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Want your patio to look like a garden magazine centerfold? Here are recommendations from Nick Tomlan, Senior Gardener, who is responsible for the drop-dead gorgeous containers in the Idea Garden:
● Choose the right container
If your pot will stay outside all year, use cast iron, wood, concrete, or the beautiful (and pricey) imported frost-resistant terra cotta from Impruneta, Italy. Place these pots where they can stay put for several years, since they are quite heavy. For seasonal arrangements, economical choices are plastic and other synthetics, glazed ceramic, and regular terra cotta.
Pot size depends on plant material. Allow plenty of room for root growth because a too-small container will stunt your plants.
Every pot needs at least one large drain hole, preferably several.
● Soil—go for the good stuff
Buy potting soil without added fillers. Don’t use dirt you dig up from your garden; it does not drain properly in a container.
Peat moss is not a renewable resource; while most potting soil is at least 40% peat, Longwood uses only 10% mixed with 30% compost, then combines that blend with potting soil mixtures like vermiculite, perlite, and composted pine bark. Read the bag carefully before you purchase soil.
● Select plants that work together with each other, and with your container
Scale. Most mistakes are made when people use small plants in big containers.
Color. Choose one plant that interests you, then build your palette from there. You could go with contrasting colors or keep the arrangement monochromatic.
Form and Texture. Create drama by using a variety of shapes and surfaces. Think about traits like smooth, coarse, fuzzy, serrated, cascading, spiky, columnar, weeping, and arching.
Quantity. Plant heavily at first, then “edit” as the season goes on.
Some of Tomlan’s favorite container plants are Cyperus papyrus (papyrus sedge), any kind of succulents, Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass), Colocasia (elephant ears), Centaurea cineraria 'Colchester White' (Dusty Miller), Eucalyptus, Coleus, Lantana, bananas, Plectranthus, Impatiens repens, bromeliads, Agave Americana (Century Plant), “and anything else with weird foliage!”
For that “wow!” factor, choose Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger' (keep in a bit of shade or it will burn). Or try lotus—since it’s naturally a water plant, it should be in a pot with no drainage. Lotus is easy to care for and unexpected in a container.
● Care and feeding
Always, ALWAYS let plants dry between waterings. Don’t water just because it’s hot or sunny. Check the containers daily and when your plants do need water, give them a thorough soaking, making sure that water comes out the drain holes. Positioning your containers near a garden hose makes it easier to keep the plants properly watered—no watering cans to drag around.
It’s important to fertilize. Add slow-release fertilizer when potting up and again halfway through the season. Supplement with liquid feed a few times a month. Plants respond quickly to this, and tropical plants especially love it.
Place your containers in an appropriate location for the amount of sun the plants need.
To keep your containers looking their best, deadhead spent plants, prune aggressive ones, and eliminate anything that doesn’t add to the composition.
● Plan ahead
Empty, clean, and store seasonal containers before the first hard frost. Year-round pots should have plants at least one to two zones hardier than where you live.
Think about what worked well and what you would want to do differently. Then start browsing through those plant catalogs and nursery websites so you can start planning for next year!
Scented plants are front and center at Longwood Gardens this year, and it’s what goes on backstage that makes their bravura performance possible. Alan Petravich, Research Assistant, explains his role in the production. “We are always trialing new plants in the Research Department,” he says. “When the designers request plants, our job is to find them and to grow them when they come in.”
“Sometimes they ask for fruit, or a certain look in a flower,” he adds. “For `The Year of Fragrance’ we were given a script of scented plants. My job was to find things like frankincense, myrrh, rose oil, jasmine, lavender, highly fragrant plants like that.”
Petravich and the department interns did a lot of detective work online, using plant search engines and seeking out nurseries that might have what they need. For Commiphora (myrrh), a desert plant, they focused on nurseries in the southwestern United States.
Boswellia (frankincense) was located at a New Jersey nursery. The gum or resin that exudes from the plant is what gives it its scent, characterized as balsamic-spicy, slightly lemony, with a conifer-like undertone. It is used in perfumes, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. Boswellia is known for its olfactory appeal, not its appearance, but Petravich seems to have the magic touch. “My frankincense bloomed this year,” he says, mildly astonished. “The company I got it from said that theirs hasn’t bloomed in forty years! It might have been the maturity of the plant, or the conditions in the Conservatory.”
With all those fragrant plants under one glass roof, “scentsory” overload was a consideration. “We were a little worried about having so many smells in one house,” Petravich admits, “but there’s a lot of space and volume to absorb fragrance. We grouped plants to put compatible fragrances together. One house is primarily lavender, for example.
“Timing is important also,” he explains. “Some plants don’t have much scent during the day. If we close up the house with the night blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), the next morning it smells like someone was baking all night. Other jasmines are fragrant in the morning and smell different in the afternoon.”
Petravich enjoyed smelling the variety of fragrances during the lead-up to the installation. “Aloysia is one of my favorite scented plants; it smells like an almond flower and looks like a white butterfly bush. We had so many plants in the research greenhouses, all with different scents and characteristics. It was a big adventure!”
Making Scents: The Art and Passion of Fragrance is on view through November 21, 2110. Visit http://www.longwoodgardens.org/MakingScents.html for more information.
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Meet the arborists and gardeners that care for our trees and flowers throughout Spring Blooms, and see demonstrations throughout our Conservatory and outdoor gardens.
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Get ready for an evening of oohs and ahhs, as Longwood presents spectacular Fireworks & Fountains shows guaranteed to make your summer memorable.
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Registration is now open for our 2013 Continuing Education courses!
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