Nancy Brachey

Stylish container gardens are fun to create

Scarlet sage is a popular annual that looks good massed in a container or starring as a single plant with other, shorter plants.
Scarlet sage is a popular annual that looks good massed in a container or starring as a single plant with other, shorter plants. ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS

Not all the great gardening these days goes on in flower beds and vegetable gardens. A lot of it is done in containers – the large pots, half-barrels, boxes and baskets that add so much to steps, porches, balconies and patios.

This is small-scale gardening with flair that almost everyone can enjoy, even the landless.

And thanks to a wealth of choices, you can make a container garden that reflects your own taste in flowers, their color, texture and shape.

Garden centers are filled these days with thousands of small, inexpensive annual plants that you can put together easily.

Pots are also easy to find. Terra-cotta clay pots are very beautiful but tend to cost more and weigh a lot when filled with plants and soil. There are also many choices in pots made of plastic and other lightweight materials. These tend to cost less and are much easier to pick up and move when planted. Soft shades of gray, blue and green add to their attractiveness and complement most choices in flower color.

An inexperienced container gardener may take the simplest route and choose one kind of plant in one color – all white petunias or all yellow marigolds, for example. That can be lovely, and it is a safe choice. But it is not the most interesting.

Variety in a container is very appealing and more interesting to look at than a container holding a single kind of plant. Such appeal stems from a range of textures, colors, sizes and shapes. This is easiest to achieve in a large container, 12 inches in diameter or more. A smaller pot, about 6 to 8 inches in diameter, can still take two or three annuals of differing sizes and textures. Keep in mind that a pot planted today may not look full, but in a few weeks it will.

Make color work

Color is the quality that governs most people’s choices in annual flowers. Let your own eye and taste prevail and don’t worry about making a mistake. Mixing works, and it often surprises gardeners how well it works. The colors of nature go together. Just walk around the selection of annuals in bloom in a garden center and pick up colors you like. Put them together in a shallow box or the cart and see what appeals to you.

If you feel unsure, here are two safe paths: Choose varying tones of the same color, soft to bright pink or palest yellow to golden yellow; or make a pot of primary colors – red, yellow and blue. This always looks good.

Add interesting texture

Leaves that are ruffled, ridged, serrated or otherwise not smooth add texture to a combination. But often flowers do, too.

Dwarf snapdragons bear oddly shaped flowers, and marigolds are loaded with texture that really stands out in combination with smoother blooms such as petunias. This is also an opportunity to put into the container interesting herbs with nicely textured foliage, such as ruffled parsley.

Size and shape counts

Larger pots can usually take a tallish centerpiece to make the focus of the container. Most of the pot should be planted in roundish, mounding plants. Around these you can tuck in one or two trailing plants, such as alyssum or verbena, to extend the garden beyond the rim and make it look larger.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. Is it possible to transplant daffodils now, after they bloom and while we can see them, instead of waiting for fall?

A. You don’t have to wait until fall. Just wait until the foliage turns yellow. You will still be able to see the location of the bulbs at that time. Try to replant as soon as possible.

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