by Mark Highland
Our garden is three years old this fall and just getting started. Our garden is a testament to our travels and experiences. A large number of our specimens are in containers. Containers have allowed us to maintain our collection across the country and "easily" move our plants from home to home. They have provided instant interest in a new space and allowed us to gradually claim a space as our own.
Containers can be quickly rearranged for a different impact, or moved to better intercept the changing light of the season. They are a sustainable way to create a new bed and you can easily see if a plant will do well under proposed conditions before actually sinking it into the ground. This is how you will find any young garden: in a constant state of growth and movement. The garden will never be "done." There is always a new vegetable that could use fertilizer or a plant needing a bigger pot. These essential activities give life and motion to an ever changing garden. Gardening connects us to the natural world and inspires imagination.
The best ideas for container combinations come by sitting in the garden and appreciating plant beauty. Most perennials are in smaller containers waiting for a future home, so I can quickly see how the 3 or so plants would look next to each other before actually planting. Containers tend to look stunning when they have a unifying theme to bring the plants together. It can be as simple as color or leaf shape, or as complex as you like. Choosing plants with similar watering and fertilizing needs helps overall long-term health of the container. Herbs that like it dry do not pair well with plants that like it moist. High quality potting soil helps reduce watering and provides plants with nutrients and support. Fertilizer is not always needed, but can help many plants reach their fullest potential.
One of my favorite containers planted last year was in a broken pot (top half sheared off), with a Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), Toad Lily (Tricyrtis 'Sinonome'), and Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa 'Aureola'). The unifying theme was different shades of green and long, thin leaves. Different sized plants create a tiered effect in the container. "Spillers, fillers, and thrillers" has been a mantra at many independent garden centers. Don't have excess plants just sitting around to inspire you? Head into your closest independent garden center. Independents tend to have amazing displays to inspire you, plus they tend to have great staff who really know their stuff and give free advice!
When Mark Highland is not out in the greenhouse or warehouse, Mark spends much of his time traveling to garden centers, trade shows and similar venues to promote, educate and inspire others to the many rewards of organic gardening. He has taught classes at Longwood Gardens, The Tyler Arboretum, Mt. Cuba Center, The Scott Arboretum, Callaway Gardens, and speaks regularly at public events like The Philadelphia Flower Show and to numerous garden clubs. Visit him at http://www.organicmechanicsoil.com
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