How to Arrange Summer Annuals in Containers

Colorful containers play a starring role in my garden, but especially this summer with New England’s prolonged drought.  It was time for an “end-of-summer refresh” for two key containers.

Surprisingly the drought this summer hasn’t affected my garden’s seeming lushness. Right plant in the right place is key here and good soil. However, one effect of the drought and water restrictions is the shorter bloom time of the flowering shrubs and perennials in my garden.  Hydrangeas and roses that typically bloom all summer in my full sun gardens, the flowers browned out. Not a color I wanted so I cut them dead flowers off.

But because I use foliage color and plant in layers the gardens still looked good.  I think the fact my plantings thickly cover all the soil helps to conserve soil moisture. Plus, the soil “feeding” techniques I use– spreading compost and composted cow manure as winter mulch—enhance its ability to hold moisture. Also, when I could water (about once a month versus 2x a month in non drought years), the soaker hoses networked throughout seep moisture directly into the soil and plant roots. Growing up in northern California during a terrible drought, I learned to collect “shower water” in a bucket (position it so it doesn’t collect soapy water) and “rinse water” from the sink to use to water my pots of outdoor plants. Still works if you’re in an area with a total ban on outdoor watering. Got so bad, we used the “soapy” water to flush toilets.

Key containers at the bottom of my entry steps stopped blooming—a big color loss as the flowering shrubs weren’t producing. So it was time for a “summer annual refresh”.  At my local garden center (Russell’s in Wayland) I found annuals in my color scheme. One bonus of replanting these two pots in the last days of August was everything was half off.

Pink flowers still bloomed in the containers on the landing, so pink was my primary color to design the annual flower composition. I gathered plants that I was attracted to and tried them out on the shopping basket to see how they would look together.The tricolor sage with pink accents appealed to me.  The fact I could use it for cooking in the fall was a bonus. It was big and robust and would spill over the container so it went onto the basket.

Then I spied the “red” fountain grass. I knew this summer container would flow into fall so the grass would be a good addition to span the seasons. And it was upright and added a feathery texture in marked contrast to the sage mound form.

So then I looked for something else that would work shape and color wise in the full sun.  I spied the tall narrow form of the bright pink Caharantus. It was perfect for my composition.  It’s a plant I’m unfamiliar with so thought it worth trying.

The last to be arranged on the cart was the pink Celosia. It’s eye catching, flame-like deep pink flowers with the tight foliage surrounding it looked amazing with the other plants. It’s another that I don’t regularly use so I decided to give it try.

The result is a summer container “refresh” that makes me happy every time I drive into my driveway and walk into my front door.


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