i hope all of you live in some protected little valley or dale where the sun has been shining and the weather warm. If not, you are probably thinking the same thing I am – will the flowers ever grow this spring? With all the cold and rain, I am finding that almost everything is behind because the soil hasn’t warmed enough.

All I can say is “containers, containers, containers.”

I have turned my kitchen into a gardening and potting shed into which my poor husband hesitates to venture until he is starving. I usually plant containers on bright sunny days on my deck where the mess can be easily swept away. But this year, what few sunny warm days there have been I have dedicated to garden cleanup. Hence, container planting has been moved inside. But it is still fun, as is the shopping for the plants to go into those containers.

I had noticed over the past few years that there were new offerings popping up here and there but this year the choices are wonderful, exuberant and just plain fun. If you haven’t ventured past the big box stores to the nurseries, you really should. I have found some wonderful new plants out there or, in many cases, new twists on old standbys.

Along came Goldilocks

If you take note of the professionally designed containers being sold, you will see plants that you can’t readily identify. These are not geraniums or lobelia or alyssum. In many cases, the plants that are unfamiliar to you are perennials in very small pots. The Proven Winners line and its adjunct Proven Selections (which are bred for certain areas of the country) are producing such a wide variety it is hard to choose.

Many of those little pots contain things like a Creeping Jenny called Goldilocks. This is a perennial good to zone 3, which means it will do well here in Maine. It has little leaves that glow in the dark, yellow green that has been appearing for several years, and it looks great in containers. The thing with these plants is that although they are a bit more expensive than the normal 4-inch potted plant, usually about $1 more, you can take the containers apart at Labor Day and put the plants in the ground. Next spring, bingo, a new garden plant. However, take note about some of them, including Creeping Jenny. I had one greenhouse tell me that that the staff had to take a weed-wacker to it because it grew so well in the ground.

I purchased a lamium called Hermann’s Pride last year and bought twice as many this year when I saw it. It is a ground cover in the same family as dead nettle and beacon silver, and is good to zone 5 as a perennial. It did extremely well last year in containers that were in deep shade as well as full sun and transferred to the garden quite nicely. It makes a lovely ground cover, just like dead nettle, but will also winter over in pots in the house. It is a lovely shade of green with white variegations and softens the edges of a container very nicely. Both of these plants are Proven Selections.

Beguiling begonias

Those of you who like more color than is normally seen in containers would be happy with the new little heucheras, or coral bells, that are being sold as container plants. I found one called ‘Dolce Creme Brulee’ that has leaves ranging from yellows, to pinks, to corals to greens. A second, called ‘Color Dream,’ is deep green but with white variegation so extensive it looks like poorly applied frosting and each leaf is edged in pink. If these are planted in fairly large containers for the summer, they will gain enough size to be transplanted in the fall and make a nice garden addition next spring instead of going to the compost pile. Not bad for an extra dollar.

The development in color and leaf shape that has been implemented for annuals is also extensive. Begonias now come in so many wonderful colors and many of them no longer require so much shade, that adding them to baskets and containers is just required. I planted about five Elatior begonias in an antique steel basket last year for my front porch.

Now this porch gets no sunlight at all. And they bloomed and grew and were very happy all summer. I brought the entire basket into the house for winter, and they bloomed through March. I cut them back at that time, and they are ready to rejoin the garden this spring. Begonias are perennial in warmer climates, so they can be wintered over if they get enough light. A few places have even begun selling Rex begonias as container plants. You will pay dearly for them but you can repot them for the house, and they will be very happy especially in filtered light. I have had one for 20 years that just keeps going.

So, although I will never part with my geraniums, which also bloom all winter, I have added several of these new and fun hybridizers’ fantasies. But don’t forget to check out the usuals because they have also been improved and hybridized.

Snapdragons are a wonderful example. They come in trailing and upright miniatures and in colors that are astoundingly beautiful. I got some called ‘Crocodile Blush’ that are a cream with lots of soft pink and some pale green that will look great tucked into those little holes left between the major plants in the containers. If you let snaps bloom in the house in the containers until about Christmas and then cut them way back, they will be ready to bloom again in May.

So whether you choose to pull containers apart and plant individual specimens or keep them whole and winter them over, at least try a few of these new introductions. You might end up turning your kitchen into a potting shed, the plants are worth it.

Until next time, try to keep your feet dry and hope for warmth and sunshine, watch for the hummers and hunt the slugs because they are here, and stop long enough to look up and appreciate the bright green of the new leaves that herald the “coming of the green.”

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 20 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. E-mail her at [email protected]

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