Nancy Brachey

Create containers alive with color

This hanging basket combines three kinds of summer flowers, calibrachoa, verbena and bidens, in warm colors that are sure to attract attention.
This hanging basket combines three kinds of summer flowers, calibrachoa, verbena and bidens, in warm colors that are sure to attract attention. Proven Winners photo

For the deck, balcony or patio gardener, selecting plants for baskets, boxes and pots, the huge array of summer flowers is a test in itself. How do you pick just a few?

You want beauty. You want performance. You want individual flair in your containers.

With all the choices out there, even a beginner should not have to struggle with any of this.

Containers made of a single kind and color of plant such as trailing petunias or lantanas are very pretty and easy to make. This is what beginners often choose for their early efforts.

But perhaps you are ready to move on to a more complicated project, one that includes a range of flowers that you hope will work together nicely.

The first thing to remember is that it is much easier to succeed in combining colors than it is to fail. Most colors work together very well. The primary colors of red, blue and yellow always look wonderful. Tones of a single color such as pale pink through bright red look wonderful. Color combinations such as yellow and purple, orange and blue, red and green always stand out beautifully and make safe but interesting choices.

As you choose colors, think about the setting. Are these containers destined for a quiet spot that will be used largely in the evening? If so, this is an opportunity to choose white flowers that show up well as daylight fades in your peaceful place.

The brighter colors such as yellow, red and orange attract attention. Perhaps that is what you want for your front porch, so passers-by will catch the sight and enjoy the colors.

Foliage also plays a role, and that means green, but not just the usual. A lot of lime and chartreuse greens are in the marketplace. These include the trailing creeping jenny, the elegant heuchera and even some small hostas that can be used to brighten a container and give contrast to darker colors of flowers.

Darker foliage, however, works nicely with white or light pastel flowers, providing a sort of stage for them. These pale flowers don’t show up as well against light foliage as they do with darker leaves.

Besides color, foliage can add texture to the container, creating another sort of interest. This is especially important when the main flowers are smooth, such as petunias, million bells or impatiens.

Look for foliage with leaves that are ruffled, ridged, serrated or otherwise not smooth. Small ferns and ruffled parsley are especially good for adding a quantity of froth to the container. Many herbs can perform this function, adding scent as well.

Ask Nancy

Q. My snapdragons from last year lasted through the winter and are now blooming. Will they keep going?

A. While often thought of as annuals, snapdragons are a short-lived perennial in the Piedmont, where they survive winter rather well. I think two good blooming seasons are to be expected. More than that is not assured because the plants tend to wear out in the second season. Take care of your plants by cutting off spent flowers and giving light applications of fertilizer this summer and see how it goes. If the plants look puny this fall, replace them, because snapdragons grow much better when planted in the autumn.