When I design container gardens nothing is safe! I explore everything from dwarf trees and slow growing shrubs to groundcovers, annuals and even houseplants (although I wait until night temperatures are stable at 55' or above for those). I also include a lot of perennials in my designs; both evergreen and herbaceous types as they lend a sense of maturity and are also a good investment since they can be kept in the container for several years before eventually being transplanted into the garden.
I look for perennials that have great foliage to help establish a framework for summer annuals that won't get into their stride for a few more weeks. I also seek out perennials that have a long bloom time but if I am including them for the flowers I also need to make sure that the leaves won't overpower the container.
Here are some of my favorites.
Thunder and Lightning field scabious (Knautia macedonica 'Thunder and Lightning')
Fun color, pretty flowers, drought tolerant, deer resistant, great foliage – why haven't you used Thunder and Lightning field scabious before?
The distinctive jagged mid-green foliage has a cream margin that really make this perennial stand out from the crowd. Magenta pincushion-type flowers bloom for months and stand tall above the foliage cushion.
We featured this perennial in a combination called Deer Be Damned! in our book Fine Foliage (p10) and we hear it's one of your favorites.
Apricot Sprite hyssop (Agastache aurantiaca 'Apricot Sprite')
This drought tolerant perennial deserves to be used more in your designs. Apricot Sprite has soft orange tubular flowers that are a favorite of hummingbirds while the fragrant grey-green leaves are attractive and tidy. Combine with other drought tolerant plants such as lavender, grasses and succulents for an easy care design. 15" tall
Trailing stonecrops (Sedum)
There are many to choose from but these are my top three. Blaze of Fulda stonecrop has wonderful burgundy rosettes and hot pink flowers while the leaves of October Daphne (Sedum sieboldii) are grey blue,tipped with pink and the late summer flowers are a clear pink. Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre 'Angelina') is a beautiful evergreen golden-yellow succulent with yellow flowers. The foliage is reminiscent in appearance of rosemary. All are beautiful tucked at the edge of pots.
Donkey spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) works well as a trailer in sunny pots. In the rustic teal container above it is elegantly paired with black mondo grass. The pink 'flowers' are usually trimmed away but this image shows just how beautiful they can be as they age.
Taller varieties of spurge work well as fillers in mixed designs. My top three are Ascot Rainbow which has variegated leaves of yellow, green and rose, Ruby Glow in deep purple and Silver Swan which has a pretty teal and white variegation.
Note; The sap is a significant skin irritant so always wear gloves when handling. Some varieties of spurge are invasive in some areas so check with your local County extension office before planting.
Whirling Butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri)
You can base your selection on flower color ( pink or white), foliage color (green, burgundy, striped or speckled), height (from 2' to 5') or hardiness but all will reward you with dancing flowers all summer long. The leaves are dainty enough to be a design element themselves while the prolific flowers make this a reliable thriller for your container or basket.
Named varieties include Passionate Blush (compact plants, pink flowers), Passionate Rainbow (mid-size plant, pink flowers, variegated leaves) So White (pure white flowers on a compact plant) and Whirling Butterflies (taller plants for large pots, white flowers suffused with pink).
Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii)
Use this where a soft fern-like foliage is needed in a sunny pot. Elegant and tall you can rely on this as a thriller and the interest begins with blue flowers in spring and continues until a hard freeze when the leaves turn burnt orange.
This is deer resistant and drought tolerant too!
Tip; if adding this to your landscape be sure to plant it in well drained soil and full sun. Mine never gets watered unless it rains and is thriving! Plant in broad sweeps for the best effect
Heuchera, Tiarella and Heucherella are mainstays in my designs, with varieties available for sun or shade and in many different colors and patterns. Look out for the trailing heucherella though. They can be hard to spot in a display so look for named varieties such as Redstone Falls and Yellowstone Falls. These will spill over the edges of containers for up to 2' and look stunning!
They are also evergreen making these a great choice for year round interest
If you live in the Seattle area come and join one of my Spring Container Workshops this month. Thee are a few spaces left and we have LOTS of fun. Find out more and register here.