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Four-season showoffs.

Four-season showoffs

Like fireworks, most pots full of flowers are designed for a quick, spectacular show, lasting only one season. But if you're willing to move beyond convention, you can plant now for great splashes of color through four seasons, from this fall and winter (even in mild parts of the Northwest) through next spring and summer --all in one pot.

The secret is simple. Build your design around an arrangement of permanent small shrubs, grasses, and trailing plants, then fill in with annuals, perennials, and bulbs that bloom in different seasons. Choose plants whose flower and foliage color and texture combine well. One the opposite page, you see how one northern California container was planted for a single color scheme through four seasons.

Oversize containers make it work

It takes large pots--at least 14 inches deep and 16 inches across--to make year-round container plantings successful. The large soil volume gives roots of tightly packed plants enough room to grow and offers more insulation against frost than they'd have in a smaller container.

You can, however, use relatively small containers (down to about 10 by 12 inches) to supplement a container group with annuals only--but you may lose their plants in a cold winter.

In areas that predictably get frost, it's best to avoid containers made from clay. They're heavy and expensive, and frost can make them crack.

Plastic is probably the best buy, since it's relatively light and inexpensive. The 14-by 32-inch container pictured at the top of page 110, for example, cost less than $60 (wood runs about the same), while a comparable concrete container would cost about $150. To give you a better feel for the price range involved, a 14- by 16-inch container would cost $12 to $20 in wood or plastic, $40 in concrete.

Containers usually have the most impact when they're grouped, as are those on pages 110 and 111. Both groupings are in highly visible places. The one on the bottom of page 110 is outside glass doors on the balcony of Kay and John Hughes' Seattle house; Kristy Hopkins Kunkle of Hopkins Kunkle, Inc., designed it. The array on page 111, designed by Karen Steeb of KKS, Inc., of Woodinville, Washington, is at an entry.

Permanent plants for continuity

Most successful garden designs start with a backbone of permanent plants: they give the landscape structure and continue to look good when time or weather sets back seasonal flowers.

That's exactly what happens here. You can design most of your four-season container garden right in the nursery when you shop, switching plants at will and trying combinations until you get it right.

Start by choosing the tallest specimen in your arrangement. It might be anything from a hakea in San Diego to a nandina in Portland. Don't worry about the plant's ultimate size--a giant sequoia is fine-- because these container gardens are made to be in their prime for just a year. Then you pull out permanent plants and either put them in your garden or prune them heavily (tops and roots) and replant them in another four-season container.

Once you've got the tallest plant, bring in trailing plants to cascade over the pot's sides and smaller shrubs to act as a foil for annuals you'll put in. This is art, so you'll need to experiment, trying plants with contrasting textures (broad-leafed plants and a grass, for example), colors (gray and green santolinas), and shapes (horizontal and vertical forms).

When you've made your final choices, plant things shoulder to shoulder, but leave pockets for annuals.

When tulips faded in late April, French marigolds, zinnias, and gaillardia replaced spring annuals

Because instant effect is more important than long life (remember, you pull these out in a year), really pack plants in. The 32-inch container at the top of this page, for example, was planted with two nandinas (5-gallon and 2-gallon), a pair of "Rainbow' leucothoes, two pampas grass plants, two Euonymus "Silver Queen', a green santolina, salal, and ribbon grass, most in gallon cans. And those are just the permanent plants.

There are also two 1-gallon "Peacock' kale plants (favored in Seattle because they shed rain well) and five 4-inch pansies planted over 10 tulip bulbs.

Blossoms that change with the seasons

Because seasonal annuals provide the color for these plantings, you replace them three or four times during the year.

Start at fall planting time by putting spring-flowering bulbs (daffodils or tulips, for example) under such winter bedding plants as violas or flowering kale. Around New Year's, you might replace the fall annuals with primulas; in early spring, pull out the primulas in favor of calendulas, wallflowers, or English daisies. Your last planting might be a summer selection of lobelia, ageratum, geraniums, marigolds, or petunias.

Like a good cook, you'll be working with whatever is at hand (nursery stock varies a lot), but after permanent plants are in place, you'll never plant much at once.

Feeding, watering, weekly care

The success of four-season containers depends partly on permanent plants not growing much, since fast growth can wreck the scale you establish at planting time. This is a long way of saying "don't feed much.' At most, mix a little timed-release fertilizer into the lightweight potting mix at planting time.

Plants in containers are especially vulnerable to drying, so check them frequently year-round; in summer, that might be twice a day. Also guard against freezing, since frozen soil keeps water from getting to plant roots. To help keep soil from freezing, water during dry, cold weather. If you get an extended frost and the soil shows any sign of freezing, move the containers into a garage or even a cool but frost-free porch.

Keep faded flowers and dead leaves picked off. This keeps plants tidy, and they don't waste energy setting seed.

Photo: Deadhead to keep new flowers coming. Fairy primroses, violas, and daffodils add spring color to Pieris japonica, hop bush, and skimmia. Later, vinca and lobelia will go in

Photo: Autumn Permanent plants like Mexican orange, azalea, and mahonia go in first, stay all year; annuals and bulbs fill in around outer edges

Photo: Winter Green of Mexican orange and reds of nandina, mahonia, and flax work well with pink azalea, golden viola, and peach-colored Primula obconica

Photo: Spring Warm weather makes nandina and mahonia green up. As primulas fade, red-orange tulips come on strong. She's removing winter-damaged blooms

Photo: Summer By July, summer flowers are in full bloom.

Photo: How to plant a four-season container

1. Group permanent plants so foliage, textures, and colors contrast

2. When arrangement is done, rough up rootballs before adding potting soil

3. With permanent plants in, plant bulbs. Annuals will go in on top of them

4. Finished container looks good; a week later, it was even better

Photo: Stairstepped pot sizes are emphasized by putting tulips in taller containers. Violas and candytuft add color

Photo: Tight cluster of pots shows off tulips, violas, primroses. Shrubs and grasses (pampas grass in tallest container) add interest
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:container gardening
Date:Nov 1, 1987
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