Container plants filling in

Beckie Fox

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container plants

Most of the containers I planted three weeks ago are filling in now that the weather is consistently warm. I like to try a new colour scheme every year, depending on plant availability. This spring, I was just happy to get inside a garden centre, never mind finding everything on my list. Here’s what’s capturing my attention as I do my morning checks.

Holy Smokes! callibrachoa
Holy Smokes! calibrachoa brightens the deep purple mini petunias and salvias.

Superbells Holy Smokes! calibrachoa First of all, where do they come up with these names? Calibrachoa hybrids are workhorses in containers. In fact, that’s where they perform best; they struggle when planted in the ground. The colour palette available is immense, with new shades and patterns introduced each year.

Holy Smokes! colours called out for echoes of purple and yellow, so I combined it with yellow lantanas, deep purple salvias and a purple mini-petunia. I plant purple salvia every year because the hummingbirds expect it. Foliage plants are Graceful Grasses Vertigo purple fountain grass (Pennisetum ‘Tift 8’) and Algerian ivy. The combination is borderline gaudy, but I’m calling it cheerful.

Dwarf tomatoes This year, three mid-size terracotta pots were switched over from ornamentals to tomatoes — ‘Yellow Canary’ (12 inches/30 cm); ‘House’ (24 inches/60 cm); and ‘New Big Dwarf’ (24 to 36 inches/60 to 90 cm). Dwarf tomatoes are a relatively new category, many of which were bred by a group of dedicated home gardeners. Most dwarf plants produce cherry-size fruit, but some bear standard-size tomatoes.

Not to be confused with determinate (bush) tomatoes, dwarf tomatoes have sturdy central stems, dense, dark leaves, and full-flavoured fruits, more reminiscent of the space-hogging indeterminate (vining) tomatoes, such as ‘Brandywine’ or ‘Matt’s Cherry’. So far, my three dwarfs are looking strong, vigorous—and compact.

Angel Wings senecio
Angel Wings senecio surrounded by drifts of ‘Diamond Snow’ euphorbia glow at dusk.

 Angel Wings senecio Three years ago, I grew Senecio niveoaureus (sometimes incorrectly labelled Stachys ‘Bello Grigio’), purchased at a nursery in Quebec when we were travelling. Long, fuzzy, light grey leaves erupted from the centre of the plant like a ghostly fountain. Very eye-catching and never to be found again at any garden centre since then. 

This year, I came across another dramatic senecio, Angel Wings (S. candicans ‘Senaw’). Its broad, wavy, silvery grey leaves glow at dusk. For contrast in scale and texture, I planted it with ‘Diamond Snow’ euphorbia in a sage-green glazed pot located in full sun. (Here’s more background about Angel Wings.)

Like the previous senecio, it’s a tender perennial and won’t overwinter. I hope I have better luck finding this one again, because it’s a stunner.

For other container plants I’ve tried and liked, see “Perfect container plants.”

If peonies are in bloom, rain is guaranteed

It’s June, the peonies are in bloom and that means there will be at least one downpour soon. It is always thus. In fact, gardeners often refer to a June rain as a “peony rain,” usually preceded by an expletive. 

What makes peonies especially appealing — that profusion of dense, overlapping petals — also makes them vulnerable to downpours. The blooms become overloaded with rainwater, causing the stems to bend and break, even with peony rings or stakes in place.

But not all peonies are fragile beauties. Judith Adam’s list of “Rain-proof peonies” suggests sturdy choices.

Trouble in paradise?

When researching pests or diseases on the internet, start with reputable sources. I subscribe to ONnurserycrops blog, geared toward growers and landscapers, but some of the information is relevant to home gardeners, too. Just keep in mind that growers are permitted to use insecticides and fungicides prohibited for the general public’s use.

The updates can be disheartening — this week, it’s all about boxwood leaf miners, gypsy moth larvae and fireblight — but if growers are talking about these outbreaks, home gardeners should be on alert, too.

Sweet spuds

Want to try growing sweet potatoes? Colleen Zacharias’s article in the Winnipeg Free Press profiles a successful entrepreneur producing 300 potato slips per day that she ships across Canada.

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