Pot Shots: Unity

Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ began blooming this week.

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Repetition creates unity.  As one of the most basic principles of design, it’s one often overlooked by enthusiastic plant collectors like me!

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The dark purple leaves of the Ajuga are repeated in this Japanese painted fern.  this is one of several containers I made from hypertufa in 2014.

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I’m often tempted to grow the new and novel plant; something I’ve not grown out before.  We’re lucky to have space enough that I can indulge that interest while also repeating successful plants enough to create a sense of unity.

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Each Ajuga plant sends out multiple runners, with a new plant growing at the tip of each, often forming roots in the air. The plants are easy to break off and casually plant in a new spot. I often use Ajuga both for groundcover and in pots.  Here, Ajuga and Sedum angelina form a groundcover under a potted shrub.

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What should one repeat?  There are many design tricks based on repetition that are very subtle, but create a sense of harmony and peacefulness.

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I plant a lot of Muscari bulbs in pots each fall, waiting for just this effect the following spring. Muscari may be left in the pot or transplanted ‘in the green’ elsewhere in the garden when the pot is replanted for summer.

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The most obvious consideration is to use the same or similar plants again and again.  Repeating the same plant across several pots within a grouping creates unity.  Repeating the same plant again elsewhere in the garden ties that grouping of pots to other elements of the landscape.

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I like to choose a plant that grows well in the conditions of an area of the garden, and then use that plant in several different pots within a group.  Maybe I’ll plant a group of basil plants, or a group of lavender and rosemary, accented with sage or thyme.  Some years I plant a group of different geraniums.  The individual plants may be different cultivars with slightly different leaf or flower colors, but there are unifying elements to tie them together.

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Buying multiples of the same cultivar of Viola each autumn, and then planting them across several different pots creates a sense of unity.

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It’s helpful to use perennials that grow fairly quickly, that may be divided easily or that self-seed, and that are fairly easy to find and inexpensive to buy.  Once I find a plant that grows well in our conditions I like to repeat it again and again.

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I plant divisions of Ajuga, creeping Jenny and Sedum in various areas as ground cover.  They spread and cover more fully each year. Native strawberries occur here naturally, and quickly spread each spring.  I will eventually weed these out, even though they are good plants for wildlife.

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Because perennials often shine for a few weeks and then take a background role, or even go dormant for a few months, a gardener can eventually design a garden that changes every few weeks, but still has interest over a very long season, by using perennials thoughtfully.

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Japanese painted fern, Italian Arum and creeping Jenny repeat in this bed near the arrangement of pots.  The color scheme is basically the same (at the moment) in both this bed and the grouping of pots.

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Another way to create unity is to choose pots of the same or similar material, color and design.  Perhaps they are the same color, but varying sizes.

You may own thirty pots, but if they are all in the same limited color palette, there is unity.  Some designers will use a set of identical pots, evenly spaced, to create repetition along a porch, path, deck, or balcony.    This is a very formal approach, and would probably look best with the same rather formal planting in each pot.

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I favor blue glazed pots. This one held a lavender all winter, which is still a bit scraggly before its new growth comes on.  A native violet grows here instead of a hybrid Viola, but the color scheme remains the same.

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Combinations of colors also creates unity.  The plants themselves may be different, but if you use the same colors again and again whether in a group of pots, or throughout the garden as a whole, the eye perceives harmony and consistency:  unity.

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Annual Alyssum covers the soil beneath the Clematis.

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Whether we are making gardens, paintings, food, poetry or music, setting ourselves some parameters allows for creativity and expression within those self-imposed boundaries.  It may actually guide us into being more creative.

By removing some options prima facie, we are left to improvise with more focus among those choices we have left.  What we create will perhaps be more pleasing, more interesting, and perhaps even more beautiful than if we took a laissez-faire, scattershot approach to design.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Six On Saturday: Blue

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There are only so many flowers that appear in shades of blue.

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Vinca minor with a daffodil

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Pink, white, red, orange, yellow, cream, purple and even green flowers crop up in genus after genus.  But blue flowers are a bit harder to come by.

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Muscari

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I love their cool, serene petals.

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Viola

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Blue flowers look good with every shade of green foliage.  They also make an interesting foil for flowers of warmer tones, nearby.

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Spring is the best time of year to find flowers of blue,

and I found six, small beauties, to share with you.

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Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’

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Woodland Gnome 2019
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Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

Violas For Winter Blooms

October 4 shopping 016Violas are finally here, ready to plant in our pots and beds to enjoy all winter.  Even as we watch weather reports of 20+ inches of snow falling in early winter storm Atlas over six states in the upper mid-west of the US, I’m planning our winter flower garden.

Violas, a huge genus of between 500 and 600 species, love cool weather.  The perennial Viola odorata is a naturalized wildflower in our garden.   These small, edible flowers begin blooming in early spring and continue until the weather warms.  These are different from the Viola cultivars showing up in garden centers now.

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Violas purchased in a six pack cost less than fifty cents per plant. An excellent invest in winter color!

Sometimes called pansies, Viola cultivars bring welcome color to winter days.  Pansies are the large flowered members of this beautiful group of winter bedding plant.  Violas, the smaller flowered selections; and Panolas, new in-between hybrids; are somewhat tougher and more cold hardy.  While pansies may take a break during the coldest weeks of winter, Panolas and Violas, sometimes known as “Johnny Jump-Ups,” keep blooming all winter long in Zone 7.

Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

Violas in late March with Heuchera, Daffodils, and Dianthus.

It is possible to have flowers blooming 365 days each year by planting Violas in autumn.  They make for beautiful combinations in pots, planted with Heuchera, ferns, kales and cabbages, shrubs, mosses, and late flowering perennials.  Underplant the Violas with various spring flowering bulbs, and the show continues through late winter and into early summer with flowers coming and going continuously.

Violas can also be used as edging around flower beds and borders.  They keep the bed alive and attractive throughout the fall and winter.  They fill in nicely around spring bulbs, and keep the bed interesting after the bulbs fade.

Panolas are a fairly new hybrid,.  They combine the hardiness of the smaller Violas with the larger face and brighter colors of true Pansies.  These are some favorites with ruffled petals.

Panolas are a fairly new hybrid,. They combine the hardiness of the smaller Violas with the larger face and brighter colors of true pansies. These are some favorites with ruffled petals.

Violas are an excellent investment.  Purchased now in six-packs, they can be had for less than fifty cents per plant.  They are easy to grow, spread to cover a large area, and can be counted on for non-stop color well into May.  The only thing that stops Violas is summer heat.

A seedling Viola, growing from a seed dropped in early spring.

A seedling Viola, growing from a seed dropped in early spring.

Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari.  Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari. Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

Sun loving in winter, the life of a Viola plant can be extended by moving it into the shade in late April or early May.  I frequently move mine out of featured pots and into shaded beds in late spring.  Often they drop seeds, and new plants appear over the summer.  Some of these survive the summer heat; others give up in July or August.  In more northern areas Violas can live happily all summer long.  Many species and cultivars are perennial.

Violas border a bed with Iris, Heuchera, Columbine

Violas border a bed with Iris, Heuchera, Columbine, Daffodils, Rosemary, and Azalea.

Plant Violas now in rich potting mix or amended garden soil.  They grow equally well in pots or in the ground so long as they have sunshine and steady moisture.  They are heavy feeders to maintain their continuous bloom.  Sprinkle Osmocote over the planting.  If planting in the ground, work in compost and Plant Tone as you plant, or topdress the planting with Osmocote.  I also add a pea gravel mulch both to hold in moisture and keep the plants clean in the rain.  Pea gravel will also to slow down the squirrels who love to dig in my pots.March 25-28 013

Deer and rabbits will graze unprotected Violas.  If you have hungry deer as we do, use Plant Skydd or another product to protect them.  You might also plant garlic, chives, or onions with them, sprinkle the planting with human hair, or use another deterrent such as moth balls.  In pots, near the house or on a deck, the deer are much less likely to find them.  If voles are a problem in your beds, Daffodil bulbs will offer some protection as their roots are poisonous.

Homestead Garden Center has a single well grown plant in a 4" pot for only a dollar.

Homestead Garden Center has a single well grown plant in a 4″ pot for only a dollar.

Joel Patton and his family share our love of Violas.  It may be Joel’s favorite flower, and he plants more varieties each season than anyone else in the area.  He and his family grow between 40 and 50 different varieties of pansy, Panola, and Viola each year, in almost any color you can imagine.  The plants are grown organically, without harmful chemicals of any sort, and are cared for lovingly until adopted by the customer.  Their plants are available in six packs, 4” pots, three to a 6” pot, and already planted into containers with a mix other plants.

Panolas in late March

Panolas in late March

We are never tempted to buy them early at a big box store.  Homestead Garden Center keeps them protected until it is time to set them outside in the fall.  Planted too early, the heat will get them.  It is best to wait until October or even November to plant them out.October 4 shopping 014

If you have never grown Violas, please give them a try.  Although pansies are common and easy to find, the smaller Viola species give a much better show over the season.  Although the flower is smaller, there are generally more blooming at any given time on a single plant.  They stand up better in freezing weather, and also last a few weeks longer in the spring than pansies will.

During winter, when nature’s palette has faded to shades of brown and grey, Violas give that sparkle of bright color we all crave.  Their vivid blooms brighten the coldest winter day, and remind us it is always spring, somewhere.

A display at Homestead Garden Center.

A display at Homestead Garden Center.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

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