The following is a guest blog post from Leslie Halleck.
With Halloween just around the corner, I find myself giddy with anticipation. I’ll admit that Halloween is my favorite holiday when it comes to decorating. As the designated “scary house” of the neighborhood, I feel it’s my duty to deliver not only on the sweets when the kids arrive, but also to max out the “creepy” factor. In addition to all the standard decorations that go into creating a house of haunt, I also like to create plant combinations that reflect the season. There’s nothing better than adding plants with black foliage to porch containers to complete the look and feel with some style.
Plant varieties with black foliage are hot right now, but plants with true black foliage are far and few between. One of the newest arrivals is the BLACK DIAMOND™ series of dwarf crapemyrtles. When I first spotted these beauties I knew I had to have at least one, and that they’d be perfect for Halloween container specimens. The plants sport spectacular black foliage that offers up a striking contrast to the five available flower colors. BLACK DIAMOND™ Pure White is my favorite; the bright white flowers against the dark black foliage are stunning. If you’re using the “thriller, filler & spiller” method of container design, these are definitely your thriller (which just happens to work perfectly with our Halloween theme, no?). When mature, these semi-dwarf shrubs reach a maximum of 10- to 12’ feet tall, but can be kept to a container size by tip pruning. Make sure you place them in a full sun location to keep plants in bloom and foliage color strong.
For an architectural modern look, Aeonium arboreum ’Zwartkop’, also known as black rose, is the perfect filler for a Halloween themed container. Aeonium is a striking succulent which forms clumps of tall gray stems that hold shiny rosettes of almost black leaves. These rosettes are often called flowers because of their shape. Another fantastic fall filler for your Halloween doorstep is Petunia ‘Black Velvet’. I adore this variety because the flowers are as black as can be with a velvety sheen to them. Don’t forget about black pansies or violas! ‘Black Devil’ offers up coal-black blooms with a tiny yellow center. They make for the perfect tabletop centerpiece when planted or displayed inside pumpkins.
A good container combination always benefits from a plant that trails over the edge…also known as your “spiller”. ‘Black Heart’ Sweet Potato vine is a vigorous creeping vine with beautiful heart shaped leaves. Foliage color is a deep burgundy to almost black. This annual is easy as can be to grow and can work in a full sun to part sun environment. It will also tolerate dry spells if you forget to water, which is a bonus if you live in a hot climate. All of these black beauties create a striking contrast with combined with silver foliage plants such as dusty miller or Centaurea cineraria ‘Colchester White’.
Leslie is a dedicated horticulturist and gardener with more than 20 years of green industry experience. She earned her M.S. in Horticulture at Michigan State University and her B.S. in Biology/Botany from the University of North Texas. Leslie is also a Certified Professional Horticulturist (CPH). She currently runs her own consulting company, Halleck Horticultural. You can read her growLively garden blog at www.lesliehalleck.com
I don’t know about you, but my patience has been tested this spring. Just when I thought winter had finally lost its grip, a freak snowstorm hit Iowa last week, leaving several inches of heavy, wet, white stuff in its wake. But we Midwesterners are resilient. And so too, it appears, are many of the blooms that were caught naked in the arctic blast. The fat lavender buds on my Jane magnolia, for example, were just beginning to open when temps plunged from 82 degrees one day to 32 the next. If the cold doesn’t finish them off, I figured, the wind and driving sleet will. Happily, I was proven wrong. My magnolia blooms are still intact and prettier than ever.
This isn’t the first year that early blooms have had their toughness tested. Spring’s mood swings happen so often that cool-season gardening has become, well, cool. We can resist planting tender geraniums and petunias until warm weather is here to stay if garden centers offer up a smorgasbord of irrepressible flowers. Here are several container recipes that I’ve tried that will flourish even if temperatures dip into the nippy range.
These pink pots set the tone for picking plants that show off the season’s hottest hues: soft shades of pink, purple, green, and gray. In the background pot: Helichrysum Icicles, English ivy, Osteospermum Soprano Light Purple, and Diascia Little Charmer. In the foreground pot: Diascia Little Charmer, Intensia Neon Pink phlox, Heucherella Stoplight, Armeria Rubrifolia, Osteospermum Soprano white, Snowstorm Giant Snowflake bacopa, Nemesia Compact Innocence, and Ajuga Catlin’s Giant.
The edible ingredients in this container salad garden are just too pretty to eat…for now, at least. Included in the mix: Pigeon Red kale, Esmeralda lettuce, chives, Ultima Baron Merlot pansy, and Sorbet violas.
This sky-blue planter brightens a gray day with these cheerful, chill-shrugging occupants: Sutera Blue Showers, Snowstorm Giant Snowflake bacopa, Bracteantha Sundaze Golden Beauty, Osteospermum Orange Symphony, Nemesia Compact Innocence, Trinitaria pansy, and Fire and Ice hosta.
My favorite thing about January is when I start to receive plant catalogs and get to learn all about all the wonderful new plant varieties for the year. Plant breeders are always working on upgrading our favorite plants — and creating whole new types never before seen by gardeners! Upgraded varieties may come in new colors, offer better disease resistance, offer a bigger or smaller habit, or any other number of features that make them perfect for your garden.
It’s probably no surprise then, that I love putting together the new plants stories you see here on BHG.com. This year I had the pleasure of working with my friends Doug Jimerson and Karen Weir-Jimerson on the lineup. (I had the easy job: picking the plants; they did the fantastic writing.) Are you interested in learning about the must-have plants for 2013? Check out the links below!
New Perennials for Sun
New Perennials for Shade
New Blue/Purple/White/Pink Annuals
New Orange/Yellow/Red Annuals
New Roses for 2013
New Fruits and Vegetables
New Trees, Shrubs, and Vines
Comment below and tell me which ones you’re most excited about!
Our friend Jerry Gorchels from Ball Horticultural paid us a visit here in Des Moines this past week and shared some exciting new plants for 2013, including this cool soft yellow-green petunia from their Sophistica series, Petunia ‘Lime Green’. It’s yellow chiffon with an underlying hints of lime with no veining or fading like traditional yellow petunias. I think it looks right at home in my garden. What do you think?
I hear from lots of readers who want their container gardens to look a little different than the norm. Petunias and geraniums are fine, they tell me, but this year they want something a little “more than fine.”
One way to do this is to look beyond the usual plant palette of annuals and consider perennials. They’re more expensive up front but what many gardeners don’t realize is that you can pull them out of your containers at the end of the season and plant them in your garden. That way you can enjoy that same perennial for years to come. The example shown here uses columbine to wonderful effect with petunias, dianthus, euphorbia, and bacopa.
Some of my favorite perennials to use in containers include:
Coralbells: Their colorful foliage is a showstopper from spring to fall and are perfect for partly shaded situations. Dark-leaf varieties such as ‘Mocha’ are fun alternatives for sweet potato vine and won’t overgrow the space. (Get the same effect from chartreuse varieties, such as ‘Citronelle’.)
Ajuga: Another type with fun foliage for the shade, ajuga bears great foliage and creeps over the container, covering the soil and softly spilling over the container edges. ‘Burgundy Glow’ is a particular favorite; the leaves are variegated with silver, white, and purple.
Switchgrass: Varieties such as ‘Northwind’ offer fantastic upright structure in containers. They offer a very contemporary feel and are fun alternatives to cannas.
Blanketflower: This native prairie plant doesn’t mind it hot and dry, and blooms on and off all summer with yellow, orange, or red flowers. It’s a prime pick for attracting butterflies!
Asking a hortiholic to list his or her favorite plant is like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. It’s impossible to choose just one! So when I was asked to select top picks of recent plant introductions that I have grown, I came up with a “short list” of 25. You can see them all here on the bhg.com gardening website. To pique your interest, see the garden combinations below which contain some of my favorites from the 2011 garden season.
What were your favorite plants this last year?
Zahara Double Fire zinnia, Henna coleus, and Mahogany Splendor hibiscus are attention grabbers!
Senorita Rosalita cleome makes a stunning backdrop to Vista Fuchsia petunia.