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Old containers can create masterpieces
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
An old masterpiece may be tucked away in your potting shed or garage just waiting for you to bring it to life. This masterpiece is an empty piece of old pottery or even a concrete planter with a chip or two missing and moss or lichens growing on it.
I saw a cool-season container like this a year or two ago that took my breath away. The designer had carefully placed the plant material to create a living work of art.
The focal point of the container was an Etain viola, a fragrant delight that is easy to grow. Many gardeners find it acts as a short-lived perennial in the South, but it lasts years longer as you travel north.
In this display, its lavender edges contrasted with the golden blades of the fine-textured, grass-like Ogon dwarf sweet flag. The sweet flag known as Acorus gramineus is perennial in zone 5 southward.
The Lemon Coral sedum, with its needle-shaped leaves, was even finer in texture and equally complementary. This sedum gently tumbled over the rim of the container, giving a vertical design element. Lemon Coral sedum is perennial in zone 3 southward.
This display also included a plant called Thumbell that is not well known in the South. Though tiny, Thumbell bellflowers added visual interest and finished the fine piece of art. Thumbell is a selection of Campanula rotundifolia and is perennial in zones 3-8.
This container's four species of plants each lent a special texture or color. You can do something equally attractive using a grassy element like a sweet flag or sedge and pansies or violas. Even an old, weathered container filled just with colorful pansies will provide beauty for the long cool season ahead.
A visit to your garden center will reveal many cool-season options for your container. In addition to pansies and violas, snapdragon relatives like linaria, nemesia and diascia are all good, fragrant choices, as is alyssum, including the new Clear Crystal series.
Cool-season containers must drain freely, as soggy winter soil usually proves fatal. So in addition to adequate drainage holes, your potting soil is the next crucial element.
For this choice, remember cheaper is rarely the best choice. Premium brands are normally sold by the cubic foot or yard. Even though they are larger, they are lighter and easier to pick up than cheaper brands. In addition to being light and airy, many also have added controlled-release fertilizers, which help get plants off to a good start.
Planting in containers is much the same as planting in the landscape. Place your cool-season plants with the top of the root ball even with the soil line. Place larger plants in first, then plant smaller flowers around the perimeter and in pockets.
Even though it's cooler or even cold outside, your container will need supplemental water from time to time as well as a little fertilizer. Though your favorite fertilizer may be controlled-release granules, using a dilute, water-soluble blend during the warm season will pay dividends once cool weather has settled in.
So go look around your garage or storage shed and see if you have an old piece of pottery you can turn into a fine piece of floral art.