Contrasting Colours in Gardens and Containers

Contrasting colours rather than complementary ones make a bigger impact in your garden. Most people tend to opt for complementing colors when choosing plants. I always tell my clients remember, you are not wearing the plants, they do not have to match!

Choose colours that are opposite (not next to) each other on the colour wheel to create some drama:

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Use Colour Contrasts in Containers Too

I love using coleus in containers for the wide range of contrasting colour in their foliage. Straight from the nursery, choose from the many options in contrasting colour combinations within the same plant! The chartreuse green of creeping jenny or sweet potato vines make the red tones of the coleus pop in your creations:

For full sun containers, I tend to go for purple, pink, red, blue and yellow for the “fillers” and “spillers.” Their bright colours look so summery and vivid against the various shades of green which are perfect backdrops for “thrillers” and additional “spillers.”

Choose Perennials with Contrasting Flower Colours but the Same Bloom Time

When choosing perennials for your garden beds, instead of picking matching colours, try selecting contrasting colours in plants that bloom at the same time. For example, this yellow ligularis in front of a purple clematis creates a much more eye-catching scenario than two yellow or two purple plantings.

contrasting colours
ligularis and clematis

Another great example in my yard is my collection of daylilies I have in a raised bed at the side of my house. From dark wine-red to pale peach, they are contrasting yet compliment each other beautifully!

Foliage with Contrasting Colours

Another trick to make individual plants stand out is to place contrasting foliage colours next to or in front of each other. An example here is the leaves of a purple smoke tree (that just had a haircut so will soon be much taller) behind (right now it looks like it’s inside) the bright green leaves of a hydrangea.

contrasting colours
purple smoke tree and hydrangea

Try some new contrasting combinations in your garden to create some drama. Be sure to send me pictures of your combinations.

Remember, forget the matchy-matchy look, you are not wearing the plants!

Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers

When designing summer, autumn, or winter containers be sure to follow the thrillers, fillers, and spillers rule for maximum effect. The “thriller” is the center, tallest plant. The spillers go around the perimeter of the pot; choose ones that sprawl “spill” over the edges. The fillers go in between the thrillers and the spillers to fill in the bare spots.

photo credit

Annuals or Perennials?

Most people choose annuals over perennials for their summer containers. That’s because annuals bloom all summer until frost kills them off. Perennials, on the other hand, bloom for two weeks on average, if you’re lucky. You can use a combination of both for your thrillers, fillers, and spillers. For example, perennial ornamental grasses make an awesome, inexpensive (dig a clump up from your garden) “thriller” (center) for containers.

Sun or Shade?

When designing your container, be sure to take its intended location into consideration. Some plants (both annuals and perennials) like full sun, others full shade, with others somewhere in between. Don’t try to combine these different requirements in the same container. If you do, some will thrive, and others will fizzle.

You can probably tell from these pictures that coleus and hibiscus are my favourite annuals for shade and sun containers respectively….

Fertilizer

Containers of annuals can be fertilized weekly right up until frost. This practice will keep the annuals looking cheerful as long as possible. Perennials need less fertilizer, especially those in garden beds when monthly is ideal up until August (in zone 4/5).

Deadheading and Pinching

Deadheading, or removing spent blossoms, helps to keep your containers looking nice all season. For annuals and perennials with flowers on stalks, remove the stalk right back to the first set of leaves after the flower has passed its peak. This practice often encourages repeat blooming. Others just need the faded flowers picked off.

Pinching the center of annuals and perennials encourages them to get bushier instead of leggy.

Frost Warnings

While annuals will be affected by frost, most perennials will not. Some annuals tolerate a light frost, others not so much. Of course, the first frost date varies across the globe, sometimes year to year within the same area.

In other words, frost is unpredictable.

Perennials can overwinter in your containers if you choose plants two zones hardier than what is normally hardy in your area. Otherwise, you can stick them in the ground to overwinter, to use again the following spring.

You can extend the season on both ends by heeding frost warnings in your weather forecast. In the spring I tend to start my containers early to ensure I get the annuals I want. If a frost warning is issued, I move the containers into my garage, off the (cold) cement floor, for the night in question. The same technique can be used in the fall when a sporadic early frost is in the forecast.

Once frost has set in for several days, you are fighting a lost cause. It’s then time to switch your concentration to fall or winter containers. Use the same thrillers, fillers, and spillers technique to create unique designs…

Wedding Planning with Gardens4U

Recently I told you of a project Gardens4U has been working on all summer. To recap, a client asked me to spruce up the gardens at his parents farm for his daughter’s wedding. Although Gardens4U has not done extensive wedding planning, this project was so much fun.

Where to Start the Wedding Planning

After walking around the extensive property with the client last April, the wedding planning began. I started by working on multiple neglected garden beds. Containers were planted as soon as the last frost date arrived in May, well in advance of the wedding date to give the annuals time to settle in.

My original commitment was one day a week, including through the scorching heat we experienced this summer. Of course, my visits to “the farm” increased in recent weeks as the wedding date drew closer.

Most of the time I remembered to take before and after pictures of the gardens and planters. I so wanted to snap a few last minute pictures the morning of the wedding, but did not want to intrude on the hustle and bustle going on. I will have to wait patiently for the photos I know my clients will share.

Garden Beds

The beds I worked on are referred to here according to their location on the property or their function during the wedding. Pictures are posted in chronological order.

House Bed, 3 Sections:

I cannot take credit for the gorgeous, flagstone sidewalk or lush lawn enhancing these beds at the front of the home. Due to the large expanse of lawn and the poor condition it was in, hydroseed (a sprayed on product) was used with awesome results. A beautiful lawn does wonders for increasing the beauty of gardens…

Ceremony Site:

There is no “before” picture for this bed as there wasn’t a garden there, just the edge of the yard overgrown with trees, scrub brush, and a few transplanted hostas.

Shady Sitting Area:

My client had a vision for this bed, I really just followed his instructions. And chose and planted the appropriate perennials for a shady spot. We then used some of the containers to add some colour to the area…

The Mint Bed That Became a Dahlia Bed:

For the resident chef, I moved the mint into a new herb garden. At least I attempted to move it. Mint can be very invasive, there are still shoots sprouting in that bed.

Sunny Beds:

These two beds were the bride’s Omi’s (grandma) flower gardens, with the one on the right home to her beautiful peonies. Unfortunately they were overgrown with no distinct shape and neglected since her passing several years ago.

Sunflower Bed:

This sunflower bed was supposed to be spectacular, at least that’s the vision I had. Tall, majestic, golden yellow sunflower blooms against the backdrop of the rustic family barn bordered by the bride’s Omi’s (grandma) long established daylilies. We tried to transplant many of the daylilies into some semblance of order, but thanks to their poor performance through the drought conditions this summer I had to cut them right back. They did revive, but not as fast as I hoped they would.

Rock Garden:

I don’t have much experience with rock gardens but I enjoyed choosing creeping plants and tiny succulents to tuck into the crevices. Unfortunately (for the wedding guests) not many of this type of plant are fall bloomers. Next spring and summer it will look gorgeous!

Rodent and Insect Damage Deter Wedding Planning

My major challenge during this project was the battle I had keeping the sunflowers intact in their designated bed against the barn wall.

I planted close to thirty sunflowers, most grown from seed on my back veranda. Unfortunately, the squirrels snapped off their growing stalks faster than I could plant them. I actually witnessed a squirrel hanging on the barn wall, mid pounce, as he/she aimed for the flower head of one of the tallest sunflowers.

So frustrating and disappointing!

The other challenge was keeping the dahlia blossoms from becoming a snack bar. Earwigs or whatever other insect devoured them shortly after they appeared and before they could mature. I ended up bringing a pot of dahlias from my back deck to fill in the bare spots.

Containers: Thrillers, Fillers and Spillers

We used lots of planters around the property to add colour and drama. Some came from the clients’ home that I had created earlier in the season. The rest I brought over from my own home collection.

Silver Lace Vine

I had planned to drape strands of silver lace vine (from my garden) in the trees to look like the beautiful Spanish moss so prevalent in the south. The wedding planner, who is also a florist, intercepted me though as I carried trays of it down the driveway. She asked for the silver lace to adorn the dining table and archway at the ceremony site. How could I refuse?

Conclusions:

Well, the big day arrived and thankfully the sun was (albeit off and on) shining! We were all nervous as it had been raining, torrentially at times, for the previous two days.

The problem with creating these gardens in one season is that most plants take a while to mature in their new homes. Unless of course, you spend a fortune and choose fully mature plantings. Like most gardens I plan and create, these garden beds look great this season, but will look spectacular next summer and for years to come.

A few years ago I created bouquets and containers for my son’s wedding. Then a few years later I created table arrangements for a friend’s son’s wedding. I have enjoyed these wedding projects so much that I am considering adding wedding (or other events) planning to my Gardens4u list of services!

What do you think? Contact me if you are interested in my wedding planning services.

Pussy Willows and Forsythia for Spring Cheerfulness

Nothing screams spring like pussy willows and forsythia

Spring has sprung! In my world, this is anticipated for months. Nothing screams spring quite like pussy willows and forsythia sprigs. I love both, together, for a colorful, cheerful display at any entrance.

Recently, I spotted some pussy willows at my local grocery store and took them to our local hospice to spruce up the containers at the front door. If you cannot find any at a grocery store in your area, check out the roadsides where you might just find some.

Out with the browned, crispy winter displays and in with a new, cheerful, spring-like look. A few (artificial) forsythia sprigs were added for their spring-like, bright yellow cheeriness. I am not usually a fan of artificial flowers, but unfortunately, forsythias are not quite in bloom yet, at least not here in Ottawa. I found these at my local dollar store; the price was right!

Pussy willows and forsythia just seem to belong together, especially in spring displays…

The red dogwood stems and birch branches were left over from the winter arrangements, left in for their additional colour and texture.

Get your spring on! Find some pussy willows and forsythia branches to create some drama at your front door.

Late July Blooms in Gardens4me

How do your gardens look in late July? Colour can be a little anemic this time of year here in Ontario, so your gardens may need some extra TLC. My solution? I try to visit garden centers every two weeks to purchase perennials in bloom at that time, then take them home and add to them to the spots lacking colour in my gardens.

I did just that earlier this week. I found this huge container of pink larkspur that broke up into six individual plants when I took it out of the pot. Bonus! One was blooming, the others have tons of blooms ready to explode. I planted all of them separately to add splashes of colour throughout my backyard garden.

This time of year I also add annuals to my containers that need a colour boost or to replace annuals that are not performing well. Here are a few pictures of the same containers with an infusion of colour…

During this heatwave we have been sweating through, my containers need watering every day. That fact and vacation do not go together well. I recently came home from an extra-long weekend at the cottage to find the cleomes (one of my favourite annuals) on my front veranda were fried. They have since been replaced with three Spanish lavender plants that are considered annuals in my Ottawa area. At present all it has to offer is a heavenly scent, but it should bloom soon…

If you go away for more than two days, ask a neighbour to water your containers, or move them (the containers, not the neighbours) to a shady spot to prevent their demise. Water balls (the things you fill with water and insert into the soil) work well for a few days too, depending on how hot it is and how thirsty your plants are.

the blue water ball (center, back) provides moisture when I am away

The pink wave petunias are stretching towards the sun, but look like they are trying to escape through the railing of my veranda.

Also needing daily attention (refilling) are the numerous bird baths in my gardens, a chore my 2 year old granddaughter tackles diligently when she is here.

a chickadee sipping the cold water

My lilies in part sun spots are still looking good, (the full sun ones have lost their petals, much to the dismay of the same granddaughter) and my weigela tree is providing an encore…

My Annabelle hydrangea is coming along, parts of it in bloom, others still working on it…

… and this pink gayfeather is just beginning to show off…

By next week its bold spires will be stretching to the sun and waving in the breeze.

That’s it for blooms in Gardens4me now that July is on its way out, but into the history books for our hottest and driest July in many years.

Stay tuned for more pictures soon.

Burning bush ablaze with colour

The colourful foliage this time of year is hard to beat, one of the reasons fall is the favourite season for many.  The burning bush in my neighbour’s garden is absolutely gorgeous this year.

burning bush
burning bush

Temperature, moisture levels and the amount of sunlight dictate just how colourful the foliage becomes.  Apparently the vivid colours on the deciduous trees and my neighbour’s burning bush can be attributed to the wet growing season we had as well as the cool nights and warm days this fall.  The scientific explanation involves fancy words like:

  • xanthophyll (yellow pigment)
  • carotenoids (orange pigment)
  • anthocyanins (red and purple pigment formed by sugar trapped in the leaves)
  • chlorophyll (green colour)
  • abscission layer (when nights get cooler, this layer forms blocking chlorophyll from entering the leaves, so other colours are visible)

Also (still) looking good are some of the containers I planted this season.  We have had a few frosty nights, but nothing severe enough to slow these beauties down:

As long as this nice weather continues I just may get all my gardens put to bed this week!

Perennials in Pots

As an experiment this winter, I am planning to leave some (very) hardy perennials in their big pots on my back deck to see if any survive the winter.  I have planted perennials in containers before but never had much success with leaving them in their pots for the winter.  I have tried rose bushes and ornamental grasses but apparently, they are not hardy enough.  The general rule of thumb is they should be at least two zones hardier than your area to survive in pots instead of in the garden.

So, this season I am trying shrub roses, (much hardier than bushes) false spirea, forsythia, and lilac bushes, as well as a plum and a maple tree, all of which grow prolifically in my gardens.  With the exception of the plum tree that might be a bust, the others are reliably hardy for this area (zone 2).  The two mature plums trees in my gardens send up shoots all over the yard so I won’t feel so bad if the one in the pot does not survive.  These subjects of my experiment have all been grown from cuttings in my ICU...

Anything else currently in pots that I wish to save must be brought in for the winter.  This year that will include a beautiful non-hardy ornamental grass that was extremely expensive, too much so to replace each year…

perennials in pots

I will keep you posted on their survival rate!

Hardy Hibiscus Show Stoppers

October blooms

Hardy hibiscus are my show stoppers in my GARDENS4U gardens this August and September.  Their unbelievably vibrant blooms, often the size of a dinner plate, will literally make you stop and gawk at their incredible beauty…

I love the hibiscus so much this season that I tried some in containers and fertilized them heavily to keep them blooming all summer…

hardy hibiscus

As with any plants you expect to be perennial (they come back each year) read the labels before you purchase them!  These hibiscus are called hardy because they are considered perennials in more (colder) areas than their less hardy cousins.  These are hardy to USA zone 4, which are perfect for my Ottawa gardens.  Just be careful and patient in the spring, as they are slow to recover from their winter hibernation.  Because they die back to the ground in winter here, I put a marker near mine so I don’t inadvertently disturb or throw it out during spring cleanup.

Another important fact to consider is that perennials planted in containers are less hardy (2 zones) than when they are planted in the garden.  For example, although these hibiscus are hardy to zone 4 when planted in gardens, they would only be hardy to zone 6 in containers. 

That means I will be moving these gorgeous containers inside before the first frost.

There are annual varieties of hibiscus as well, sold in 4-inch pots with other annuals, perfect for fillers in containers.

Blue Grass Beauties for Gardens

blue grass variety

My new favourite ornamental grasses these days are the blue-tinged beauties.  Every year there are more and more ornamental grasses available to choose from in the garden nurseries, but my eyes seem to be increasingly drawn to the blue grass varieties.  I love the way the soft, steely, blue hue compliments the color of other perennials.  While other ornamental grasses are grown for their attractive seed heads, the blue versions are chosen more for their attractive coloring.

This is blue oat grass, one of my favourites. Take note though, similar blue fescue varieties popular in the nurseries are smaller, less dramatic, and not as hardy.

blue oat grass

This is a newer variety, called Blue Lyme Grass. I have discovered that it can be quite invasive in gardens, but is easy to pull out of spots you don’t want it in. It also makes a nice, dramatic thriller in containers.

blue lyme grass

Most ornamental grasses like full sun, but there are a few that tolerate some shade.  Be sure to check the labels before purchasing for sun requirements and hardiness zones.

A pet peeve of mine is when garden nurseries sell plants not hardy to their area as perennials. One example here in zone 4/5 I remind many clients about each year is the purple fountain grass. It is one of my favourites for annual containers, but will not survive our winters.

purple fountain grass with other annuals

Freeze and Thaw Cycles Harm Plants

Many people do not mind rain in winter, as they look forward to spring.  The problem is that the freeze and thaw cycles that go with the rain can be very destructive to plants in your gardens and containers as well as to the containers themselves. 

I leave many container plants out on my back deck for a few reasons.

  • I love the look of plants blowing in the wind, especially the ornamental grasses.
  • Most of the containers are too large (heavy) to move inside
  • I have lots of them so would need a good chunk of time to move them.
  • For some reason time always gets away from me in the fall, so the snow arrives before I get around to moving the planters.

Whatever the reason you have left your planters outside for the winter, you can ensure they survive.  When it rains a lot (as it has been here for the past few days) or a thaw melts snow on top of the pots, be sure to dump out the excess water before it freezes again. If you cannot dump out the excess water, bail it out.   If you do not remove it, the excess water will freeze and your pots will crack.  I guarantee this will happen if the containers do not have drainage holes in the bottom.  If they do have drainage holes the pots may still crack when excessive rain turns to ice.  This happens often here in Ottawa.  One day it is raining and almost balmy, the next freezing cold.

Another trick to protect your garden plants over the winter is to ensure the plants stay snow-covered.  Snow acts as an insulator, protecting plants from freeze and thaw cycles.  I always shovel snow onto my roses growing beside my garage at my front door.  This spot is sunny and warmer than the rest of my gardens because the brick wall retains the heat absorbed from the sun.  This extra heat means the snow melts faster there, so I have to keep shoveling more on.  If you do this, be sure to use snow that does not have salt (from your sidewalk or driveway) in it.

Is it raining where you live?  If it is, make sure the rainwater does not collect on your planters if freezing temperatures are coming next.  Freeze and thaw cycles are brutal on your plants in containers and gardens.

Please visit my garden website for more garden and plant tips