It’s that time of year when both Christina and I need to be prepared for an impromptu container photo shoot. It used to take us totally by surprise when an editor called on short notice and had this wild notion that our pots “were bound to be fabulous” but we are a little more proactive these days in having pots that could quickly be touched up and ready for their magazine close up.
That’s not to say that we are immune to plant emergencies – far from it. I am currently trying to keep over a dozen container grown shrubs looking great for a shoot in a few weeks – and just discovered that the drip hose was no longer dripping. Then there was that bold mango New Guinea impatiens that I thought would look great mingling with the iridescent purple heart (Setcresea) only to discover two very fat slugs snuggled up and snoozing – doubtless with a stomach ache from overeating. My two plants were nothing but shreds with a telltale silvery sheen.
So what are our ‘go to’ plants for a fast makeover? Flowers are unlikely to look established enough when you have a real time crunch so of course we cruise the foliage section of the nurseries; annuals, perennials, indoor plants, shrubs and grasses. I typically need something that looks big NOW – here’s what’s on my shopping list.
Oak leaf croton
Big, bold and colorful – just what I need to replace that New Guinea impatiens. Strokes of red, orange, gold and green will work with many of my color schemes. These are easy to find in a 4″ or gallon size and even the 4″ plant will look grown up and ready for action.
Still in the indoor plant section these are a great choice if you need to rescue a shade pot. Typically some variation of red, white and green the large heart shaped leaves don’t look like an afterthought but rather the inspiration for the whole design.
One last tropical-esqu option, this bold striped dracaena is stunning in a shade container and thrives where little esle seems to. When your key plant keels over and dies, this will save the day. Again it is usually available in 4″ or 6″
Coleus can be relied on for a strong blast of color but it can be hard to find a good looking one later in the season. They are often pot bound by this point and whereas they will quickly recover once they are in your container, when time is of the essence, tomorrow is just too late!
I have found that the look-alike beefsteak plant (Perilla ‘Magilla’) is a great alternative. I can usually find it in both 4″ and 6″ sizes and it always seems to be well branched, full and healthy. I’ve only used it in shade designs but may see just how sun tolerant it is this year.
Fat rosettes of Echeveria and Aeonium are perfect for gap filling and come in black, blue, lilac, green and multi-colored varieties so you’re bound to find something that works. It always surprises me how small the roots are for even a large plant but that works in our favor when you’re trying to squish something that looks ‘big’ into a small space.
Lots of color options here too and they may be just what you need to rescue a sun container with a bald spot.
Bugbane (Brunnera varieties)
I especially like Hadspen Cream and Jack Frost but whichever you choose the large leaves will quickly disguise any shortcomings in a shade pot. These are my current favorite perennial for summer shade containers
If your trailer has stopped trailing and you need a replacement fast don’t bother with the annuals – go straight to the groundcover section. Periwinkle (Vinca) is usually available nice and long and can be either variegated or plain green. Beach strawberry (Fragaria) is another great option with baby plants hanging off long threadlike stems that tumble over the edge of a container.
Of course there are many more; coral bells (Heuchera), dwarf conifers, fluffy grasses, dwarf barberries, variegated abelia have all made it into my pots at one time or another. In fact I’ll usually shop my garden first – and then hit the nurseries.
What do you do in a plant emergency?
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