Outside of a few cold snaps, we enjoy relatively mild winters in the Northwest. Yes, one needs to psychologically survive the long stretches of rainy days, but rarely can you not enjoy the outside because of frigid temperatures. This offers gardeners a chance to cheer up the dreary days with containers of plants. True, there are few blooms in December and January, but if you focus on foliage, you can create a lovely display that welcomes you home every night.
My dear friend Angela is a garden designer who specializes in containers. She knows how to create interesting arrangements that pop with contrasting foliage and color echoes. She also plans her designs so the arrangements gracefully grow into lush blasts of texture, form and color. Her work always inspires me. So for this post I’ve showcased a few of her containers to hopefully inspire you too.
Where to Start
To plant containers, start with whatever container pleases you. Notice how the pots pictured here play off the style of the plant designs. But you don’t have to necessarily do that if a new pot is not in your budget. Sometimes I simply use those plastic faux-terra cotta containers from the local box store. I’ve found they actually hold water better than true terra cotta, which is clay and can dry out quickly. And the orangey-tan of terra cotta goes with everything.
After choosing the pot, choose a quality potting soil. I’m not talking about those potting soils that already have fertilizer and beads that retain water, but organic loamy soil from a trusted company. I like Cedar Grove or Dr. Earth. I’d also be careful of using a large nursery’s own blend. They sometimes overuse fillers like bark or peat moss and the plants’ roots don’t get the nutrients they need.
After choosing your container and a good potting soil, it’s time to choose plants. I’d choose a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants. If you go to the nursery in December, you’ll see what can survive a Northwest winter. They usually carry hardy plants only. If in doubt, ask the nursery person.
What I often do is take my nursery cart around the store and lay out the arrangement there on the cart so I can see what it will look like. This is tricky because you don’t want to under buy or over buy plants. In the past, I’ve even taken an old cardboard nursery tray and traced my pot’s upper circle/opening onto the cardboard so I can set the plants atop that. I allow the plants a few inches from each other though spacing can vary. After you’ve arranged the plants in the store, planting them in the pot is fairly easy. Just remember to cover all roots with soil and water well. Sometimes there may be bare space you didn’t plan on and of course, a quick trip back to the nursery solves that problem. (Remember, you can always repeat a plant to create a rhythm/pattern.)
Tips for Winter Containers
Here are some general tips from Angela on winter containers.
1. Plant bulbs beneath annuals like pansies so that as pansies fade, the bulbs will replace the color.
2. Don’t forget that colors in stems and berries can be used for interest as well.
3. Put bulb fertilizer in soil to keep roots strong (since a plant doesn’t grow foliage in winter)
4. If the weather forecast predicts a freeze in your area, water containers the day before. Root cells full of water are stronger and therefore will be better able to survive the freeze.