When I began to design flower gardens, many clients asked me to fill their containers as well. That’s when I dived, head first, into a craft for which I was as yet unsuited and unprepared. Guided by the beautiful photographs in the trade publications, I copied the compositions in the pictures and sourced the same types of flowers that had been used. Unfortunately, the results were never spectacular.
It was only by reading several books on container gardening that I came to understand my own shortcoming and the limited power of the plants that I has selected. The first thing that I learned was that flower pots need potting mixture to grow successfully. I had been potting flowers with rich black garden soil. Containers, I now understand, need feeding every two weeks. I did not know that, but I do now. Containers also need frequent watering. I had been neglectful of that and now I know better.
My lack of experience was also responsible for me making the strategic error of believing that annual flowers in pots bloom all summer long. Who knew that plants could be spent by July and need replacing? I know that now. However, the biggest lesson learned from my trials and errors is not to trust the advertisements for annuals or to rely upon the professional flower arrangements that are photographed for magazines. Those pots look good when planted but not a few months later.
The greatest deception of all is the industry’s encouragement to use specific annuals because many of them are flowers that simply can’t deliver. Like most gardeners, I was so impressed with the hype and appearance of Calibrachoa and Bacopa that when they failed to perform, I was greatly disappointed. These plants are not nearly as attractive in a real container as they appeared in print. The colors are harsh, and do not project. Furthermore, they do not become more attractive after planting. They seem to be at their peak when purchased and then deteriorate until the end of the season.
Summers are short in USDA zone 4 and sometimes spring never comes. With such a protracted season for enjoying flowers, we require reliability. Here it is not OK for flower pots to appear spent by mid summer. By that time, the local merchants of annual flowers have dismantled their kiosks so that replacements are impossible to find. Another lesson learned, now that we are experiencing summers with unending rain, is that dahlias will rot if planted in pots if there is no opportunity for the soil to dry out.
When all of my attempts to creatively plant containers failed, it took a while for me to realize that so many of the most spectacular potted floral arrangements still depend upon pelargonium and begonias as main plants. In the end, what once appeared to me to be old fashioned and overused has turned out to be the most reliable.