This Year’s Summer Containers for Sun
This has been a pretty good summer, if not a great one, for our flowering containers in the sunny front garden. I feel like we’ve developed a style and a palette of plants we can keep going back to. At the same time, there are always lessons to learn – particularly those taught by stretches of very hot, dry weather.
First off, I have definitely come to believe that just one type of plant (or 2-3 at most) in an individual container can be better than lots of species. Like many people, I was taught that containers should be packed with a mix of “thrillers, fillers, and spillers”. That may make sense if you’ve got one big container, but not if you’re working with a whole bunch of pots.
With over a dozen containers out front, I think it’s better to have the pots working together as an ensemble, which means fewer types of plants per pot.
Some pots can get by with only a single “filler” plant, like these ‘Red Marietta’ Marigolds (Tagetes patula). Hey, do NOT look down your nose at my Marigolds. No plant snobbery allowed!
Or these ‘Profusion Orange’ Zinnias (Zinnia elegans), though frankly their performance was kind of disappointing this year.
Only a few containers get eye-catching ‘thrillers’ like Salvia ‘Mystic Spires’ and ‘Rhea’.
I found containers with vertical plants to be challenging to keep underplanted with low-growing companions. This is important for a look of fullness, but also to prevent the containers from drying out, especially since I pretty much refuse to water every day.
Initially everything was underplanted with Sweet Alyssum (Lobelia maritima). Which was great, as long as it lasted – I love that fragrance! However, they tended to fry once we got to mid-summer.
Casting about for replacements, I tried a variety of annual Lobelia (Lobelia erinus) called ‘Techno Heat Upright Blue’, which you can see in the upper left in the picture above. It’s supposed to tolerate lots of hot sun. Despite the name, it fried in early August.
Oh, also in the photo above: Starflower (Pentas lanceolata), which is another plant that can fill in a container very nicely all by itself. It’s now one of my favorites. Flowers its head off, attracts hummingbirds, and tolerates a bit of dryness.
I found that Euphorbia hybrids ‘Diamond Frost’ and ‘Crystal White’ (to the left in the photo above) serve nicely for underplanting. I think I prefer ‘Crystal White’. Neither one of them will wither in the face of strong sun. Portulaca can also work pretty well.
Here’s a look at the Starflower and Salvia on the right side of front door landing. (The white flowers belong to shrub rose ‘Cassie’).
And here’s what we’ve got on the left side.
A lot of the same plants, except for the Zinnia ‘Cut and Come Again’. Next year I think I’ll go back to ‘Zahara’ or ‘Magellan’.
At the top on this side is Cigar Plant, the Cuphea hybrid ‘Vermillionaire’.
Hummingbirds love this plant.
You might have noticed that there isn’t a lot of space for people between the rows of containers, which goes against all the best advice. Too bad, I say. People who don’t like sharing space with plants probably shouldn’t be visiting us, anyway.
Oh, yes, another lesson I learned this summer: it’s really important to place your containers where you can see that they need watering.
Have you learned any lessons about flowering containers in sun this summer?