Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Early Spring Planters

Susan Wheeler,  a garden designer in the White Rock/South Surrey area, is writing a guest blog today! The photos of her own gardens show many of the plants that are available here at West Coast Gardens.  She has a garden design business:, as well as her own blog at www.greengardeningtips.netWe thank Susan for sharing her expertise with us!

EARLY PLANTERS - for those gardeners who want something right now!!

These very early spring planter designs are for those gardeners and home owners who feel that there should be something of beauty at our front doors in every season. Living here, on the West Coast of British Columbia, we have a perfect opportunity to have the “Approach and Arrival” aspect of our homes looking colourful and welcoming, all year around.
These November through to April planters below, would get you through the worst of the Winter very nicely, especially if you have a bit of protection in an overhang of some sort. I planted these up in early November, added red berries 
( real and artificial ) for Christmas, as well as some red Dogwood twigs for height, and then simply enjoyed watching these wonderful Hellebores put out their gorgeous flowers! They lasted well into April and May still looking good. Choose whichever colours work well with your house colour and front door. Here, the pink ones are Helleborus X 'Rosemary’  ( one of the very best ), and the white one is either H. ’Jacob’ or H. ‘Joseph Lemper’, with incense cedar boughs. .
Once it warms up, you could add the Hellebores to your gardens. Or, if your planter is large enough, you could leave them in place and add spring bulbs or annuals to fill in until summer flowers are available. The Hellebores will soon put out all new leaves and look beautiful until next spring. 
( Remember, you should cut off all of the old leaves once the flowers start to come out if they look a bit ‘ratty’ from the winter weather. )

The large, shiny and red edges of the Bergenia add contrast to this group of winter plants.

Close-up of the Bergenia leaves in winter.

My all-time favourite Hellebore ‘Rosemary’ with white flowering Saxifrage.

Notice how the yellow centre of the Hellebore is enhanced by the evergreen’s buds, as well.

Now, for a completely different colour for spring.... This is one of my planters on the back terrace and it is so cheery every spring, planted up with a bit of colour from the pansies. The small shrub is a Heath or Heather but I cannot remember which one! But it is not the usual pink, mauve or purple coloured one and it is a small growing variety, as well. To brighten the base, I have planted a small perennial just for the bright lime-green leaves.

An unusual colour for spring perhaps, but it suits this part of my gardens and is so very cheerful to look at, from our back windows in late winter and early spring.

Close-up of this late winter blooming Heather with colour co-ordinated pansies.

Instead of a single planter done with your favourites, have you ever thought of doing up each pot with  harmonizing shapes or colours, and then putting them all together, as one complete whole? That is what I have tried to do with this next group of plants and pots. First of all, up come the most lovely buds of this perennial. It is Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ ( Solomon’s Seal ) and is really a lovely little Woodland perennial. I like the variegated one as it stays smaller. Then, in the next photo, you can see it up and ready to open its white ‘bells’ which hang on the underside of each leaf.
Because of this habit, I try to plant it where I can see up under its leaves. Here it is placed near the top of the back steps of our terrace.

Up come the graceful buds of the perennial Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ ( variegated Solomon’s Seal ). The early morning sun gives some encouragement!

I have added other plants here to make up the vignette... the lime-green of a small- growing Hosta, the spike-y leaves of an Iris foetidissima ‘Variegata’, echoing the variegation in the Solomon’s Seal, and then, from above, the fresh, pale pink of Rhododendron ‘Kimberly’ adds a bright note.

And now, here are those silent ‘bells’, ringing out a beautiful message.

These next planters below, have, as their focus, that great plant Senetti pericallis (Senetti) which I really only discovered at West Coast Gardens last year. Since I had not grown it before myself, I decided to give it a try. The ‘buzz’ about it was almost too good to be true! But yes.... it is all true! It takes the cold and shade and blooms early and for a long period. I plan to use more this year.

Notice how the narrower shrub on the left provides some height for the lower planter, as well.

Don’t forget that a pansy can always be added for a bit of colour. The yellow gives the whole planter a ‘lift’, especially as it really begins to bloom. This photo was taken just after the plants had been in for only a few days.

And now for a bit of a change......
I have several clients who want the calm serenity of a mostly green design. This look can be quite effective and sometimes contemporary. This planter, below, lives in my shady Woodland Garden. It has as its focus, a large Hosta which has quite a bit of yellow in it, and so I have added a variegated yellow-green Ivy ( do not let the hardy 
variety of Ivy into your gardens ever, as it will very probably take over!! ) as well as a small evergreen, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera’, which provides a nice backdrop for the variegated plants. There is also a Hellebore in this large planter, as well. In the next two photos, I have added two more plants that would look great in this grouping as they have that same pale yellow colour which connects everything together. Remember.... ‘Eye goes to colour’ and right after drainage and soil, I always think that colour is the most important consideration when designing a whole garden or even a single pot.

This large planter lives at the edge of the path in my Woodland Garden.

In place of the variegated Ivy, try this perennial which is a variegated Vinca.

This is the sometimes hard to find yellow Hellebore, ‘Golden Lotus’. I have it growing in my ‘yellow’ section, at the front of the gardens. With it I have many other yellow-toned plants, such as Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera ‘Aurea’, (Sawara cypress is the common name) a “hairy” looking shrub, and Acorus gramineus which looks like a small yellow grass.

Below, is an early planter that I did in March with a Skimmia japonica (it needs some shade from hot sun ), some gorgeous white Tulips and Hyacinths, together with a Hellebore and some evergreen, variegated Pachysandra ( common name is Spurge ).
And, next, I have added one of my most dependable and easy to grow plants, the Bergenia because it is very good grown in a container.   Note how the texture of the large, flat, shiny leaves contrasts so nicely with the very tiny shapes of the Sedum beneath it. To the far right you will see a bit of one of my evergreen shrubs. Remember that the Bergenia can turn bright red if the winter weather is cold. Here, the leaves have a beautiful wine colour which works so well with many of my emerging Hellebore flowers.

A warm pink Hellebore with the rosy buds of a Skimmia japonica. This Skimmia and the variegated Pachysandra (Spurge) could be a permanent resident in a large planter, if they could get enough protection from the hot sun. Here on the West Coast, almost any plant can take morning sun for a few hours, at least.

A beautiful addition to any garden or large planter, the winter colours of the Bergenia.

And, finally, below, a monochromatic arrangement which grows in a large wooden planter underneath the shade producing pergola, in my Woodland Garden. The permanent plants, the perennials, are the Asarum europaeum (common name is Ginger) with the shiny round, heart-shaped leaves, and the silvery gray Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’. There are many different cultivars of this plant, but here I prefer ‘Looking Glass’ here. The white Tulips make the whole arrangement feel so fresh and new.
At the base of this large planter I grow this perennial white anemone, Anemone blanda. This is an example of how texture can add interest to a monochromatic scheme.

 The shiny, round, heart-shaped leaves of this perennial Asarum (Ginger) add a brightness to the whole arrangement. It grows very close to the ground.

Brunnera ‘Looking Glass’ sets off the whiteness of these early Tulips.

The early white flowers of this Anemone blanda say “Spring is Here!”

But for those of us who are dreaming of the warmer weather, here is a glimpse of one of my summer hanging planters. ( Can you see the tiny yellow-coloured ‘bird’ sitting in the centre? ) Using an old, dark nylon stocking to attach the chain to the tree branch, this planter swings underneath my Hammemelis, which is a small tree ( common name is Witch Hazel ). There are ferns, two types of Begonias and a variegated Vinca, ‘Wojo’s Gem’ in this planter.

Here is one of my hanging baskets in the warmer days of summer! It is very important to not harm the tree bark if you are putting something like this onto a branch. I have used an old nylon stocking, a dark one. Also, please note that the plantings in the ground underneath co-ordinate with the plant colour in the pot.

One of the large tuberous Begonias that West Coast is famous for.

GARDENING TIP: If you are planning to have any permanent perennials or small shrubs in your planters, you will need to have rather large ones, otherwise there will simply not be enough room for root development. I would say that the minimum size, across the top, would need to be 24 inches and the depth about the same. There are new planters now on the market that have a very useful air cavity between the outside of the pot and the inside, giving the roots a much better chance to survive the cold. But remember, you will most definitely have to water anything that is protected by an overhang as it will surely dry out over the winter months if you do not do this one small maintenance chore. You can do this watering whenever the temperature drops and the soil is not frozen in your planters. I do mine about three times between November and the end of March. And then, of course once the warm weather comes, you have to check the planters regularly, as far as watering and fertilizing goes.

If you are still wanting to see more of my garden designs or get a few more helpful gardening tips, check out Green Gardening Tips at and you may find what you are looking for!

I do hope you have fun with your planters this spring, and if you need a bit of guidance, call me for a consultation, and we’ll go shopping, right here, at West Coast Gardens!

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NOTE: all photos and text in this website/blog are copyrighted and may not be used without the written permission of Susan Wheeler.