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Gardening in Pots

by Janet Eckhoff

I recently read in Fine Gardening magazine that garden design is the slowest of all performing arts. Gardeners must have patience and sometimes wait years to see their work shape into something resembling their original idea. Spring is the time to dream and plan, but patience may be an over rated virtue.

When I return to the Cape after wintering in Florida, in mid April, I am mad to begin gardening. My head is spinning and I'm insane to get my fingers into the soil. Every year I'm just shocked at what passes for spring on the Cape. It's way too early to really do anything beyond more cleanup and leaf mulching. Not what I - or you - have been day dreaming about.

I've been an avid gardener for thirty years, but last year I experienced a revelation. My next door neighbor, Mary, who has a gorgeous garden, invited me to the Yarmouth Garden club. The speaker demonstrated a dozen ways to plant pots in late April and early May, before we dare plant anything in the ground.

These pots deliver instant gratification rather than the longer term joy of creating your garden dream.

They are especially nice because you can plant them a full month before it is safe to put your new annuals in the ground. Here are several ideas that worked for me last spring. These are all very simple and I'm ready to try planting more pots more this year.

I planted two pots with lettuce, mixing varieties of green and red for a contrasting visual impact. I did two pots so that after a couple of weeks I could start harvesting one of the pots and let the other one grow. This year I might do three.

The colors of the lettuce leaves are beautiful. I keep them on the deck outside my kitchen door so they are handy for harvesting, while also offering me a visual pick-me-up. The first lettuce of the season tastes delicious and reminds me that the lovely summer vegetables are coming soon.

For my second pots, I started with an upright hosta, something like Praying Hands or Hosta alute. You want an upright hosta so you can leave enough space to surround it with early blooming perennials.

I surround my hosta with a contrasting annual of white or blue blooms. You could try a creeping white moss Phlox or Senetta, which can be cut back to encourage it to re-bloom. I finish the pot off with something like Vinca which cascades down the side of the pot and can be left all summer.

My final pots I started with small heather plants; one pot with a white heather and the second with a pink. Again, I surrounded the heather with whatever was available at the nursery in April.

My advice for choosing plants that will work is to just go to your favorite nursery and see what they have. If it is on display, it is safe to plant in a pot. My favorite nurseries are Hart Farm and Agway, in Dennis. They will be able to assure you what can safely be planted early.

All these pots can look great for many weeks, until summer annuals are available. At that point, I replanted the early flowering perennials into my garden. I left the hosta in pots all summer long then replanted permanently in my hosta garden in October.

The heather also blooms for weeks, but at the point it starts to lose color remove it and put it into a perennial garden. This leaves you a free pot for colorful annuals. Of course, the beauty of annuals is that you have blooms until the first frost.

I find these colorful pots meet my need for spring-feeling flowers when it is too early to be planting in the ground. Even on our grey blustery non-spring-like days, I look out my windows and know summer is coming, and it makes me content and hopeful.

Photographs Courtesy of Janet Eckhoff

Janet Eckhoff became a full time resident of Cape Cod in 2010. She has spent a week in Brewster, at Ellis Landing, with girlfriends for 30 consecutive years and feels at home here.

A retired General Motors marketing executive, Janet received her Master Gardener certification in 2004. She is a member of the 'In the Weeds' gardening crew for WeCan. She also provides volunteer strategy and marketing perspective for CWO magazine.

Janet has been married for 34 years to her husband Bob, and they have one son, Tristan, who is in nursing school at Brockton Hospital in Brockton, MA.

Janet and Bob live in Yarmouthport with their calico cat named Darla.