19 March 2008

All-star annuals for Containers

So we've selected our containers, and prepared our soil, and we know where we want to put our containers (maybe). Now comes the fun part: picking out the plants. I happen to really, really enjoy selecting annuals for containers, and yes, I'm going to focus on annuals because that's what I primarily use. I do have one concrete trough of alpines, but I also have lots of room around our place for perennials, shrubs, trees, etc, and I like doing containers of annuals because I can change them up with ease, they flower their little heads off or have sparkling foliage, and I don't feel guilty consigning them to the compost heap at season's end.

You can pick plants with flower colours that match your container colours, or that contrast, whatever suits your tastes. I do some of each, naturally. This big mosaic pot was custom built for me by a local artisan, and because its colours are so striking, I tend to choose annuals with flowers that more or less match; blues, orange, greens, a bit of purple. In this caseI used a brilliant orange gerbera, purple heliotrope, blue lobelia (probably from the Techno heat series, which last really well in our garden even during the heat that we do get in high summer)and a callibrachoa, possibly 'Terra Cotta' or 'Purple Sunrise.

For those who love blue, and who are frustrated by lobelias, try anagallis. It comes easily from seed, or you can purchase the various cultivars such as 'Skylover' or 'Wildcat Blue' and it works reasonably well in a container. I normally shear mine back when I first get them as they do get leggy in a nursery setting, and they tangle their stems with other plants nearby. But anything this blue can be naughty if it wants--all is forgiven when it flowers.

This African daisy is a Venidium, sometimes called Venidio, that I wouldn't be without. I find them in red, rosy pink and coppery orange at a couple of local nurseries, and they are great with that silvery grey foliage. Deadhead them, and they will go until the hard frost of November--really! I have photos from last year, and you may remember me extolling this plant's virtues in the past.

Obviously I have something about African daisies, or just daisies in general, because this is Osteospermum 'Astra Pink Yellow', definitely a star performer last year. I've read that some people don't like pink and yellow together, or find them problematic to match up--this plant solves that, and provides a colour combination that I found I really liked. Hopefully I'll locate this plant this year, because the cuttings I took didn't root.

I fell in love with Torenia, or wishbone flower, a couple of years ago when I saw this colour combination, so different from the usual purple-white or blue-white combinations. Maybe the wishbone doesn't show up as well--but I'm smitten with 'Yellow Moon' very much so!

Portulaca love the heat, and they will take it a bit drier than my climate gives them if planted in the ground. The solution has been to plant them out in containers; some go in a large hypertufa trough, others into terracotta containers along with annual ice plant (Mesembryanthemum) and still others get put into small black metal planters I picked up a few years ago. They bake nicely in these containers, and flower like maniacs, and I'm reminded of my mother's twin sister, my late aunt, whenever I see them, as they were a favourite flower of hers. And that's why I plant them and mollycoddle them a wee bit. This is 'Yubi Rose' at least I think it is!

While I LOVE Steve Silk's recipe for planting containers with Thrillers, Fillers & Spillers, I don't always follow that recipe, although this is a plant that I consider a thriller: Agastache, or Hummingbird Mint, in this case 'Acapulco Orange'. Everything about this plant makes me happy, from its lemon-minty scent to its floriferous, easy care nature, to the way it DOES act like a magnet for hummingbirds and other pollinators. I generally have it in rose as well as the salmony-orange, and several different companies have their own versions in shades of salmon through to magenta. This may well be perennial for others with better winter drainage or slightly less hostile winters, but I haven't overwintered it outside--so far!

Bacopas bored me until two years ago, when some savvy breeder produced a couple of cultivars with gold-green variegation in the foliage, as well as lavender flowers. This is Copia Golden Leaves, and I know I've raved about it before, but it truly was an outstanding annual, as you may remember from this first post on containers, where the snow-covered bacopa/sutera was still flowering in November. I've already sourced it for this year, and I'm not telling where--til I get mine home, of couse. Bwah hah hah!

It's been probably a decade since I first discovered lantana and was besotted with it. Not with its scent, that's for sure, which I find very unpleasant, but it sure is a butterfly magnet and does especially well in containers for me. It does need to be deadheaded, and although this is a photo of one of the Sorbet coloured types, I really like the stronger, hot-coloured ones. The problem I find is that each company has its own names for the various colours, and yet there's not always a lot of difference between the offerings of one company and another, so I get confused and forget ALL the cultivar names. Must be my age.

I was never a fan of ageratum until a couple of years ago when I discovered a deep wine coloured variety, (One was called Island Mist Magenta, but there was one with wine in the name, too. Same problem as with lantana). Then I discovered that I rarely use white in my containers, and the purity of the white ageratum really delighted me, so now I do at least one container in red and white, for the Canadian flag, or Red, white, blue and a splash of yellow, for the Acadian flag.

Don't forget foliage is a really important part of great containers, both in terms of colour and texture. Of course I've gotten fond of the brilliant sweet potato vines in their fiesta colours, and the newer coleus (despite their new genus name which sounds like sneezing) but there are a host of other intriguing plants, including Helichrysum (especially, for me, the Lime/lemon-lime types), begonias, Swedish ivies, oxalis and lysimachias. My favourite lysimachia is the deliciously named 'Walkabout Sunset', but the only photo I could find is below, with the container in the very back, full of nemesia I grew from seed and an orange callibrachoa that I loved. If time permits this week and I can find some of the missing photos (don't ask...), I'll do a second post on interesting annuals. Hopefully I'll discover some new annuals this year (or some old ones) that also make me happy. If spring ever comes, that is...


  1. We had so many pretty annuals come to the nursery today. I wanted to take all of them home. You can't beat torenia for the shade!! I've enojoyed your series on containers. We share a lot of the same thoughts and ideas about plant selections and dirt.

  2. Goodness, Jodi, I'm always amazed at the variety of things you have available to you up there! I've never seen most of these here, and if I do see them, they're the "usual" ones, not the varieties you show here. Just beautiful!
    You're inspiring, you really are!

  3. Hi, I am new and just discovered your blog. I love your annuals, some of them are perennials in my subtropical climate. I used to have lots of Lantanas. Lantanas are unfortunately classified as weeds in Australia. A fly or bug was reliesed to destroy the plants.
    I have to get rid of mine. They look shellshocked after the attacks. Trudi

  4. Hi Jodi, your pots are to die for. They are so colorful and lush. I must say I love Osteospermum but never have luck with them. When our heat hits they die. I have tried them in pots and in the ground. Boooo

    I just love the Torenias. They come in such pretty colors and luckily they last for me.

    Hang in there Jodi. Spring is on its way. It will arrive...soon.

  5. Great post, Jodi! You've got me absolutely itching to be able to plant up some containers---what beautiful annuals you've highlighted here! I'll be referring back to this post when it's finally time to hit the nurseries.

    BTW---I love the grouping in that last photo. Absolutely gorgeous.

  6. What a great selection of annuals for containers! Don't you wish you could run out today and get some? I have a few nurseries near me that carry great selections but I have to be careful when I go there. An hour or two can go by as I'm standing there pouring over the plant material and making combinations in my wagon. Then I have that guilty rush that I'm wasting time and run to the cash register.

  7. I love the variety! I tried Torenia once, but I didn't have much luck with it. I must not have had the right conditions for it. I only saw it once in my area at a big box store. I guess there are probably many others who had the same problem. That's not usually a big problem with annuals though.

  8. I know just what you mean about lantana. It is truly a butterfly magnet. In fact, in my blog banner, there is a photo I took of an orange butterfly on one of my lantanas. I will go find some African Daisies, now that you've sold me on them!

  9. Thanks for inspiration, Jodi, this container series has given me some ideas to try and have better looking arrangements this year. I like the lemon lime licorice plant with the blue container and just saw some at the nursery last weekend. It is a few weeks before our last frost date, but the planning can still go on in my still sick head.

    Frances at Faire Garden

  10. I wish we could do more containers, but the heat it just too bad on them. Yours are beautiful!

  11. Container garden planting is such fun. The flowers last from the beginning to the end of the season and are usually very colourful. Great pics :)

  12. I love your container series of posts. You always have such unique varieties of plants!

  13. I'm loving your container posts Jodi. Very inspiring!

    I love torenia. It's a blooming annual that performs beautifully in my mostly-shaded patio containers.

  14. Thanks for all the ideas! I will definitely have to look for the Portulaca. I've never seen that before and the colors are beautiful!

  15. Wonderful post. I'm enjoying this series!

    I figure that containers are like icing on the cake with my garden. I spend a good deal of time mixing and matching at the garden center when I want a quick look in a container. And I never hesitate to get rid of something that isn't working. I think that the sad looking containers are often the result of soft souls who keep expecting things to pep up soon!

    Robin at Bumblebee

  16. Thanks,I have learned a lot from this series. Do you grow the annuals from seed or get them at the nursery? I love callibrachoa but it is a winter plant for us, so is petunia. I never thought about dead heading my lantanas,but they pretty much bloom all year here. So now I will dead head and see if they bloom even more.

  17. Hello Jodi..
    I wish you a very Happy Easter holiday.
    Your article about planting wonderful containers is great.
    Thank you!!
    I use this website http://www.simplybeautifulgardens.com for inspiration to create my own containers and flowers baskets. Every year it gives me great plaesure to come up with a new flower display.
    cheers Gisela

  18. What beautiful containers, Jodi! Although truly a novice gardener, I feel like I've gotten better at containers the last few years. But I'm going to come back to this post in a few weeks before I buy plants for my containers. I, too, like lantana, and I'm going to look for the anagallis--lobelias never do well for me.

  19. I've never tried Venidium, but if performs anywhere near as well as Osteospermum, I'll have to give it a try in one of my new containers. Maybe with that chartreuse foliaged Bacopa.

  20. So many choices! Containers are fun aren't they! Every year is different. I am working on color scheme for this year and you have given me some great ideas. Thanks!

  21. Lovely combinations, Jodi- the containers themselves are great, and what you find to fill them with is stunning.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  22. Your containers look so summery---or at least how I remember summers looking in Maine or Massachusetts. They always have such beautiful, annual-filled window boxes up there. I can't imagine keeping such lush container plantings alive here, but I'll be happy to enjoy them on your blog.

  23. Great post, Jodi. Each container has a unique personality, surrounded by charming friends.

    Spring has sprung! Wishing you a memorable season, in the best of ways. (2-4 inches of snow expected here tomorrow ... sigh)

  24. I too can't stand the scent of Lantana...it's a sickly sweet smell! Also, thanks for the tip on Portulaca...since I'm starting containers, I need something that can withstand the heat, and I hadn't considered these pretty little flowers:)

  25. Hi Jodi -

    There's some lovely plants (and photos!) in this post. I'm particularly fascinated by the species that grow very differently in our two climates. We have lantana in Sydney -- here it grows 2-3 metres high and rambles over other plants. In most parts of Australia it's a noxious weed. Similarly, ageratum forms dense stands here deep in the woodland. Invading along watercourses. I've never seen Torenia here but agree with you -- it's a fascinating plant!!

    Thanks for the interesting write up,

  26. A very inspiring post, Jodi, giving a lot of new ideas. I am very fond of various foliage in containers. And I also like to put the containers in gardenbeds or borders when there are empty spaces.

  27. Beautiful! I'm a little jealous... it's snowing again up here in the mountains :(

  28. Nice to see the great discussion from everyone!
    Anna, I'm glad it's you working at the nursery, because I WOULD take everything home, and my salary would be deficit.
    Kylee, this is surprising to me, because it sounds like you have way more choices in nurseries. Maybe the ones here are more adventurous. I'm intrigued.
    Titania, welcome, I bet your climate IS so very different from mine. Intriguing about the lantana.
    Lisa, have you tried deadheading and cutting back the osteos? Anyone else from warmer areas have success with them and have advise for Lisa?
    Colleen, don't you wish it was time to hit the nurseries for us more northerly types? It's hard waiting...
    Melanie, yup, I do want to go get plants--so I settled for new houseplants the other day instead.
    Nancy, the African daisies are definitely habit-forming...and so is lobelia, though I love the perennial forms too.
    Cinj, torenia can take some shade, so maybe it had a little too much heat where you planted it?
    Brenda, glad to inspire you on the daisies, and yes, I love the banner with the lantana on your blog.
    Frances, glad to inspire...hope you're feeling better too, and that the weather behaves better than it is here. (It's snowing again).
    Randy and Jamie, maybe you could opt for doing containers with succulents and other heat-lovers, like portulaca, ice plants, and such?
    Wildlife Gardener, yes, exactly why I love containers so much.
    Thank you, Vanillalotus...what can I say, I"m just a plant addict.
    Garden Girl, happy to inspire...do you use mimulus in your shady containers too? It works very well for me.
    Catherine, portulaca is a fun plant--it can take the heat, yet it kept flowering here til a strong frost.
    Robin, that's a great description of containers; and i'm a bit tough on my containers too. If something looks sad...it gets cut back and another chance, and if it doesn't thrive...it's compost.
    Theresa, I grow a few annuals from seed, but I'm generally so busy in April and May that things can get neglected because my longsuffering spouse forgets to water seedling flats (he does do the containers, though!)
    Gisela, thanks for the recommendation; a very nice site. It's been fun seeing your view of Canada Blooms, too.
    Rose, hope that your containers do well for you. If it's heat that takes out your lobelia, look for the Techno Heat series--they can take more heat than the usual types.
    MMD, yes, I can see Venidium doing well for you, and the thoughts of it with the chartreuse Bacopa (or helichrysum, or anything else chartreuse) made me long for spring so I can try that.
    Layanee, I can't wait to see what you come up with for containers this year. I seem to remember some wonderful ones last year. Does your nursery have a great annual selection?
    Annie, Thanks! I love interesting containers, and every year a few more follow me home.
    Pam, I guess that's one of the tradeoffs--you get the early spring, and we get to have lush containers all season. Hmmm...right now, I'd take the early spring, believe me.
    Joey, glad you like the containers. This year I plan to photograph each of them individually as they're planted and grow. (In my more organized life. Hah.)
    Jessica, try the annual ice plants with your portulaca, as they'll take the heat too. The colours are very neon for some of them, but others are more subtle. I like the neons--they cut the fog.
    David, once again it's always amazing to find what is annual here is perennial elsewhere, or even worse, invasive. The Torenia might not handle the heat so well, but others could probably comment.
    Barbara, exactly what I do with some containers--move them around from one spot to another, (the ones that aren't too large.)
    Oh, Kate, if it makes you feel better--it's snowing here in Nova Scotia again, too. Sigh.

  29. I've finally come back to read this post, Jodi, which I missed reading previously. You've pictured some really lovely annuals here. I especially love the Venidium. What a color!
    Yes, we northerners do have the advantage over the southern climate when it comes to containers, but hey, we've earned some consolation after enduring these endless winters!
    More great information and beautiful containers!


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