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Sam's colorful container garden

Yesterday afternoon, Sam Harris of Sam Harris Designs came to the nursery to do a workshop on container gardening. It was really fun to listen to him and watch as he created the most amazing “garden” in the giant urn that has become one of the focal points in the Viette Garden Center.

Sam combines perennials like this bright pink ice plant, Sedum 'Angelina', daylilies, and even a colorful Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold' with annuals.

Sam combines perennials like this bright pink ice plant, Sedum 'Angelina', Salvia, daylilies, and even a colorful Caryopteris 'Hint of Gold' with pink petunias and 'Diamond Frost' Euphorbia.

It’s not just that he created an incredible, show-stopping masterpiece, it’s how he went about doing it and what he put in it! I was astonished that about 60-70% of the plants he used were perennials. I have never really thought about putting perennials in my containers but then I really just have small hanging baskets off my deck.

Sam prefers to design giant container gardens in great big pots or huge cement urns like the one in our garden center. “If I’m going to create a container garden, I want it to be seen – not just close up but I want it to WOW people from a distance!” And that’s what he does. Sam has designed beautiful gardens and containers for many businesses as well as both private and public homes including the Gillette Garden at the Executive Mansion in Richmond.

Good soil prep and good drainage are key to a successful container garden.

Good soil prep and good drainage are key to a successful container garden.

The secret to a successful container garden, according to Sam, is good soil preparation. For the planting medium, he prefers to use a mixture of pine fines (finely ground pine bark) and a quality potting mix like Scotts Miracle-Gro Potting Mix, Espoma Organic Potting Mix, or ASB Greenworld Container Mix. After planting, he always gives the plants a shot of Miracle-Gro Quick Start to give them a boost and to prevent transplant shock.

Perhaps just as important as a good soil mix is the presence of a drain hole in the container. Nothing kills (most) plants quicker than waterlogged soil! Before filling your container, place a piece of nylon window screening or landscape fabric over the drain hole. This keeps it from becoming clogged with soil. Sam actually likes to use a plastic pasta strainer or even a sink strainer over the drain hole in his containers. On top of this he recommends layering some lava rocks and then some pine bark nuggets to provide additional drainage. After this, fill your container with your potting mix and you’re ready to roll.

Now comes the fun part – choosing the plants!

With an artful eye, Sam placed perennials and annuals in the urn, dividing some of the low-growing sedums into pieces and tucking them in around the edges.

With an artful eye, Sam placed perennials and annuals into the urn, dividing some of the low-growing sedums into pieces and tucking them in around the edges.

As I mentioned, Sam bustled around our garden center benches picking up various perennials; Achillea, Coreopsis, Dianthus, daylilies, Sedum, Leucanthemum, Salvia, and more. He explained that some perennials like the daylilies make a wonderful show for a while but once they finish blooming, “I just pop them out and stick them in one of my perennial gardens and then next year, it will bloom in the garden and I still have my investment – just in a different place. Sometimes I even sink the pot and all in my urn and then switching out the plants is even easier.” In place of the plants he pulls out, he sticks in a new, fresh perennial or annual – whatever strikes his fancy at the time!

The end result

The beautiful container garden will grow over the next several weeks, becoming fuller and spilling over the edges.

What a great idea – recycling plants from a container garden to the perennial garden. This can be done with all the perennials in the container at the end of the season! Some of the smaller perennials like the Dianthus and the colorful ground-hugging Sedum ‘Angelina’ will provide color and texture all season long with their beautiful foliage and will easily overwinter in the urn.

For season-long bloom, Sam tucked in various annuals here and there; some colorful petunias, Verbena, Scaevola, Lantana, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ and others.

The whole effect was spectacular and will only become more amazing as time goes on. I can’t wait to see how it changes over the next few weeks!

I’ll keep you posted!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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