Mike Metallo introduces this show and is visiting the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian is comprised of 18 different buildings and places along the Mall in Washington. In addition to museums and galleries it features a wonderful zoo. The Smithsonian hosts about 20 million people each year and it is free. Mike is President of The National Gardening Association. He is in the nations' Capitol to kick off the celebration of National Garden Month. The theme this year is "give a garden- add beauty to life." Give the gift of gardening to friends, loved ones, associates, community, schools - everywhere and everyone that comes to mind. Containers are one of the easiest ways to give a garden. Container gardening has become one of the most popular gardening activities in the U.S. because it is easy and fun, you can mix and match all kinds of plants and come up with your very own miniature garden to keep or to give. Janet Draper is a horticulturist with the Smithsonian and provides design tips for containers.
We visit with Janet behind the scenes, at the Smithsonian greenhouse. When designing a container, Janet first thinks about where the container will be located. Will it be in full sun or full shade, what colors are behind the container? If something behind the container is the focus, then the container should be subdued. She starts with one plant. She shops, with the help of Charlie, in the Smithsonian greenhouse like we might a garden center. They first spot a Orthosiphon Stramineus, called Cat Whiskers. The stamen resemble cat whiskers but the tips are purple. There is also a solid lavender version, although Janet prefers the white one. Strobilanthes or Persian Shield brings out the color in the stamen. It thrives better in the shade, which is where this container will go. Persian Shield will grow to 2 and 1/2 to 3 feet tall but by pinching it back it will be full instead of tall. For more color they choose a mini Petunia. It is beautiful and will spill over the edge of a container. Petunias are reliable bloomers and bloom throughout the season. Janet likes to select a bunch of plants, then try them next to others, see what the colors look like, pick your favorite and if you have extras pop them in another bed. Dichondra is a good choice, with silvery texture, and it will spill over the edge. A middle story plant is needed, something with a reddish tinge. They select Alternanthera, Red Threads. It is somewhat short and squatty but with great texture. Senecio Colchester White is a nice accent plant. It does flower, but they aren't Janets favorite part, she likes the foliage and it goes well with the Dichondra. Charlie likes another Alternanthera, known as Party Girl. It's a little busy, thus questionable.
They pass several other container combinations Janet has designed and stop to look. One contains a Purple Passion plant which is a very old fashioned plant but coming back into vogue. It has a tall form. Several plants are included, a Chartreuse Leaf Geranium with a fuchsia flower that is bold, a Tradescantia is a house plant, a Petunia, and a little Bacopa that will bloom throughout the summer and will cascade. This container has tall plants, cascading plants and plants in between. It is ideal for full sun and it is bold.
One container emphasizes leaf colors. Foliage is "in." It is comprised of Sweet Potato Vine, two different forms, Margarete (chartreuse) and old fashioned Blacky. Also included are a Coleus and a Verbena that will bloom. When buying plants, especially plants for the shade where things may not flower very well, look at foliage plants.
Charlie notices a mop-head plant. It is an Acorus, it is a perennial and is fine if left outside over winter. It is called Medusa's Hair. Asparagus Spring Rye, Densiflorus is a great stand alone plant, it has character and architecture. Try planting just one plant in a container, it adds a lot of interest.
Charlie and Janet get back to planting the plants previously selected. They now need to select a container, Janet likes clay better than plastic. The clay dries out faster than the plastic. Janet first puts soda cans in the container, they take up some space, they don't compress and keep potting soil costs down a little. She then starts arranging the plants in the container. Janet starts with the largest plants. Since this container will only be viewed from one side she puts the largest plant in the back, against the building. She slightly breaks up the roots before planting. If the plant has been in the growing container too long the roots may be growing round and round, by breaking them new roots are induced and roots will grow down into the new soil which is what we want. Use a good quality potting soil, it is steralized, has good drainage and plants will have enough air and enough water to thrive. Water the plant before putting it in the new container thereby minimizing transplant shock. She next works on the mid level plants. She thinks plants like to be next to each other, they like to touch, thus places them very close together. The Petunia is placed in the front so it can spill over. The Dichondra is broken in two and it too is placed on the side so it will spill over the container. If you want a container to look good instantaneously pack all the plants in, a few weeks or months later it will need to be thinned and trimmed but it will look beautiful immediately. If you're more patient and can wait, space the plants further apart, in a month or so it will fill in. There wasn't space for Party Girl, she will need to go in her own container. After everything is in there are several things to do to maintain the container. Janet uses a slow release fertilizer which means she doesn't need to constantly fertilize. As temperatures warm and the plant is watered the slow release fertilizer is released. There is a 3 month, a 6 month and a 9 month fertilizer, she usually uses the 3 month. Janet sprinkles the container with fertilizer, then waters it well. It is beautiful and ready to go out into the garden.
Many plants, after being cooped up all winter, look a little worse for the wear by springtime. Janet looks at an Abutilon. It's a flowering Maple and a hot plant right now. It comes in all kinds of colors, shapes and forms. This specimen is a little leggy. Many branches don't have any foliage. Janet starts cleaning it up. Anything that is brown is dead, it's not going to come back, clean up those areas. If cuts made in the fall aren't clean, cut that old dead stub off. Then just pay attention to the overall form, bring the tree down a little, which will allow the plant to send out side shoots making a nice full plant by the time summer comes around. Basically she is just tidying up the plant.
In observance of National Garden Month with the theme this year "give a garden" Janet is preparing a small container that could be given away to someone. This will be inexpensive, probably no more that $20-$25. Neither the plants not the container need be expensive. Janet uses some Geraniums, some Verbena and some Bacopa. It makes a beautiful gift. Give it to a grandmother, a neighbor or a friend, spread the joy of gardening wherever you go.
Janet and Charlie now go out onto the grounds of the Smithsonian and look at the garden beds behind the Enid Haupt Garden located behind the Smithsonian Castle. Here they will prepare a bed for some flowers. They turn the soil. If it is a small area she does it by hand, if a larger bed, like when they pull out all their Tulips, she uses the tiller. After the ground is turned, the structure and texture of the soil is addressed. One of the easiest ways to find if soil is ready to be turned is to take a handful of soil, squeeze it, if it turns into a muddy mess and water comes out then it is too wet. Let it dry for awhile.
To improve the texture of the soil add compost. Every time Janet opens a bed she adds compost, as much as possible, mound it up, it will break down and settle, so more is better. 2 to 3 inches, even more is ok. When mixing it into the soil the larger particles will break down and add oxygen to the roots.
A soil test is always good. There are kits available, Charlie has one. He will test the PH, which is checking the sweetness or sourness of the soil. The reason to check this is that certain plants do better with a high PH and certain plants like a low PH. Fill the tube in the kit with the indicator liquid, add a little soil, shake it and then compare the color in the tube to the color chart. This soil is around a 6 PH and generally 6 to 7 is ideal. To raise the PH, add lime. Lime not only raises the PH so nutrients are available, but can add Calcium and Magnesium. This comes in a powder form or a white pelletized form. Sprinkle it through the garden. For fertility Janet uses compost. With these added the soil then needs to be turned and it is ready for the upcoming season.
It's springtime in Washington, D.C. and the Cherry Blossoms are all over town. Also the Tulip Magnolia, Soulangiana is in bloom. The town is bursting with blooms.
Thank you Janet for you time and advice. We can all benefit from your knowledge and experience.
National Garden Month
National Gardening Association
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