The Gentle Gardener: Pots of gold

This month we’re going to address the simple art of creating lovely, sustainable flower pots in the Lowcountry.

I know, you’re thinking “Really?” Yes, really. If more garden enthusiasts approached creating flower pots in the same manner they search for a mate around here, there would be an abundance of beautiful pots.

Too often I have observed photos from various periodicals which portray beautiful plant combinations that simply won’t live here together for very long. The pot may be beautiful for a few days but sooner rather than later, one half of it will die. Incompatible plants are similar to bad marriages – they have irreconcilable differences. And those differences become magnified here in the Lowcountry. So how does one go about creating a beautiful color pot? Simple – follow these three easy steps.

STEP 1: You must identify whether your pot will be in sun or shade. If it’s a combination of the two, it’s important to note if you have morning or afternoon sun. If it’s the afternoon – choose sun-loving plants. If you’re not sure, invest in a compass – the sun sets in the west. If your patio bakes like the Sahara Desert in the afternoon, you need sun-loving plants.

STEP 2: You must select plants that have similar wants and needs. You can kill a plant by over watering it as easily as underwatering it. For instance, some plants like full sun and dry feet such as lantana and bougainvillea. Others prefer shade and moist soil such as ferns and torenia. There are also plants that want shade but dry feet such as ivy. To compound matters further, certain plants will wilt, or worse, rot during our summer months if they are hit by the irrigation or sit in overly moist soil; notably geraniums, roses, daylilies, loquats, citrus and fig trees. It’s important to water these plants under their leaves to prevent mildew during the hot, humid summer months.

STEP 3: Keep this simple phrase in mind: “Thriller, Filler, Spiller” which refers to the characteristics of the plants. Typically, you want a tall plant in the back or middle, a shorter, fuller plant(s) around it and then something that spills over the edge of the pot. This little limerick reflects the stages of my figure throughout life — at 18, I was a Thriller, at 45 I was a Filler and now, sad to say, I am a Spiller.


I planted Encore Azaleas, which bloom profusely but now they’re getting leggy. When and how do I prune them? My other azaleas are much fuller. Thank you.
— Flummoxed in Sea Pines


Formosa azaleas are much fuller than the repeat blooming azaleas but fear not. You can prune them at any time and they will quickly set new buds. However, do NOT under any circumstances ever use an electric hedger to prune your azaleas. It can create a thick canopy on top with naked branches below, which frankly only looks good on young adults.

Got a question for the Gentle Gardener? Email info@wearelocallife.com

I hope these three basic rules have armed you with enough information and confidence to venture out to your favorite garden center to begin your masterpiece!

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