One of my favorite parts of gardening is pairing plants and containers to create artsy compositions on my deck and at my front door. I choose flowers and foliage that complement the color or design of the pot, enhancing both. The same concept relates to cut flowers. I have a cupboard filled with vases- or vessels- as a good buddy refers to them. I fill them with flowers from my garden, the grocery store, or florist and try to always have fresh-cut flowers indoors.
Always the “flower snob”, a dear friend brought flowers from a great Pittsburgh florist after I had knee surgery. The bouquet was filled with cool colors- from the enormous blue hydrangeas to hot pink roses. On the color wheel these pinks, blues and purples lie side-by-side, or are “analogous”. Adding more interest was the contrasting mix of floral forms, from large spheres to the spikes of blue veronica and larkspur. While it looked really nice in the simple glass container, I pulled the entire arrangement out of the vase and plunked it into a blue transferware pitcher. This pitcher complements most anything from lilacs to sunflowers, but it perfectly echoed the lovely arrangement and made it distinctly mine!
A standard bit of advice is to head to the nursery, list in hand- specific to your garden, so you don’t return home with a carload of plants and no idea where to place them. BUT, if you’re planning to make broccoli yet you discover the stalks chilling in the produce section are pale and flabby, you must look to an alternative. Be open to plants that inspire and don’t cleave to that list at all costs. Like this pretty thing, found nowhere on my list: I have a terra-cotta pot in my garden that is always anchored by a lime cypress, which I typically surround with high contrast colors. This year a local grower had healthy specimens of Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal™ (Phenomenal lavender). Offered by White Flower Farm at a hefty $21.95 per gallon, this soft gray lavender was loaded with buds and became a new accent for my old pot this year at a reasonable $7.99. I mean, if the broccoli sucks and the asparagus is fresh and crisp…toss the list!
Out went high contrast and I ended up with a monochromatic container of purples and gray. I combined the lavender with Calibrachoa Superbells® ‘Miss Lilac’ (million bells) and lacy Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost®
I’ve never embraced lavender because of its woody growth habit, but this cultivar has won accolades for strong performance from growers worldwide. After spending this season in a pot I will move it to a sunny spot in with the best drainage I can provide, hoping it will make a permanent home in my garden.
Spring has FINALLY arrived and even the most reluctant homeowner will head out to buy a few geraniums or fresh basil for their garden. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” has become a clarion call for farmers. Your local plant growers warrant similar support- with good reason. Growing plants is labor intensive and requires skill- and most local growers aren’t doing it for big money. It is their passion. The choices at big-box stores pale in comparison to what your local nursery offers and their wisdom is indispensable for choosing plants that will thrive once you get them home. Why go local before you head to a big-box store? Where does a plant obsessed Master Gardener go for plants?……
- The selection of plants at big-box stores is skewed to those easy to propagate, cheap to source in quantity and shippable from long distances with little plant loss. That mind-set means you can get a crappy Bradford pear prone to ice damage, a mis-marked rhododendron or a tomato plant in late April on the cheap. A local nursery owner might not even stock Bradford pear (thank you Best Feeds!), will know that the rhodie they’re selling is purple not pink, and would caution you that soil temperatures aren’t warm enough for tomatoes until late May.
- Local nurseries can be tuned into the zeitgeist of their horticultural community. They may have plants that are native and perfect for pollinators and VERY hard to source. Thank you Quality Gardens.
- If you ask for a plant you have a chance that the nursery will order it in for you. Try that at the big box- where one size fits all. Thank you Dan from Michael Brothers Nursery. I could soak in his knowledge for days and he’s never steered me wrong.
- If you live in deer infested areas many local nurseries sell plants that they’ve installed in local gardens and have thrived i.e. they know the palate of the local herd. Thank-you LMS Greenhouse and Nursery. (Sad post-script- I just learned they are closing because they can’t get anyone to work the hard labor of garden maintenance. The H2B Visa program has fizzled away).
- When you walk into a greenhouse whose owner has lovingly selected each and every cultivar of plant, grown them from seed into nice healthy specimens, carefully placed them in a greenhouse and watered, fertilized, cut-back and tended them like their own children, you’ll be planting with the very best head start. Compare that to the rack upon rack of hastily potted annuals shipped to the box store and meant for purchase within 5 minutes or the odds of watering or liberation from their stacked confines can be days or weeks. Pisarcik Greenhouse, pictured above has some of the healthiest, stockiest young plants and one of the most neatly organized greenhouses I’ve ever seen.
- Sometimes you’ll read about new plants and won’t be able to find them. One of Pittsburgh’s rock-star nurseries is Brenckle’s Greenhouse. They always have the latest offerings from growers and the younger generation has taken up the mantle of their parents. Their selection is always amazing- if you read about a flower in a magazine you’ll find it at Brenckle’s.
- Every nursery I’ve mentioned above has staff that knows their plants. For a novice gardener, that expertise is indispensable. We’ve got to support them or they’ll be gone. Our only plant choices will be that suck-y Bradford pear, invasive barberries and flats with barely rooted baby annuals. We can’t let that happen.