Saturday, August 2, 2003

Containers of Excitement

Our gardening contest drew more than 100 entries - here's the best of the lot

By Tim Morehouse
Enquirer contributor

Many avid gardeners dream of an acre (at least) of gardening space where they can create a little paradise. But few of us have that kind of space.

And even if we have large areas that could be devoted to gardening, we simply don't have the time.

Container gardens provide the most versatile way of growing plants. Their sizes and shapes offer considerable variety, and you can place them almost wherever you like. If you lack space on a deck or balcony, you can use hanging containers.

The Enquirer's container-gardening contest drew more than 100 entries, and all were beautiful. But with a container garden, the design makes or breaks the effect. Care is important, and without meticulous plant selection and an attractive combination of colors, the design won't work - at least not in the long run.

Here are the winners:

First place: Sarah Metcalfe, Clifton Heights

[IMAGE] Sarah Metcalfe
(Enquirer photos)
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"I want color on my balcony - and lots of it," Metcalfe says.

She has arranged a series of containers on her perch overlooking the city and planted them with perennials and annuals.

She doesn't take the containers in during the winter, and her annual white nicotiana reseeds itself, returning every year. Even her pansies and both single and double dianthus are blooming, despite the humid, hot summer. She also has orange and white zinnias and periwinkles.

"I try for a cottage-garden effect. I want to feel as if I have an informal, billowing flower border on my balcony."

Snapdragons, daylily "Stella d'Oro" and Boston daisies compete for space. When one plant slows down, another takes over. There are no gaps in the colorful scene from spring to frost.

Second place: Sarah Britt, Mason

[IMAGE] Sarah Britt
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Britt moved here from Memphis a year ago, and she observed her neighbors' gardens and the Tristate's climate before digging into her own plot.

She used a fiberglass container designed to mimic a classical urn.

"They are so much lighter and retain moisture longer than terra-cotta," she says.

Her container receives morning sun, then shade after 2 p.m. Purple millet and one dwarf yellow canna add height.

A dark maroon coleus echoes the lighter shades of the pot, and the gold border of the coleus leaves match the flowers underneath of Spilanthes "Peek-a-Boo." Spilling over the sides are a mixture of the licorice plant in silver, sweet potato "Blackie" and the green-gold shades of lysimachia (creeping jenny).

"My emphasis is on foliage color and texture" Britt says, "and the colors must complement each other."

Third place: Dolores Gulick, Glendale

[IMAGE] Dolores Gulick
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Gulick's large Italian containers are bursting with deep purple petunias highlighted with variegated cream and green coleus, pink begonia obliqua "Maribell" and fire-engine-red fuchsias.

Wall sconces contain Algerian ivy, Swedish ivy and plectranthus.

How does she preserve some of her interesting ivies that are not winter-hardy in our area?

"Oh, they make the trip to Florida with us every winter," Gulick says. "I simply can't easily replace them every spring."

Honorable mention

[IMAGE] Becky Robinson
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• Becky Robinson, Middletown, plants in a copper boiler once used by her grandmother. More than 100 years old, the container served as a watering trough for dairy calves on her father's farm.

Robinson, who has a fashion design degree from the University of Cincinnati, is fascinated with color in the garden.

For her container garden, she chose dark purple heliotrope, sweet potato "Ace of Spades," creeping jenny, a yellow daisy, Supertunia "Sugar Plum," lantana "Morning Glow" and spike. The yellows, purples and blues intermingle to perfection.

"Gardening should bring us peace, give us time to reflect and provide joy as well," Robinson says.

[IMAGE] Sydrah Williams
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• Sydrah Williams, West Chester Township, moved from St. Louis a year ago.

"I wanted flowers while we have the landscaping installed, so I have concentrated on containers for this season," she says.

Large ceramic and terra-cotta pots overflow with Swedish ivy, red geraniums, begonias and a topiary jasmine. The chartreuse leaves of sweet potato vine "Margarita" trail among the pots and add contrasting color.

Container gardening tips

Buy a good container soil mix at garden centers. I prefer Miracle-Gro with fertilizer added.

Use fresh soil mix each year.

When you dump your containers in late fall, scrub them with a bleach and water mixture (1 cup of bleach to a scrub bucket of water) before storing them for the winter.

Check containers every few days for watering. If you go on vacation, ask a neighbor to water.

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