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Gardener corrals plants into themed container combos

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, April 13, 2013, at 7:34 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, April 13, 2013, at 7:41 a.m.

What floats the connoisseur’s boat?

I always have my own favorite new plants, but I also love to see which ones jump out at other gardeners. Master gardener Floanna Crowley gave me her lists after two Botanica lectures on recent introductions:

Lemon Slice calibrachoa

Angel Face Blue angelonia

Super Cal Velvet petchoa (petunia-calibrachoa cross)

Blanket Violet petunia

Arizona Sunset gaillardia

Blushing Princess lobularia (alyssum)

Lanai Twister Pink verbena

He hasn’t done it for years, but Ron Marcum of Dutch’s Greenhouse decided to name his container gardens this year.

The names come to him in the night, and he can’t sleep until he’s written them down.

Loads of Lemons (LOL).

Midnight at the Oasis.

Showstopper Kopper.

Big Red Barnyard.

Flamingo Island.

Like a Tornado.

That last one seemed particularly appropriate earlier this week as the first rumblings of tornado conditions swirled and it started to really feel like spring.

Of course, that all crumbled in ice Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. But Marcum’s annual lunchtime lecture at Botanica, where he talks about hot new plants and his container combinations, went on as scheduled Wednesday.

Everybody was ready for spring. People have already been snatching up new annuals at garden centers, even when the weather this week showed that it’s too early to put them outside.

Marcum is wound tighter than a tornado this time of year. When you see the new offerings in nurseries for yourself, it’s easy to understand where he gets his inspiration – and his obsession.

Lemon Slice calibrachoa. Blue My Mind evolvulus. Sparks Will Fly begonia. Chocolate Covered Cherry coleus. Blue a Fuse petunia.

Overwhelmed by the endless array of new plants, he probably finds that corralling some of them into themed pots somehow tames them. Plus it adds to the fun.

How about these riffs that have come out of Marcum’s brain and been translated into container gardens?

• Big Red Barnyard: hens and chicks, Red Rooster carex ornamental grass, chicken gizzard plant (iresine), Harvest Red trailing snapdragon, Big Red Judy coleus, red-veined sorrel, Aztec Dark Red verbena, Mediterranean XP Dark Red trailing vinca, and a couple of edibles: a Tumbler cherry tomato to tumble out the back, and pineapple sage, which has a red flower and attracts hummingbirds.

• Midnight at the Oasis (is there another song more evocative of summer?): black elephant ear, Blackberry vinca, Black Pearl ornamental pepper, Illusion Midnight Lace sweet potato vine, black pansies.

• Cheery Chocolate: Chocolate Covered Cherry coleus, Chocolate Ball sedum, chocolate mint, MiniFamouns Double Magenta calibrachoa, Cherry Bon Bon begonia.

• Strawberry Fields Forever: Strawberry Fields gomphrena, Tarpan ornamental strawberry (which also produces edible fruit), Strawberry Parfait dianthus, Strawberry trailing vinca, strawberry scented geranium.

• Lime Sublime: Bearss lime tree, Key Lime heuchera, lime sweet potato vine, lime scented geranium, Sophistica Lime Bicolor petunia.

• Under the Sea: Coral Reef sedum, orange and gold goldfish houseplants, squid plant (scilla), Waterfall Blue lobelia, Noverna Deep Blue primula.

After one of his co-workers kept singing Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” around the greenhouse, Marcum couldn’t get it out of his head. Then all these plants named Twister This and Twister That swirled around him.

Soon he was creating Like a Tornado, a pot filled with Lanai Twister Pink verbena – a pink and white baby blanket of a plant that was hot last year and still draws oohs and aahs this year – Big Twister juncus grass and Twisted Velvet coleus, along with a tornado that Marcum made out of metal.

“I can’t sleep at night,” Marcum reiterated.

Between his talk this week and one by Dan Parcel of Kaw Valley Greenhouses at Botanica last week, I think he has plenty of company.

I always have to find “my” calibrachoa for the year, and this year it could be Lemon Slice. This Million-Bells-type little petunia is “staggeringly good,” Parcel said. It is cheerily striped yellow and white and, as with other calibrachoas, should be planted only in a pot, not in the ground.

The MiniFamous Double Rose Chai is another contender – a double cream-colored flower edged and veined in rose.

One thing I have to remind myself of as I go overboard on annuals is my goal of planting things that attract bees and butterflies. Perennials are often the choice for those flowers, and they can be planted now without worrying about freezes. Among the annuals, lantana is one that fits the butterfly bill, and there are shorter varieties this year (Little Lucky).

I also need to remember herbs. They’re the easiest plants to grow, and when they go to flower, they often attract insects. Marcum mentioned borage as a plant for bees, and he said there’s a new variety this year, Bianca, that has a white rather than a blue flower.

As you shop at garden centers this spring, you’ll also continue to see expanded selections of succulents, grafted tomatoes and container veggies.

Marcum thinks that magenta is the up-and-coming color. This thrills me, even as I have been snapping up the past couple of years anything orange over my usual favorite pink. This year my orange collection will include Patchwork Cosmic Orange impatiens (it has a marvelous lavender and white flush), orange sunpatiens (impatiens that take more sun), Sparks Will Fly begonia and Keystone Kopper coleus.

These plants may or may not go together in the same pot, though. In going for themes, we still have to be sure to put sun plants with sun plants, shade plants with shade plants, and plants that have similar water needs together.

Orange You Just Thrilled?

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com.

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