Good morning! I hope everyone is enjoying the wonderful warm weather of true summertime. The toads are spending their days tucked away in cool damp places, the fireflies are lighting up the sultry warm nights and the butterflies are out in riotous numbers in the sunshine. I have tomatoes ripening, the edges of our property are filled with ripe raspberries and blackberries will be arriving soon. The coneflowers, the astilbes and the brown-eyed Susans are blessing us with their color. It is high summer and, if you can’t tell, I couldn’t be happier.

I am trying something new this year. Each season, I recommend some new annuals for containers and offer some advice on new ways to plant them. But this year, I tried a totally new kind of container – but decided to wait until later in the summer to tell you about them, quite truthfully, to see if they worked. They have worked and they are beautiful, but there are some cautions as usual.

The containers, developed by Pamela Crawford, are called Instant Container Gardens and are touted as a container system. They are quite lovely in themselves and will fit in most any decorating theme.

The “new” part is the coco fiber liners that allow side planting along with the top plantings we are all accustomed to. Now let me emphasize, I got the smallest deck railing planters at 24 inches and the smallest single basket planter at 14 inches. The baskets go up to 20-inch doubles and the railing or windowbox planters to 44 inches long. A double means you plant two layers of side plants. A 20-inch double basket holds 21 side plants, 14 top edging plants and three one-gallon centerpiece plants. It would be huge.

I planted them in mid-May and within two weeks they were full and lovely, just as advertised. They have also, for the most part, remained that way. They do make instant gardens and the possibilities are pretty much endless.

To heavy to hang

However, there are a few things to take note of. First, by the time you get all the soil in that is needed and all the plants, these things are heavy. I discovered they are not “hanging” baskets. They are sitting baskets. They are advertised to go on columns, either set into the ground or on your patio. If you get some, get the columns. There isn’t a shepherd’s hook in central Maine that I could find that would hold these things.

The smallest basket is 14 inches across and 7 inches deep. It holds eight plants around the sides, eight top edging plants and three 4.5-inch center plants. That’s a lot of plants. The deck railing planter holds seven side plants, seven for the top edging and two 6-inch or gallon-size plants.

I had assembled all these plants, for seven railing and three basket planters, when a friend dropped by. She just looked and asked if I was going to start selling plants somewhere. The various nursery folks I know and visited just shook their heads. But a new adventure requires courage and, by the way, a big car to get them home.

One really important thing you need to get, if you decide to use these containers, is Crawford’s instruction book. The instructions on getting plants sideways into a planter are really important, but the lists of usable plants for side planting are imperative. Some plants like wax begonias, coleus and petunias do well, while others like million bells and verbena do not. I put a few “Superbells” in the side of one planter and had to replace them.

Obviously, you can put anything you like on the top but her book gives you some really nice combinations to make choosing easier. I also used a planting medium instead of regular potting soil and they are still very heavy. But, on the good side, I don’t have to worry about the wind blowing them anywhere.

You can go to sideplanting.com to find a list of garden centers that sell them; they can be purchased online at kinsmangarden.com. According to the list, they are being sold at Plainview Garden in North Yarmouth. This is a really unique nursery in that it carries many hard-to-find perennials and annuals. So it would be worth the visit even if you don’t get planters.

Now, I do know this isn’t very helpful in the middle of July but I did want to try them out first. And, besides, do you actually need another pair of slippers or a new blender for Christmas? Put some gardening things on that list instead and you can spend January and February reading the book and figuring out what you want to do with them. That’s a lot more fun, anyway.

Another new experience

The other thing I tried this spring is an étagère, a stand that has three built-in planting baskets, one on top of the other. I found it online – it was on my Christmas list. The front of my house faces north, is damp and spends most of the day in shade while the opportunities for annuals are limited. This has worked great to bring both color and height. I planted tuberous begonias, which are very flashy and love the shade, with “Pink Chablis” lamium. Lamium is a ground cover that goes by many names, including dead nettle. You will recognize some of the names like “Beacon Silver” and “Nancy.”

The “Pink Chablis” is a new hybrid which blooms all summer. Along with the pink blooms, you get foliage that is silver/white with green and it lights up in shady places. The lamium is a perennial and I have it planted in many of my gardens. In September, I will take the baskets apart and put the lamium into one of the gardens and repot the begonias for the house. They will produce blooms until Thanksgiving.

When they start to look scrawny, I will cut them back, put them in a shady corner of the greenhouse and water them minimally once a month. In late March when the light is longer and stronger, they should start growing again and will be ready to go outside for Mother’s Day. I will do the same for the dragonwing begonias in some of those deck railing planters.

Sometimes there is a method to my madness, but not always.

Until next time, make some raspberry tarts or fresh salsa from your garden’s abundance, sit outside and watch the fireflies, grab a friend and take a road trip and don’t forget to start on that Christmas list.

Happy gardening!

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 25 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She can be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]

If you are looking for some fun things to do in the near future, check out these gardening events.

July 26: McLaughlin Garden in Paris will present Garden Illuminated from 7 to 9 p.m., with a rain date of Aug. 2. You can see the garden in a whole new light. Beginning at dusk, hundreds of luminaria and tea candle lights will create a spectacular and enchanted garden visit. Music and hors d’oeuvres will round out this evening adventure. For more information or for advance tickets at $10 each, call 743-8820.

Aug. 2: Quilts in the Garden at the Threads Galore Quilt Shop in Rangeley is a fun event for those who love gardening or quilting or both. This unique garden is made even more so with the addition of handmade quilts. The rain date is Aug. 3.


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