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A LOT OF PEOPLE (myself included) give up, somewhat, on window boxes and outdoor containers by the time November rolls around. Others keep going… like the owners of the swell Manhattan townhouse, above, who’ve created an arresting display with gourds and berries.

My go-to place for inspiration in all seasons, including fall and winter, is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, above (that’s a side view of the Brooklyn Museum as seen from inside the garden), where crews were busy on Sunday repairing Sandy damage. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have been too extensive there.

Some go all out in autumn with mums. Usually that’s not particularly interesting, but I like the front yard planting, above, where the lavender mums are interspersed symmetrically with juniper, a yellow grass, and a deep purple leafed thing whose name is not springing to mind.

Sweet potato and coleus hang in through Thanksgiving, at least, the chartreuse of the always-satisfying sweet potato vine a vivid contrast against the brownstone.

A red annual grass is flourishing now in the concrete window boxes of a fine house on St. Marks Avenue in Prospect Heights. Is there anything being built today that matches the elegance of that hefty iron stoop railing and brownstone window ledges? No, there’s not!

IMG_0203I HAVEN’T BEEN DOING AS MUCH WITH CONTAINERS this season, as I’m getting enough satisfaction from how my perennial beds are coming along in this, their second year. But sometimes I can’t resist potting up a few things for my front deck.

Pots allow you to fit many different shapes and textures into a small space, and when I see something unusual, like the ruffly upright Prince Rupert Geranium (lemon-scented!) at one of the area nurseries I’ve been avoiding this year, for fear of overspending on non-essentials, sometimes I just have to go for it.


In this one 15″ diameter pot, below, are:

  • Scented geranium ‘Prince Rupert,’ aromatic and ornamental. The label says it can be trained as a standard. Deer-resistant (though they wouldn’t dare come up on my decks… or would they?)
  • ‘Glennis’ coleus, more delicately colored than some of the more common coleus. Though I do love coleus in all its forms, and the deer don’t.
  • Good old sweet potato vine, ‘Bright Ideas Lime’
  • Juncus inflexus ‘Blue Arrows.’ As the name implies, an upright, blue, ornamental rush.
  • There’s also an elephant ear bulb in the middle, planted two months ago, starting to push its way up through the soil.

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Yay for containers! That’s all.

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TIME FOR A MID-SEASON APPRAISAL of annuals.

Some are disappointing. I won’t show pictures of them. You don’t need to see ‘Durango’ yellow marigolds that for some mysterious reason are not thriving, despite sun and even some Miracle-Gro, or common ‘Hawaii Blue’ ageratum turning all brown at the centers (why?).

In other years, I might not bother much with annuals, but because this is my first season gardening here in East Hampton, and my perennials are still babies, I wanted some additional spots of color. And of course, I always do annuals in containers.

There are quite a few successful, satisfying plants, both in the beds and in pots. The winners are pictured here.

To all a happy 4th!

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‘Bada Boom’ white begonias, ‘New Look’ dusty miller, and caladiums, thriving in shade.

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Chartreuse coleus? Can’t find the label, but its color really pops in the beds.

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Celosia ‘Fresh Look’ – my favorite new annual. I may never go without its bushy gold plumes again.

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‘Sweet Caroline’ green/yellow Ipomoea batatas — a type of sweet potato vine. More commonly used in hanging baskets, but I’ve planted it in a bed near the front door.

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Dark rose ‘Angel Mist’ angelonia, caladium tubers, dusty miller, and a supermarket oxalis left over from St. Patricks Day, flowering white in a pot on my front deck.

Celoisa 'Fresh Look Gold'

MY NEW PLANTING BEDS – the ones at the front of my property, that started out last fall as piles of dead oak leaves, supplemented by topsoil and compost – are now almost as green as they are brown, with lots of perennials transplanted from upstate, a few purchases, and donations from friends. Those perennials –  salvia, astilbe, catmint, ladies mantle, ligularia, and irises — aren’t blooming yet, and probably won’t put on much of a show this year. Hence all the green. Foliage, but no flowers.

I wanted flowers and I wanted them now. What to do? Hmm, I mused…if only there was a way to get flowers right away. Then it hit me: there is! Annuals!!!

Marigold 'Sweet Cream'

It might seem self-evident to you, but I had never done much with annuals, except window boxes and containers. Putting annuals in the ground always seemed like cheating. I was a perennials snob. Annuals are common. And stiff. The stuff of Victorian ‘bedding schemes.’

But this year, I didn’t care. So – having lit upon this annuals notion, I took myself to Agway in Bridgehampton, where the flats are $16 (that passes for cheap here in the Humptons), and I bought myself a half-dozen flats of some rather pedestrian annuals, sticking to a refined palette of white, yellow, and purple. Of course, they had to be deer-resistant and shade tolerant, except for some marigolds for the sunniest area (at least it was sunny before the oak trees leafed out this week).

Dusty Miller 'Silverdust'

Here’s what I got:

Begonia Bada Boom – bronze foliage, white flowers
Ageratum Hawaii Blue – commonest of the common, but I’ll give them a chance
Celosia Fresh Look Gold – I’m excited about these – chartreuse foliage, yellow plumes, and they grow tall
Marigold Sweet Cream - big off-white flowers
Marigold Durango Yellow
Dusty Miller Silverdust – these may be perennials here

And I couldn’t resist some Ipomoea – sweet potato vine. Remember when these became popular about 10 years back? There were just a couple of types, and they were always so satisfying as ‘spillers’ in pots and window boxes. The other day, I saw many variations, all from Proven Winners, from bronze to purple to yellowish green, with leaves of different shapes. I bought several, and put them in the beds as groundcovers, which I’ve never tried.

Ageratum 'Hawaii Blue'

As I was planting this morning, I tried to weave the little cell-pack annuals in and out naturalistically, rather than lining them up in rows like some, you know, Victorian bedding scheme.

Photos to follow when they fill out a little. Oh – I’ll need more. I ran a bit short. Since my Agway excursion, I checked out Wittendale’s in East Hampton which, though more expensive ($20/flat), has a more interesting, extensive selection. Can’t wait!

Are you doing annuals this year?

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WHO NEEDS SIGNAGE when you have overflowing window boxes like these? They literally stop traffic. I pass them almost daily, gracing the front of Della Femina, a restaurant in East Hampton, and more than once I’ve pulled over for a closer look.

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There are three of them on the brick storefront. They are massive — each several feet long and at least a foot deep –  and they are stuffed.

Here’s what’s in them, far as I can make out:

  • nasturtiums
  • New Zealand impatiens
  • English ivy
  • sweet potato vine
  • purple lantana
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    The keys to maintaining boxes like these: food and water. Dense container plantings need frequent feeding and copious water – at least once a day, twice in very hot weather.

    Thus inspired, I stopped at a local nursery to buy some sun-loving annuals for the narrow patch of brightness along the back wall of my house. They look pretty insignificant right now — pathetic, really — but I promise that when they fill out, you’ll see pics.

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