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Around the west in 21 pots.

Each Western state inspires its own container plantings

From coastal chaparral to alpine meadows, the West is blessed with an awe-inspiring range of landscapes and vegetations. Taking our cue from nature, we set out to design container gardens that celebrate the diverse beauty of our 13 Western states. We turned to the West's magnificent landscapes--deserts, wildflower meadows, rain forests, prairies, and beaches--and to the plants that grow there. We visited nurseries to see which plants combined well for color and texture. We gathered pots. Then we planted.

Each design starts with an anchor plant--a small tree, shrub, or ornamental grass. Around the anchors, we arranged annuals and perennials, some of them native to the state. Whenever possible, we included state flowers (to learn which ones can grow in pots, see page 163). Most of the plants came from 4-inch pots, some from gallon cans.

The largest pots are really like small gardens; display them singly on a patio. The smaller pots are handsome in groups of two or three. With a few exceptions, most of these plantings can grow anywhere in the West. (Desert gardeners might find growing vine maples a bit of a stretch, and gardeners up north would find tender tropicals a challenge to keep growing beyond one season without a greenhouse.) For pot sources, see page 91.



Grasses, reminiscent of those that cover California's foothills in late summer, fill these large containers. Their billowy forms and earthy hues contrast pleasingly with the cool blue flowers and rich green foliage planted around them. Sun or light shade. Design: Tisa Watts.

Plants. Left: Fountain grass (Penniseturn setaceum 'Rubrum'), with Salvia sinaloensis (deep blue flowers). Center: Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia 'Goodwin Creek Grey'), with blue-flowered Convolvulus mauritanicus. Right: Miscanthus sinensis 'Yaku Jima', with Scaevola aemula 'New Wonder'.

Pots. Glascrete bowls; 24 inches wide, 22 inches deep.


Hot colors that stand up to bright sun keep this pot sizzling with blooms all season. A splash of blue-purple tempers the visual heat. Sun. Design: Bud Stuckey.

Plants. Left: Purple bougainvillea, with yellow Lantana montevidensis 'Spreading Sunshine', orange-and-yellow L.m. 'Radiation', and sea lavender (Lirnonium perezil). Right: 'Radiation' lantana.

Pots. Ocher-stained terra-cotta: tall pot 20 inches wide, 16 inches deep; small pot 14 inches wide, 10 1/2 inches deep.



Plants that thrive in woodland gardens west of the Cascades fill this large container. The rhododendron blooms in late May, followed by astilbe's feathery pink-coral blooms in June and July. Choose a dwarf rhododendron such as 'Bow Bells' or 'Ginny Gee'. Or buy a young, small rhododendron in a 1- or 2-gallon can and grow it in the pot for a season before transplanting to the garden. Filtered shade.

Plants. Vine maple (Acer circinatum), with Astilbe japonica 'Bonn', leather-leaf fern (Rurnobra adiantiformis) , and rhododendron.

Pot. Glazed ceramic; 20 inches wide, 20 inches deep.



The state flower of Alaska (forget-me-not) and the ferns and conifers that grow in southeastern Alaska's lower elevations inspired this arrangement. A flat gray stone, reminiscent of those found in glacial rivers, adds a finishing touch behind the forget-me-nots. Sun to partial shade.

Plants. Dwarf hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Verdoni'), with deep blue Anchusa capensis 'Blue Angel', sky blue forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica), Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor), Scotch moss (Sagina subulata), and tassel fern (Polystichurn setosum).

Pot. Glazed stoneware; 13 inches wide, 121/2 inches deep.



Oregon grape, the state flower, determined the companion plants in this pot. The grape's young leaves are bronze, and scattered mature leaves are red. To echo this coloring, we chose plants with purplish bronze foliage, and New Guinea impatiens with red-orange blooms. For a softer, more natural look ("reminiscent of the plant life in Columbia Gorge," says Steve Lorton, Sunset's Northwest bureau chief), substitute rosy maidenhair fern (Adiantum hispidulum 'Rosy Maid') for the impatiens. Part shade.

Plants. Oregon grape (Mabonia aquifolium), with dwarf Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pygmy'), Heuchera 'Palace Purple', New Guinea impatiens, and Scotch moss (Sagina subulata).

Pot. Glazed ceramic; 16 inches wide, 15 inches deep.



Big-leafed foliage and flamboyant flowers fill three huge pots that have a scorched, volcanic look. Most of the plants thrive in sun and heat (tuberous begonias do better in filtered shade). Cannas and tuberous begonias go dormant for winter. Sun. Design: Bud Stuckey.

Plants. Left: Canna 'Tropicanna', with 'Flame Orange' tuberous begonia, flowering maple (Abutilon 'Vesuvius'), and trailing Lotus maculatus 'Gold Flash'. Center: Shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata'), with Acorus gramineus, bromeliads, and croton (Codiaeum variegatum). Right: Cordyline stricta, with Canna 'Tropicanna' and 'Pink Splendon' mirror plant (Coprosma repens).

Pots. Left: Nubby ceramic; about 24 inches wide, 22 inches deep. Center: Stained terra-cotta; 18 inches wide, 18 inches deep. Right: Stained terra-cotta; 19 inches wide, 20 inches deep.



Rugged red earth backed by snowcapped mountains inspired this pot's color theme. The artemisia's lacy gray foliage stays beautiful for a season; after that, the plant quickly outgrows the confines of a pot. Dusty miller (Senecia cineraria) makes a handsome and slower-growing substitute. Sun.

Plants. Artemisia 'Powis Castle', with Carex buchananii (straw-colored sedge) and Zinnia angustifolia 'Crystal White'.

Pot. Chocolate-colored stoneware; 14 inches wide, 12 inches deep.



The Southwest deserts are filled with plants both soft (wildflowers) and sculptural (yuccas and cactus). This pot combines the two, with the bloomers surrounding a single yucca.

Plants. Yucca whipplei (from a 1-gallon can), with red Salvia greggii and Verbena peruviana (from 4-inch pots).

Pot. Glazed terra-cotta with Southwest motif; 16 inches wide, 13 inches deep.

New Mexico


Bright primary colors--the sassy shades of folk-art wood carvings and fiesta decorations--inspired these two pots filled to bursting with summer-blooming annuals and perennials. The pots' textured surfaces and rosy tones blend well with sandstone payers. Most of the plants are from 4-inch nursery pots. Sun.

Plants. Center: Gaura lindheimeri, with blue Salvia farinacea, creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens), dwarf French marigold (Tagetes patula), light blue Lobelia erinus, 'Profusion Orange' zinnia, red Geum chiloense 'Mrs. Bradshaw', and red Salvia greggii. Right: Carmine Cosmos bipinnatus Sonata series, with blue Lobelia erinus and dwarf French marigold.

Pots. Center: Tapered jar; 13 inches wide, 18 inches deep. Right: Textured ceramic; 15 inches wide, 7 1/2 inches deep.



Spilling conifers and earth-toned flowers capture the spirit of Idaho with its many lakes, rivers, and forests. The tall golden Hinoki false cypress echoes the yellow of the yarrow, while the bronze-red flowers of coreopsis and gaillardia add punch and contrast handsomely with the shore pine's cool blue needles. Sun. Design: Bud Stuckey.

Plants. Left: Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Aurea'), with Coreopsis tinctoria, gaillardia, gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia birta), shore pine (Pinus contorta), and yarrow (Achillea). Right: Shore pine, with baby's tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) and gloriosa daisy.

Pots. Left: Green-stained terra-cotta, 19 1/2 inches wide (inside), 14 inches deep. Right: Stone bowl, 14 1/2 inches wide (inside), 7 inches deep.



Snow-covered peaks, and the alpine plants that grow there, inspired this arrangement. Rosy-tipped Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood' rambles around a single firecracker penstemon (from a 4-inch pot), with a silvery lamb's ears shimmering in front. Sun.

Plants. Red firecracker penstemon, with lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) and 'Dragon's Blood' sedum.

Pot. Stone bowl; 14 1/4 inches wide (inside), 7 inches deep.



Grassy prairies strewn with wildflowers are captured in this composition. Sun.

Plants. Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), with blanket flower (Gaillardia grandiflora), blue fescue (Festuca ovina 'Glauca'), gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta),and purple cone-flower (echinacea purpurea).

Pot. Stone bow; 18 inches wide (inside), 9 inches deep.



Wispy blooms in pale lavender, blue, and yellow recall shaded woodlands where columbines grow wild.

Plants. Chinese meadow rue (Thalictrum dipterocarpum), with blue-and-white Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor), perennial blue flax (Linum perenne). Dalmatian bellflower (Campanula muralis), and sweet woodruff (Gallum odoratum).

Pot. Glazed stoneware; 14 inches wide (top), 14 inches deep.



Grasses and perennials with golden and purple blooms are combined with snowy white Shasta daisies to give this planting the look of a flower-strewn meadow in summer.

Plants. Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens), with Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam', dwarf Shasta daisy, Verbascum bombyciferum 'Arctic Summer', Verbena bonariensis, and yellow yarrow (Achillea 'Moonshine').

Pot. Deep green glazed stoneware; 18 inches wide (inside top) 17 inches deep.


* Choose plants to coordinate with the container and the setting.

* Choose a few permanent plants, such as low-growing shrubs, as anchors, then fill in around them with colorful annuals and perennials. Make sure the plants have the same needs for exposure, water, and fertilizer.

* Put the pot where you want it, then plant. Big containers are heavy, especially when filled with soil.

* Permanent plants such as woody shrubs can grow two to three years in pots.

How to plant a big pot

1. Fill the pot with just enough fast-draining patting soil that the top of the biggest plant's rootball will nest about 2 inches below the pot rim (A). Tamp the soil to firm it.

2. Mix a granular fertilizer into the potting soil, according to package directions (B).

3. Arrange nursery plants, still in their pots, inside the big container. Once the design set, remove the plants from the big pot. Knock the anchor plant from its nursery container, rough up its rootball, and position it in the big pot, putting its best side forward (C)

4. Fill the pot with potting soil (up to the top of the biggest rootball).

5. Plant smaller flowering and foliage plants, packing soil firmly around rootballs (D) Put trailers (ferns and mosses) near pot edges.

6. Give the planting a thorough watering.

Can you grow your state flower in a pot?

1. Alaska: Forget-me-not (Myosotis). Beautiful in pots; use as an underplanting for Iceland poppies or a pink rose such as The Fairy'. Plants are easy from seed and 4-inch pots.

2. Arizona: Saguaro blossom. Plants don't start blooming until too old (about 60 years) and too big for pots. But they are slow-growing; young ones can live for years in pots.

3. California: California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Can get rangy in pots and doesn't transplant well (sow seed directly). Nurseries sell potted garden varieties in colors other than orange. Bright yellow E. caespitosa is smaller (to 6 inches) and does well in pots.

4. Colorado: Rocky Mountain columbine (Aquilegia caerulea). Most beautiful in mixed plantings in woodland gardens, but fine in pots for short-lived display. Ferny foliage is susceptible to mildew and starts to look ratty after flowers fade. Many outstanding long-spurred strains in a variety of flower colors.

5. Hawall: Hibiscus brackenridgei. A large, rugged-looking plant with bright yellow flowers. Hard to find. Compact forms of H. rosa-sinensis are better suited to pots; plant them singly and give them room (pots at least 18 inches wide and deep).

6. Idaho: Wild mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii). Deciduous shrubs with fragrant white flowers are too big for pots. Try a dwarf kind, such as P. virginalis 'Dwarf Snowflake'.

7. Montana: Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva). Its short leaves usually die back before the appearance of rose or white flowers, which look like single water lilies. Other species (L. cotyledon, L. tweedyl) are especially showy. Handsome in stone troughs with gravel mulch. Needs excellent drainage; let roots dry out a little between waterings.

8. Nevada: Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). This wild-looking plant with insignificant flowers, native to the Great Plains, is not suited to life in pots. Choose other members of the artemisia clan, such as A. 'Powis Castle', for instance. Give them big pots, and pinch tips regularly.

9. New Mexico: Yucca glauca. Young plants of this and some other species are fine in pots; buy them small--in gallon cans--and grow them in mixed plantings for a year or two.

10. Oregon: Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium). Most kinds grow too big; try 'Compacta' (to 2 ft. tall) and give it room to spread, or grow young plants (1-gallon size) of taller mahonias for a season before moving them out into the garden.

11. Utah: Sego lily (Calochortus nuttallii). These beautiful little white flowers with lilac or purple markings grow from bulbs that can be difficult to find and need more than ordinary care. Check mail-order suppliers of rare bulbs. Lift bulbs after spring bloom and allow them to dry out in summer.

12. Washington: Rhododendron. Try low-growers such as 'Bow Bells' (4 ft. tall) and 'Ginny Gee' (2 ft. tall). After several years in large containers, plant them out in the garden.

13. Wyoming: Indian paintbrush (Castilleja linariaefolia). Spectacular red to orange blooms on big, wild plants (2-5 ft. tall). Tricky and slow to grow from seed in pots. Try a red-flowered penstemon, such as P. eatonii or P. gloxinoides 'Firebird', instead.
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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