With yards becoming increasingly smaller and people's lives so hectic and busy it is no wonder we enjoy the "personal" perennial garden so much. Small, condensed and easy to manage, containers offer an alternative for those with little time to tend a large perennial border and for those without space it is a little piece of Eden on their 30th floor balcony.
Perennials which include: bulbs, cacti and succulents, ferns, grasses and some herbs offer a plethora of colour, texture and versatility. This allows you to easily create a container with interest throughout the year and since most perennials grow quickly it will not take long to have a fantastic looking creation.
With this massive palette to work with there will always be a fit for your situation. I really do not like to tell people what to use or how to arrange a container as each person's taste will be different and sometimes the plants I may recommend are not at hand. Plus it is so much fun to just create, have fun and quite often make mistakes- is that not how we learn?
Many times I have thrown a cute little perennial into a mixed container only to find out several weeks later that it really liked the conditions, has turned into a thug and taken over the pot, c'est la vie - I will know for next time...
If this happens to you or if a plant just doesn't look right, do not be afraid to pull it out and try something different.
In general you should use plants that have multiple levels of interest for some perennials once finished flowering can look rather ratty and will diminish the overall appearance of your container. Foliage, which will give textural contrast over a longer period should be your first priority then think of flowers, fruit and seed pods as they are quite often fleeting.
Use whatever takes your fancy from an old wash tub, Italian terra cotta, French Vase d'Anduze to a simple black nursery pot. Make sure it can weather our winters without breaking apart and ensure it has ample drainage (if not get out your drill!). I always say go big or go home, get the largest container you can afford and handle, the more room you can give your plants the better they will perform and last.
Use a good quality potting mix, if unable to find- mix your own using some peat, perlite and fine bark (15/10/75% ratio) add in a good quality slow release fertilizer and you should be good for the season. Your mix should be friable and well draining yet be able to hold some moisture. Peat based mixes should be avoided as they hold too much moisture, shrink and are hard to re-wet once dried and break down quicker over time making them unsuitable for long term containers.
Which Perennials to Plant? There are hundreds if not thousands of perennials that you can plant in the Pacific Northwest. Here are just a few options for you to ponder:
For Sunny Locations
Aralia cordata 'Sun King', Arabis, Campanula, Carex, Coreopsis, Crocosmia, Dianthus, Echinacea, Erysimum, Eucomis, Festuca, Geum, Lavandula, Leucosceptrum, Kniphofia, Knautia, Eryngium, Euphorbia, Gaillardia, Geranium, Pennisetum, Phygelius, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Schizostylis, Stipa, Thymus, Uncinia.
For Shady Locations
Actaea, Ajuga, Aquilegia, Arisaema, Arum, Asarum, Astilbe, Beesia, Bergenia, Brunnera, Carex, Cyclamen, Dicentra, Disporum, Epimedium, Ferns, Fragaria, Fuchsia, Hakonechloa, Hedera, Helleborus, Heuchera, Heucherella, Hosta, Lysimachia, Mukdenia, Ophiopogon, Oxalis, Podophyllum, Polygonatum, Primula, Pteridophyllum, Roscoea, Thalictrum, Tiarella, Viola, Zingiber.
For Hot & Dry Locations
Cacti, Delosperma, Eryngium, Rosmarinus, Sedum, Sempervivium, Succulents.
For Evergreen Interest
Ajuga, Arum, Beesia, Bergenia, Carex, Cyclamen, Dianthus, Epimedium, Euphorbia, Ferns, Festuca, Geum, Helleborus, Heuchera, Heucherella, Lavandula, Ophiopogon.
These listings are by no means extensive or definitive, remember to experiment, use your own creativity and have fun.
If you have any questions about potting up perennials in planters, drop by or give us a call. We also have a talented design team that can do the dirty work for you. However, it helps a lot if you can give us your colour preferences, an idea of the space the container will be in and a rough idea of budget for the project.
Photographs courtesy of Harkaway Botanicals.