spring, garden centers offer budded specimens. For dramatic compositions, group several together. You can grow your own from seed sown in June or July.
Foxgloves. Delightful, with tall spikes covered with bells. Sow seed in June or July and winter young plants in coldframe or garden, covering with marsh hay or evergreen branches. Old-fashioned kinds have bells on one side of the spikes, but the new English hybrids have flowers all around the stems. Pot-grown rosettes are available in spring.
Other perennials and biennials to grow are heuchera or coral-bells, veronica, showy stonecrop or sedum, helen-ium, Japanese iris, scabiosa, shasta daisy, lythrum, platy-codon or balloon flower, pentstemon, peony, Oriental poppy, monarda or bee-balm, lavender, liatris, tritoma, heliopsis, anthemis, gaillardia, gas plant, columbine, and butterfly weed. Do not overlook such rock garden plants as arabis, aubretia, basket-of-gold, snow-in-the-summer, thyme, viola, ajuga, dianthus, primrose, and auricula. (A well-illustrated catalog will help you select.)
HERBS FOR FRAGRANCE If you like herbs and enjoy them in cooking, you can have an herb garden in containers. Try sun-loving rosemary, marjoram, parsley, sage, fennel, mint and chives in individual pots or tubs or with other plants in large boxes. Grow with them some of the scented-leaved geraniums, like rose, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon, apple, and peppermint.
A few years ago, Mrs. Frances R. Williams of Winchester, Massachusetts, who was unable to raise herbs in her shady garden, decided to try them on her nine-foot square porch, which had sun until late afternoon. She used twelve low bushel baskets and four egg cases, each filled with half-rotted compost to within four inches of the top. Then three inches of fertilized soil was spread on top.
In two of the egg cases, Mrs. Williams planted summer savory, and a dozen basil plants in the other two. Dill, lettuce-leaved basil, narrow-leaved French thyme, and sweet marjoram were also grown. All yielded enough for summer salads and winter drying. In a few of the other baskets, Mrs. Williams planted small-fruited red cherry, red and yellow pear, and yellow plum varieties of tomatoes. Since the deep containers held moisture for a long time, they did not require daily watering. On the shady side of the house, bushel baskets, filled mostly with compost, were planted with open heads of leaf and Bibb lettuce.
VEGETABLES Vegetables can also be grown in containers, if only for novel effect. Purple kale and cabbage are attractive and always arouse curiosity. Grouped around a small pool or on a table, white-fruiting eggplants in individual pots are charming. Rhubarb in large planters or boxes will make a bold accent for the contemporary terrace. In containers, the feathery leaves of carrots, the linear foliage of onions, and the fruits of tomatoes, especially the small kinds, are fun to look at and eat.
The pot garden offers an excellent opportunity to grow miniature plants, a new form of gardening that is increasing in popularity. In England, where growing miniatures has become a hobby, it appeals strongly to older people, who like to fuss with tiny plants in old stone sinks and other containers raised to waist level.
CACTI AND WATERLILIES In hot climates with little rainfall, cacti and succulents can be the answer. They can be grown, too, in other areas, particularly by gardeners who like to travel without worrying about the container plants they leave behind. Foliage patterns and forms of these plants are fascinating, and many extraordinary compositions can be achieved. Easy to grow, they need a lean soil and are best in small pots.
Waterlilies and other water plants can be grown in small low tubs, perhaps one waterlily with a specimen of cyperus or floating hyacinth. Native Americans would use tarns, natural indentations in sandstone. In a large tub, Egyptian lotus, with its enormous leaves and blooms rising several feet above the surface of the water, is a handsome sight.
BONSAI Bonsai or Japanese dwarf trees are also container plants, but these comprise a specialty that is a study and art in itself. It is, however, increasingly popular, and books are available that tell how to train and maintain these dwarf trees and shrubs. Plants can be purchased from nurserymen who specialize in this unusual aspect of container gardening.