GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2004 show10
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Show #10

This week we visit a home on a lake, build on a steep slope. The owner is an avid gardener and uses containers in a wide variety of situations such as Butterfly containers, Hummingbird containers and Deer resistant containers. We'll learn how to choose plants that evoke specific emotions and explore container do's and don'ts as well as build a pond-in-a-pot.

Our guest gardener has enjoyed gardening all of her life, in her early years house plants were her specialty. She moved to this lake house about three years ago. Since it was a new home, she was able to landscape it herself. It has offered challenges because it is on a very steep slope and the soil isn't good. She says she has learned a great deal from watching Garden Smart.

Because of the growing conditions she has utilized containers extensively. The first purpose of a container is to look good, to draw attention to an area. Our gardener likes butterflies, thus planted a butterfly container. Agapanthis is a good choice for this container. It will grow tall, has an upright, vertical presence and is a tough durable plant. Budleah, Petite Indigo could grow to about 5 feet tall but since it's in a container will stay fairly small. Navaho Rose, Autumn Sage is also a good choice. It adds color and blooms continuously throughout the season. To maximize butterfly traffic move the container into a prominent place, away from any nook and crannie since butterflies don't like confined space. They do like full sun and the lake nearby offers a needed water source.

The Agapanthus and the Buddleia will do well in a container for one year but will grow quite large, outgrowing the container. Our gardener has faced this challenge before and has moved other plants into the landscape. Tiarella, Heuchera and Purple Cone Flower have all been moved into the yard. Fall is a good time to make that move.

Tropicana Canna is a good choice for a plant with a tropical look. It's upright, has a variegated leaf and makes a bold statement. In the same container is Hibiscus, its' flower is almost a pure red and has glossy leaves, these provide a lot of visual energy. In the front, cascading over the edges is Lantana. Also in this container is a Day Lily with an almost orange color bloom. These plants provide strong, pure colors with a variety of forms.

Our gardener wanted a "Western" garden. To accomplish this, space your plants a little further apart, don't mass them together. In most western situations plants are spaced further apart than in other parts of the country. Also choose plants that have upright, sculptural elements. She has planted Octopus Agave next to Red Yucca, both are upright and very sculptural. Stonecrops, Sedums are perfect for hot, dry conditions and they tolerate poor soil. Germander is heat tolerant. It has a silver cast to the foliage, which tells you it loves hot, dry conditions. If you want something different and you have a rocky area, think about a Western garden.

If you would like to add another dimension to your garden think about fragrance. Fragrance is the sense that stimulates your memory the best. Place fragrant plants in areas you normally congregate. This container has been placed next to a door and next to a table frequently used for eating. White flowers or light colored flowers are often the most fragrant. It's unusual for purple of blue flowers to have any kind of smell, there is one in this collection, however. At the back and top is Star Jasmine. It is actually a vine, thus attached to a Bamboo stake. It provides a bit of height, otherwise it would cascade over the side. Angel Wing Jasmine is next, its' flowers are a little larger but not as profuse, its' leaves look like angel wings, opposite one another and glossy. They create a nice textural change. Next is Heliotrope, unusual because it has purple flowers, yet fragrant and provides a rounded form. White Gem Gardenia is also included. Gardenias come in lots of different sizes and shapes. This is a miniature or a dwarf and will grow to only one or two feet in size, thus it's ideal for a container or small space. Next to it is Lavender, it is fine textured, has purple flowers and silvery foliage. It is a nice foil and different than everything else in this container and adds interest and an upright element.

Deer can be a terrible nuisance. Dr. Rick has seen them literally, in one night, take out an entire backyard. Since Deer haven't read garden books they will eat just about everything. This container, however has plants that should be somewhat more Deer resistant. Allium or Society Garlic is a great choice, very upright. Heukoras, Coral Belles also don't seem to be a favorite of Deer. Rosemary and Eucalyptus both have pungent, aromatic foliage and that seems to keep Deer away as well.

Although she likes all her containers, the next container is a favorite of our guest gardener. Because of this it has a place of honor by the door. She wanted plants that wouldn't take away from the container thus, it has fine textures and interesting forms. The Tiny Tower Cypress works well and reminds Dr. Rick of a plant in Tuscany, a very romantic feel. Next to it is Black Dragon Mondo, actually a ground cover and very slow growing. False Heather will have a little bit of flower and a nice rounded form, it is very subtle and doesn't take anything away from the container. The plants are dark, the container is light, the background is light, providing a nice play against very fine textured elements. It is very subdued.

Terracotta is a wonderful container material but it sometimes develops hairline cracks. You don't want those cracks to get too large or the whole pot could break apart. To find if you have a hairline crack do the "thunk" test. Balance the pot on a screwdriver or pen. Then tap the container with a ring. It should sound like a bell, if on the other hand it sounds like a thump chances are good you have a hairline crack.

Our guest gardener likes containers because they're easy to get to, you can watch them everyday. It's fulfilling to go outside and see the results immediately.

Potting soil is instrumental to the success of container gardening. There are a lot of ingredients in many potting soils. The term Potting soil can be a nebulous term, it doesn't indicate specific ingredients. A premium potting soil should be light. Can the bag be lifted easily? If so, it probably has a lot of good ingredients. Beware of potting mix with sand or gravel. If you want to add more air to your mix consider Perlite. It is a white material, actually volcanic rock and under a microscope looks like little sponges. It does a good job keeping air in the soil. If the objective is to hold water, look into Vermiculite. It is heated to about 1,200 degrees and pops like popcorn, but in potting mix will hold water. A water absorbing gel will also hold water. Once water is added it goes from a crystal form to a jelly-like substance. It is the same stuff used in baby diapers but if too much material, more than about 1 inch in a 10 inch container, is placed in a container and the material expands it will actually push the soil out of the container. A better product to consider is called COIR. It is coconut fiber, often used in the lining of containers. It holds water and allows the water to slowly move into the soil. Many potting mixes use it as an ingredient in their mix, you can actually see it. It has long strands and allows water to be held until needed and doesn't keep the soil too wet. Also in some premium mixes there are bark fines or composted wood products. There is nothing wrong with that as long as they're composted and completely decomposed. If so they'll add to the soil nutrients rather than pull nutrients away.

Some like to add pot chards to cover the hole at the base of the container. Research shows that this isn't really a great idea. It takes the space of needed soil. If soil continues to wash out the bottom of your container consider using a coffee filter over the bottom. It allows the water to seep through but not soil, bark fines or peat moss.

So, when creating containers think about container ingredients. You want half of your soil ingredients to hold water and half to hold air, with that mix you can grow incredible plants.

Cactus can do very well in containers if attention is paid to several things. One, use terracotta, it breathes well. Also, make sure there is a hole in the bottom because the soil shouldn't be sitting in water. And importantly use a Cactus soil mix, a mix that has a lot of sand, a lot of perlite. Although most plants don't thrive in mixes with a lot of sand, because it dries too fast, Cactus requires this condition. In fact, over watering is the number one way to kill a Cactus. To place the Cactus in a new container roll up a newspaper and use it as a set of prongs. Pull the cactus out of the old container with the newspaper, set it down in it's new container. As you put the soil in make sure the top of the Cactus is not surrounded by soil because it will tend to rot and die if the base stays too moist.

Water is one of the most fascinating features in any garden. If you live in a small space where a lake or water falls aren't possible consider a pond-in-a-pot.

A large container and a smaller container are needed. The smaller container will sit inside and a little above the larger container, thus they should both be similar material, in this case terracotta. The smaller container needs to be sealed, the hole at the bottom needs to be plugged so it will hold water. Silicone works well for this task, Dr. Rick uses aquarium sealer to plug the hole at the bottom of the smaller pot. Terracotta breathes, thus water will slowly seep from the smaller container through to the larger pot, providing the plants in the larger container a constant source of water. Once sealed, place the smaller container into the larger container, the smaller container should be positioned a little above the larger container. Adding a good potting mix to the larger container will help add height. A small recirculating pump is then used, it needs to be small so it can fit inside the smaller pot. This pump should have a way to increase or decrease the volume of water moving through. And it needs to have an on-off switch. Pumps like this typically cost $15-$20 and can be found at most home improvement stores. A third, small terracotta pot will be inverted and placed over the pump in the smaller pot. A piece of tubing attaches to the pump and goes up through the hole in the pot used to hide the pump. Dr. Rick took a file and made a small groove in the side of the smaller pot to place and hide the cord for the pump. On the top of the smaller pot place a dish or saucer. Drill a hole in the center, the plastic tubing will then go through this hole. Add two additional holes to allow water to recirculate down to the pump. Fill the smaller pot with water and make sure it's level. Turn on the pump, water will spout, place broken pot chards around the plastic tubing, to diffuse the water flow and adjust the water flow of the pump. Add plants to the larger container, in this case Dr. Rick used Zinnias, Vinca, Creeping Jenny and Labelia. Fill in all gaps in the soil with a good potting mix being careful not to get soil in the pump area or it could clog the pump. When complete you will have a small water feature that can go anywhere in you garden or on a deck.

We thank our guest gardener, she has done a wonderful job on her containers and provided us with many useful Garden Smart tips.

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GardenSMART Featured Article

Photos and story by Monrovia Nursery Company

Lavender is the on-trend plant for gardeners this year. Click here for an article that details a top-tier selection of lavender that ensures success.

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