Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

bigger than a bread box (barely)

Do you fear the tropical plant? If your answer is yes I won't hold it against you. You're probably just uninformed. The fact is that LOTS of our easiest, most popular garden annuals are tropical plants. In their native habitats they live for years, but since they're not frost-hardy, they work as annuals in our temperate gardens.

Coleus? Impatiens? Caladium? All tropicals. You've been growing them for years and never even knew...

There are also plenty of tropical plants we use as houseplants.

That's right. Tropicals.

New York City in summer offers a pretty close approximation of the tropics: hot and humid. So why not take advantage of that, and use a combination of tropicals to plant a container garden? By incorporating traditional houseplants into your outdoor display you do yourself several favors:

1) You'll be expanding your plant palette and insuring that YOUR window box doesn't look like everybody else's.
2) You'll be able to start out with bigger, beefier plants than you would if you were drawing only from traditional annuals. It's a lot easier and less expensive to find a 3 foot tall dracaena to use as a centerpiece than it is to buy a 3 foot tall fuchsia standard.
3) You can bring your favorite plants indoors before frost hits and enjoy them all winter long.

I do this every year for a client who has three planter boxes on a second floor balcony. Each box is 4 feet long, 1 foot wide, and 1 foot deep. The location gets NO direct sun, so I choose shade plants that deliver most of their color via foliage, not flowers. I've found the mini-impatiens (in this case Firefly Blush Pink) bloom better in low light than many other impatiens.

The boxes look full right from the start and all sorts of surprises emerge over the growing season. Did you notice the rex begonia vine in the background?

No? You will when it's 15 feet of glorious purple, silver, and green foliage crawling all over the railing.

We can't all get away someplace lush and tropical for vacation, but if you've got a few containers, you can create a vacation landscape in your own back yard.


WiseAcre said...

I'm not a flower box kind of guy but you've given me some good ideas. When asked I usually tell people they're on their own and should ask at the local nursery. Now I just might make up some unusual planters.

Morels are out

Ellen Zachos said...

Thanks Wiseacre. Now, I know you're not going to try the Dryad's Saddle, but certainly you'll sample the morels...?

Rosemary said...

Hi Ellen,

Could you please identify the little red grass-like plant in your lovely window box?

Ellen Zachos said...

Sure, Rosemary. The red-leaved plant is Dracaena marginata. It's a very easy-to-find, easy-to-grow houseplant. Indoors it grows best in bright indirect light; outdoors it grows best in shade.

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