It’s time to fill up those pots that have been sitting around all winter.
IT’S TIME TO DO something about all those containers turned upside down to wait out winter. Or if you kept your pots going, the ornamental cabbages and pansies are probably looking pretty straggly by now.
In mid-March, even larger pots holding woody shrubs or small trees are badly in need of a boost. Preferably in shades of chartreuse, sunny yellow and hot pink, because on the cusp of the equinox, our craving for color is about as subtle as spring weather.
But it’s too soon to plant summer flowers. Until the weather warms up enough for begonias and basil, coleus and cuphea, what’s available?
As you cruise the nursery aisles looking for just the right plants, keep the extremes of spring weather in mind. Can you recall an April without at least one good hailstorm? Early-blooming perennials, like wallflowers; lacy corydalis; and lungwort (Pulmonaria ssp.), with its brilliant blue flowers, look great in pots now and can be planted out in the garden come May. Nurseries carry flats of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths in bud or bloom, which can be popped in among the perennials for height, color and fragrance. They, too, can be transplanted into the garden when finished blooming.
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Many spring flowers are bright in color but diminutive, like pretty little viola and primroses. You’ll get the best effect by massing a bunch of them, preferably in the same color, then plumping out your pot with textural foliage plants. Any of the carexes are a good choice, because they stay small enough not to overwhelm the flowers and range in tone from brilliant green to copper. Their grassy texture offers a pleasing contrast to most plantings.
It’s uncanny how variegation, which might appear garish in summer, looks so good in the weaker sunshine of springtime. Consider small foliage plants with multitoned leaves, like some of the heucheras, Ajuga ‘Metalica Crispa’, with its crinkled purple and green leaves, or the flashy Coprosma ‘Tequila Sunrise’.
Don’t forget edibles. Cool-season herbs like parsley, chives and cilantro are at their best for the next couple of months. Few garden sights are prettier than sunshine slanting through the gem-toned stems of rainbow chard. I plant a big, round feed trough full of orange and pink ‘Princess Irene’ tulips surrounded by ruffly, cut-and-come-again lettuces, a practical and beautiful idea inspired by edible gardening doyenne Rosalind Creasy.
Keep in mind it’s still chilly; April 1 is the average last frost date in Seattle. Go big on the pots so there’ll be plenty of soil to surround and adequately insulate the plants. And make sure you use potting soil that is good quality and well-draining so that plants, and especially bulbs, won’t get waterlogged.
Here’s the gratifying thing about playing around with potted plantings: When plants are squeezed closely together, their contrasting tones and textures are magnified. Your work will be to great effect, because potted compositions are raised up, contained by a hard edge, and usually displayed by the front door or on a deck clearly visible from indoors. A simple cluster of orange primroses in a window box, or a container stuffed with pink tulips skirted in bright green herbs, helps us weather the vagaries of springtime while reminding us that warmer days are on their way.