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Container Plants Across America

Martha Stewart Living, July 2010

Just one pot can hold an entire garden in miniature, a world of plants as visually compelling as a mixed bed and yet far easier to manage. That's the beauty of container plantings: You don't need a big space to make a big impact.

What you do need, however, are plants that withstand the quirks of your region, whether that includes the stickiest humidity or the scantest rainfall. Sunlight requirements are another key factor. Other than that, potted plants needn't be very compatible; in such a small collage, you control their care precisely.

We asked five designers to come up with plantings ideally suited to different climates across the country. Here, those experts share their plant combinations, plus tips for care. So pick a pot and some regional favorites. Before long, your own little piece of the American landscape will be flourishing.

Southwest
Bill Bauer, The Garden Design Studio
Tamatha Nibert, Vivian Loftin & Associates

Austin, Texas
Plants that thrive when the heat is on and water is scarce are the stars of this container, which would be at home anywhere from Texas to Southern California.

The Plants
Spiky and statuesque, aloe vera is the focal point here. Its color-coordinated sidekicks include red-edged Kalanchoe thyrsiflora and dark Echeveria 'Black Prince,' two low-growing succulents. For a final, frothy accent, Sedum morganianum and S. rupestre 'Angelina' spill over the sides.

Their Care
For the best drainage, these succulents are planted in potting soil formulated specially for cacti, and the concrete container is lined with gravel and topped with landscape fabric.

Sources
Large square terrazzo planter, evanpeters.com.

Northwest

Lisa Freed, 
Wells Medina Nursery
Medina, Washington
In the Northwest, cool, rainy winters give way to warm, dry summers. Freed enjoys the heft of shrubs and perennials in pots and likes to surround them with seasonal annuals.

The Plants
A variety of colors and forms makes this container stand out. The design starts with a textural trio: feathery branches of red-brown peppermint tree (Agonis flexuosa 'After Dark'); spiky, variegated New Zealand flax (Phormium cookianum 'Flamingo'); and the frilly privet shrub Ligustrum ovalifolium 'Lemon and Lime.' Then come hits of color, both dark and bright: cascades of burgundy Ipomoea batatas 'Ace of Spades' and 'Ultra Red' petunia that drape over the brown-glazed container.

Their Care
An initial handful of slow-release fertilizer is all this group needs, along with daily watering in summer heat and the occasional controlling snip.

Sources
Rolled-rim egg planter (similar to shown), campaniainternational.com.

Midwest

Kevin Reiner, 
Kevin Reiner Design
Granville, Ohio
Reiner uses container plantings as landscape focal points and builds compositions in layers, choosing plants that can handle the hot, humid summers.

The Plants
Overflowing with flowers and foliage, these enormous containers are quietly pretty yet hard not to notice. Reiner set tall, architectural 'Red Sensation' cordylines at the center of the matte black pots and worked out and down from there, tucking in contrasting 'Electric Lime' coleus, eye-catching purples (Strobilanthes dyeriana and 'Supertunia Bordeaux' petunias), and trailing greens (Cotoneaster adpressus 'Little Gem').

Their Care
The routine for this mix includes checking the soil daily (and watering when it's dry to the touch two inches down) and feeding with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Reiner tip-prunes coleus two to three inches in July and August to keep it from flowering and overgrowing everything else.

Sources
Semelin round planter, in graphite-glazed terra-cotta, campaniainternational.com.

Southeast

Pam Baggett, 
Former Nursery Owner
Cedar Grove, North Carolina
Baggett keeps her containers simple, with just a few plants and lots of space between them. It's a practical approach for this region of high humidity, where crowded containers can lead to fungus. She also likes to set pots on paving or under hardwood trees, where planting is otherwise impossible.

The Plants
This striking container consists of three distinct levels. A long, airy skirt of lime-green Russelia equisetiformis 'Candlelight' hangs over the edge of the glazed urn. Then comes a bright ring of chartreuse-and-red 'Swallowtail' coleus. A dramatic expanse of dark Colocasia esculenta 'Black Magic' goes up top.

Their Care
The plants need water -- as often as three times a day in July. Baggett adds granular, slow-release fertilizer when planting and then hits the colocasia once with fish emulsion in July.

Sources
Large Cannes plain glazed terra-cotta urn, in pastel green, evanpeters.com.

Northeast

Ken Selody, Atlock Farm
Somerset, New Jersey
For Selody, container gardens often begin with a particularly striking pot or plant (or both). Another frequent feature: plants that will hold up throughout the season and take the heat, humidity, and rain of summer in the Northeast.

The Plants
A pair of vines (Solanum laxum 'Aureovariegatum') and a tall, orange-glazed pot inspired this soft, vertical design. Selody ran with the orange-and-green color scheme, underplanting the vines (staked on a bamboo tepee) with sunset-hued 'Sedona' coleus, coppery Haloragis erecta 'Wellington Bronze,' and Calibrachoa 'Apricot Red Eye,' whose tumbling blooms echo the coleus.

Their Care
In summer heat, care includes pruning for shape as well as daily water laced with a balanced, all-purpose liquid fertilizer.

Sources
Large Belvoir planter (similar to shown), in Carnaby Street Orange, campaniainternational.com.