Wednesday, September 13

Lesson Learned: Containerized Perennials

For me, plant selection is a fairly extensive process. I make countless google searches, sketch out possible combinations, and check every one of my gardening books for reference to said plant and its habits while considering it for my garden. I also determine at least two places where it might work both logistically and aesthetically before I plunk down cold hard cash for it.

When I do buy, I look for the smallest pot size offered--unless the perennial is a notoriously slow grower, like hakonechloa--because I find that the younger plants establish more quickly and easily. They also often catch up to their pricier, larger counterparts in a season or two... and frankly, I feel like I ought to be able to wait that long for a plant to come into its own. (I really must exercise patience if I want to earn the right to be thought of as a gardener someday!)

Once I have a plant, I often find myself moving it around a few times to find the "perfect" place for it. As an example, check out the small carex buchannii in the center of this picture. It will (I hope) look great surrounded by golden sage, golden oregano, coral bells, asclepias tuberosa, digitalis parviflora and a few annuals when they all grow up... but this spot wasn't even on the radar as a possibility when I bought it!

In light of my penchant for moving plants, I decided that this year I would treat my spring Bluestone Perennials order a little differently. I would work the plants into container combinations, observe them over the summer, and then plant them out in the fall--all in the hopes that I would plant them in the right place to begin with, saving myself the work of moving them again next spring.

Sounds like a perfect plan, right? Well... sort of. On the bright side, I was able to concentrate on planting the veggie garden and various winter sown annuals without tripping over the small Bluestone plants--or, worse, forgetting to water them. I had plenty of time to watch them grow and think about where exactly I should try them first in the garden, as the placement of the brownish red sedge shows.

However, I did also learn a lesson: Conventional container-planting wisdom (planting so that the container looks full from day one) just doesn't help small perennials get off to a good start. If you crowd them too much, they will not grow like they would given more room to spread out. Comparing the one alchemilla mollis that I planted in the ground with the two that were tossed into containers definitely proves that point.

So maybe the answer next year is just to pot any small perennials up into one of the numerous 8- or 10-inch terracotta pots that I have, and cluster them around my larger containers. Once the perennials start to fill those pots and need to be planted out, the frenzy of spring planting should be over, and they would look okay in the meantime.

Any other ideas on how to address this issue, other than A) making a holding bed, or B) having a space prepared well in advance of the plant's arrival? Frankly my .11 acre lot completely eliminates A as an option... and although the first paragraph may make me sound ultra-organized and analytical I really am too right-brained for option B!


Anonymous said...

I've had good luck with potting small perennials up in terracotta pots for awhile - actually, I like the look of them, almost as if they are on display! I have about an acre, so plenty of room for a holding garden - but I've never officially made one. Oh - I love the 'Etta Jamesworthy' description of the sweet peas! I planted Cupani's Original last year for the first time as well (got seed from SelectSeed) - and just loved them.

Stuart said...

We do the same thing Kim. We'll invariably find the plant we're after and then when happy with the choice scrounge for one in a smaller pot. We're also looking for what we can propagate from a cutting or through dividing it depending on the plant.

Frugal shopping - that's all it is.

roybe said...

Yes Kim I have to agree buying the small plants is the best option. They really do grow faster and catch up very quickly. Your garden is looking beautiful, I hope you are enjoying fine autumn weather,

Unknown said...

Pam, thanks for the input--I'm glad to know that someone else has had success with potting them up this way before I try it! I think that I will definitely try growing Cupani's Original again because I love both the color and the fragrance.

Stuart, you're absolutely right. Not just frugal shopping, but smart shopping... I wasted a whole lot of money when I first began gardening, so I try to minimize that now. That's not to say that I don't take a few calculated risks every once in a while, though! :)

Thanks, roybe! I checked out your blog and your garden is looking good also. Since our season is winding down, I plan to enjoy a second, vicarious growing season through all of you wonderful gardeners "Down Under!"

growingagardenindavis said...

My garden is also small and having had little self control in the past it is fairly crowded. I find buying the smaller size plants makes it easier to slip them into tight spots. I really like your color contrasts...great inspiration!

Unknown said...

Good point, Leslie! I like it being easier to slide little plants into the garden beds. :)

lisa said...

Container re-potting perennials works well for me, too...some years, when I'm broke, it saves me money/temptation with annuals, too! One year I was really hurting for cash, so I put divisions of perennial sedums in my full sun, front window boxes. It was low-maintenance, looked nice, and pretty much "free"...totally win/win!

Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener) said...

Honey, you're already a gardener! Just look at that foliage combination: texture, color ... You're about more than just "pretty flowers", so, you're a gardener.

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