An ongoing series of container recipes

Story and Photos by Barbara Wise

If one planter creates impact, add a few more and you create an explosion. When a commercial area wants to direct your path, create a barrier, or distract attention they will often utilize the calming beauty of a garden planter. Over the years research has continued to confirm the importance of plants in both our home and work environments. The benefits of plants are more than just visual – plants lower stress, reduce crime, and even help us focus. 

Big cities have installed beautiful “micro-gardenscapes” and often have the budget for massive quantities of hanging baskets and planters. But smaller cities – such as Helena, Alabama, with a population a little over 16,000 – are using neighborhood and community efforts for beautification projects, strategically placing colorfully planted groups of planters to slow down the traffic that would typically buzz through their tiny towns. When folks slow down, they’ll often see places they want to stop, which just might bring more businesses to their community. While you are thinking of ways to encourage your hometown or workplace to start placing planters, here are two designs that will be easy to maintain when you get the thumbs-up. 

For shady areas, try a combination (top photo) of Croton, Begonia, Swedish ivy (Plectranthus spp.), and Alternanthera. These plants thrive in the shade but can tolerate a few hours of sunlight. This is a no-fuss combination that leaves very little flower debris and requires minimal maintenance due to the drought-tolerant plants. Use high-quality potting mix that contains moisture-retaining ingredients such as coir, peat, or moisture-control polymers.

In full sun areas where sunshine, traffic, and hot pavement can dry out a planter before it’s time for a Hobbit’s second breakfast, large planters that hold a lot of soil are a must. Stay away from materials such as metal and dark clay that absorb heat, which can damage root systems. 

In this grouping, planters hold Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’, which is surprisingly drought tolerant, plus Kimberley Queen fern (Nephrolepis obliterata), Whopper series begonia, and creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia). Creeping Jenny is a good indicator plant; when it starts wilting, water deeply to saturate the soil.

Now take your city councilman or boss to lunch, show them this article, and tell them it’s time to start making it a little healthier and a lot more welcoming.

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