How to get creative with planting containers

How to get creative with planting containers

By Lorene Edwards Forkner

As owner of Seattle's highly rated Wendy Welch Garden Designs, she's spent the last 15 years creating container plantings for customers throughout the Northwest. Her dramatic compositions are lasting, yet ever changing, and dazzlingly beautiful throughout the entire year. Welch shares her secrets for producing successful garden theater.

“Context is everything,” Welch says. “A container placed at the entry to your home serves as the opening act — plan and plant for all four seasons.”

With that in mind, be bold; no wimpy pots! Bigger is better — play to the back of the theater.

Choose the largest containers your space and budget will accommodate for visual drama and ease of care.

Generously sized pots will hold larger plants for a longer period to provide lasting impact and save you the time and expense of constantly replanting.

Welch works with a mix of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals that are suitable for container cultivation. Selecting first for structure, form and foliage — the three acts of garden design — she combines plants with similar growth rates so the composition remains balanced and pleasing.

Plants with strong architectural form and presence carry the show throughout the year. Like a star player, they provide a focal point and anchor the planting.

Another tip Welch recommends is to consider the “winter picture” first when designing a container — what will it look like in January?

“Contrasting textures from fine leafed plants and grasses combined with bold foliage that outlasts seasonal bloom keeps the composition appealing over a long period,” she says. “Flowers are the finale and only make the cut if they can sustain a 10-week bloom period.”

Welch has a cast of favorite plants for supporting roles. Long-lived sculptural trailers like prostrate conifers and ground-cover shrubs fill in empty space and dress the edge of a pot to provide a finished look.

“Even the most common plant can elevate an entire planting by making everything around them look better,” she says. “Don't limit yourself to annuals — shop the entire nursery for color, form and texture.”

An emphatic advocate of sustainable garden practices, Welch recommends little to no extra fertilizing, non-peat based potting mixes and organic controls.

The result? Her finished compositions have an average life span of five years; a nice long run. After all, the show must go on!

Lorene Edwards Forkner, freelance writer, garden designer and food enthusiast, lives in Seattle and revels in the seasonal pleasures and broad scope of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. She's a contributing writer to Northwest Garden News and author of "Growing Your Own Vegetables."

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