Choosing and Combining Plants
Think of a container garden as a living flower (and foliage) arrangement with roots! What look do you desire? Are you interested in something harmonious, dramatic or soothing? For a long period of enjoyment, keep the plants looking attractive by making sure the roots are healthy, and the foliage receives the light it needs to make its own food. Just one kind of plant in a container is the simplest to maintain. Plants that thrive in like soil, watering, and light conditions make successful combinations. When combining plants, size, texture, proportion, color, setting, and lighting all play a role.
As you narrow your list of plants for a container, check the moisture, soil and light requirements of each one. Different plants are adapted to the diverse environments of our planet. Plants adapted to dry climates usually have thick, waxy, or hairy leaves to hold moisture. The roots of these plants often like to dry out between watering. Succulents like jade plant, Christmas cactus or hens and chicks are examples. Succulents suffer root rot and die if the soil stays too moist or is not allowed to dry somewhat between waterings. Plants native to moist areas need steady, even moisture. To combine plants that do not have similar needs, see double potting.
Often the plant label lists environmental requirements. Many books and websites can be searched with the specific name of a plant you are interested in. Scientific names usually yield better results than common names. If you do not know the scientific name, you can sometimes find it by looking for information on the common name first. When you find the scientific name, use it to determine the specific plant needs.
Balancing the watering with the pot size, type of container, soil types, and how large the plants are likely to grow in one season can be an art. It is fun and interesting, and unlike people, plants can be replaced, so do not be afraid to experiment. If plants fail, pull them out and replace them. Even people with a "green thumb" experience a plant dying from time to time. Just enjoy the aromatic and visual pleasures of plants and learn from your inevitable mistakes.
Winning container combinations often use three types of plant shapes:
- Tall plants - Thrillers
- Round, mounding plants - Fillers
- Plant that hangs over the side - Spillers
These overall plant shapes vary in texture, size, shape, and color to create an endless variety of combinations.
Experiment by putting different sizes, shapes and textures of leaves side by side. Texture usually refers to the overall size of the leaves so textural sizes are relative to one another. Grasses have narrow, fine textured leaves. Salvias have medium textured leaves. Large Hosta leaves are considered coarse textured. Texture can also refer to the smoothness or roughness on the surface each leaf. Contrasting size and surface textures provide drama when done well. Alternatively, repeating similar leaf sizes and textures may provide a soothing or harmonious look.
When choosing plants, consider the ultimate height of the planting compared to the height of the container. Visually, a pleasing proportion is one-third container to two-thirds plant height. In other words, the plant material may be twice as tall as the visible part of the container.
When featuring the container, the proportion is reversed; the container will be twice the height of the plants. This "rule of thirds" is commonly discussed in the creative arts. Take into account how rapidly the plants will grow, as the proportion will change over time.
Using odd numbers of plants usually works well. With odd numbers, things on either side balance something in the middle. Artistic gardeners often choose odd numbers of plants: (3, 5, 7, 9) to create this symmetrical balance. Sometimes four flowering plants look good with a fifth foliage plant. Experiment with several flowering plants to one interesting foliage plant.