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Brooks hard at work

Last Sunday I had a perfect, wondrous, and beauteous  day.  I started the day out by gathering every container in my garage, and with the help of my friend, Brooks Mathews, created some lovely masterpieces for my patio.  In the Nashville horticulture circles, Brooks is known as the blue ribbon expert when it comes to anything green.  She just took top honors at the Garden Club of America’s competition for her floral rendition of an I.M. Pei sculpture.

Creating the perfect container, filled with plants and flowers, is one of those jobs where a friend makes it so much more fun; add in a glass of vino and your creative juices really begin to flow.

When it comes to gardening, I describe myself as tentative — not quite sure how many plants to buy, a little skeptical when it comes to what to put where and not wild about those big, nasty worms lurking under the saucers of my pots.  I categorize myself as a predictable gardener: the poor girl who matches her shoes and her purse because she missed the last decade of What Not to Wear episodes.

Don’t be afraid of variety.

But Brooks is a different story.  She oozes confidence when it comes to anything involving dirt.  She loves to dig up a fern and tuck it in a pot or under plant bushes with an annual here or a perennial there.  She’ll even grab a weird thing from inside her house and throw it in because it adds an element of surprise to an otherwise staid container.  Take a look at the container of succulents Brooks created:

If you look closely, you will see a concrete crown from Scarlett Scales in Franklin, one of my favorite shops.  I gave that to Brooks months ago on a whim with no idea of what she would do with it.  Now I want it back.   Admit it — isn’t this one of the most beautiful works of art you’ve ever seen?

Consider the rest of this post is a how to guide on creating the perfect container for your garden or patio.

Container Gardening How To

Step 1:  Determine what kind of sunlight your yard or patio gets.

My yard is a mix of sun and shade.  The kind of sunlight you get determines what flowers and plants you buy for your containers.  Most yards have a combination of both, so don’t be afraid to use lots of different types of plants.  Keep your eyes open for interesting and unusual containers.  Why settle for only terra cotta pots when you can find containers with gorgeous glazes from all over the world?  Home Depot and Bates Nursery have a  surprising collection of containers.  I always have luck at Southeastern Salvage off of Thompson Lane and the World Market on Charlotte is worth a visit.

Step 2:  Decide on your plant materials and be adventurous!

Great Shade Varietals:

  • Coleus
  • Maiden hair/Wood/Christmas Ferns
  • Hostas ( dig up from your yard)
  • Impatience-all colors
  • Caladiums
  • Oxalis-deep purple/lavender
  • Rex Begonia

Great Sun Varietals

  • Geraniums (of course!)
  • Sedums
  • Purple Heart
  • Soprano White ( Osteospermun)
  • Licorice Plant-lime green
  • Breathless Blush-succulent ( Euphorbia)
  • Lantana/citrus
  • Petunias
  • Calibrachoa-trailing petunias in oranges, pinks, yellows, purples
  • Succulents of any kind

One word comes to mind when I think of the way Brooks approaches her gardens:  imaginative. She is fearless when it comes to cramming just one more little something in her pots.  Containers brimming with flowers and cascading with vines make me happy.

Celebrate the beauty of earth by using lots of different colors and hues in your container.  Create a container pots of all one variety or use several varieties to contrast colors.  Find plants that will grow tall and under plant with others to spill over the side of  your pot.  Licorice plant is great because it allows a striking chartreuse and cascades over the side.  Geraniums works together to give gradations of the same color while adding height to your container.  Notice how the oranges in my shade pot work together and how the purples in the other one play off each other. 

Step 3:  Water, fertilize and stabilize your containers

This is pretty basic stuff but Brooks has a secret weapon to share with you. When you start your container, put some gravel or broken terra cotta pieces in the bottom of the pot.  It help drainage.  Use a good potting soil mixed with manure, compost, top soil and pine bark mulch. Fertilizer with Hollytone or Miracle Grow, water and put some pine bark mulch on the top to keep it moist.

Step 4: Throw something unexpected in your containers

Be imaginative and unforgiving when it comes to adding special to your container.  Sea shells, glass orbs, concrete shoes or crosses, architectural pieces in metal are wonderful additions to make your container zing!

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