Tropical Style

Crazy for Colorful Cones: 5 Container Plantings Beyond the Bowl

Hanging baskets have been a characteristic of British gardens for generations. Usually planted with an array of summer-flowering annuals and half-hardy perennials, they set that additional something into even a small garden.

Traditional hanging baskets were bowl shaped, but we now locate them in a variety shapes and materials, woven from such obscure materials as banana leaf, black sea grass and water hyacinth.

Of all the new contours, I prefer the deep cone. It retains a bigger volume of growing medium compared to the standard bowl, allowing for better root growth and moisture retention, while also being more pleasing to the eye.

I’m blessed to have a top, south-facing wall in my backyard that’s perfectly suited for hanging baskets. Here I’ve set up a row of 3 easy arched brackets to hold indistinguishable planted cones.

Within the previous eight years, I’ve attempted various plantings, both summer and winter, some more successful than others but always dependent on the vagaries of the British weather. From my conventional planting to this year’s easy primary color scheme, there may be something to inspire you to plant your cones.

1. Traditional summer. The British summertime hanging basket traditionally has been planted with a mixture of half-hardy plants — plants which are generally perennials and need frost protection in most areas of Britain — which have been selected from borders and containers.

My take on this traditional design comprised one of the Victorian gardener’s favorite plants, the Zonal geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum). All these are bushy perennial plants, together with zones of maroon or bronzy green in their own leaves, and massive flowers held on strong stems above the leaves. Favorite colors include red, as I used, plus white, pink salmon, magenta and orange.

Filling the middle of this basket, I included a mixture of deep purple and white petunias — perfect in warm, dry summers but a disaster in an ordinary rainy season. To contrast the purple flowers and deep green foliage, gold creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) finished off the planting.

Though it was powerful, I truly felt that more color was needed to bring the conventional style-planting to life. The solution comprised the electrical purple-blue of a trailing verbena (Verbena ‘Lanai Blue Denim’) that wound throughout the remaining part of the planting and contrasted brightly against the creeping Jenny. Trailing verbena is perfect for planting in a combined basket, as it’s a powerful grower and tends not to be dominated by other plants, such as the petunias here.

2. A Busy Lizzie finale. I really like the insistent planting of three equal cones. The almost-rampant growth of these peach-colored Busy Lizzies (Impatiens walleriana) made living ice cream cones, and they need almost no maintenance other than watering and feeding.

I grew these only one year, as 2010 plantings of Busy Lizzie succumbed to some new strain of downy mildew, making them wither and perish. It became so poor that anglers were counseled not to plant them, and now it’s hard to find them available in British nurseries and garden centres.

3. Petunias for sunny summers. I first saw this variety of petunia in a nurseryman’s trade show, in which I had been blessed to be able to see plant introductions before the general public. I adore my cones of Petunia ‘Sophistica Lime Bicolour’ — they have perhaps the most incredible color combination you may get in petunias.

I found them easy to grow from seed, though they can readily be bought as plant plugs or starter plants, and mine soon grew to take their gorgeous blooms of pale lime green splashed with cerise pink.

Another easy-to-grow petunia I have filled my cones with is Petunia ‘Surfinia’. Its blooms are more weather resistant and unbeatable for flower power.

Here I used Petunia ‘Surfinia Sky Blue’, which quickly filled my cones and from the end of summertime trailed down the wall, covering it in violet-purple flowers that faded to a lavender-blue. Surfinias cannot be grown from seed and have to be bought as plants.

4. A confetti of colors. Formerly known as ‘Million Bells’, Calibrachoa has been hailed as the perfect replacement for petunias in containers and baskets, since it will put up with rainy days without its blooms being adversely affected.

That is the first year I have grown it, also it’s loved our summertime mix of wet days and, odd for Britain, high temperatures. I put only one plant to every cone, and they soon filled the baskets with a wonderful mixture of primary-color petunia-like blooms.

5. Effortless winter shade. Winter cones can be trickier in the damp southwest of Britain. In the past I have attempted pansies and violas with mixed success and also the semi-hardy Miracle cyclamen, but can battle with the persistent moist and the colder winters we’ve had in the past couple of years.

One suggestion I’ve learned is to utilize the same moisture-retention granules which you blend in the compost of summertime baskets, the benefit being the granules take up excess moisture once the compost is wet and help prevent waterlogging.

My planting solution here has been using a mixture of some winter-flowering heather, Erica carnea, and tiny blossoms (here I used Stipa tenuissima), all underplanted with purple crocus. It gave shade through the winter with the flowers and foliage of this heather, an excess boost of color once the crocus flowered and the benefit of movement together with the blossoms swaying in the seasonal winds.

Grasses such as Stipa tenuissima can be extremely easy to grow from seed. Sown in the spring, they create supersmall plants for using in winter containers and baskets, and the next year they’re perfect for planting in borders. Make sure you check if the grass you are considering is invasive before putting it in your garden.

In a more compact garden it’s necessary to maintain cohesion in the plan. Sometimes I enjoy my cones to be a dominant characteristic — powerful in color and shape, they can practically become living artwork.

This year, though, I planted containers under my cones to coordinate with the colors of this Calibrachoa in the cones. The planting includes yellow- and – gold-foliaged geraniums and trailing fuchsias with warm orange-red flowers. Trailing under is gold Creeping Jenny to mirror those tracking from the cones above.

More: Get the Hang of Hanging Flower Baskets

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