When I first started gardening, I wanted to use Lobelia as part of the edging for my perennial border. I bought and planted whole flats only to see them burn out, stop blooming and fade away as soon as the summer heat turned on. Today’s Lobelias are quite different in habit. Still available in glorious shades of blue, white, and the occasional pink, new varieties like the ‘Heat’ series can tolerate heat and will bloom all summer in nearly full sun or shade! Lobelias are great in window boxes and containers, lending airy clouds of tiny flowers to your home or landscape.
Lobularia‘Snow Princess’ looks remarkably like old-fashioned sweet Alyssum with its tiny umbels of snow white flowers, but this Lobelia is a sensational substitute for the old-fashioned variety that burns out when the heat arrives. ‘Snow Princess’ is far more vigorous than sweet alyssum and can easily fill a hanging basket all by itself. It can take shade to sun, so you can use it anywhere. Sutera ‘Giant Snowflake’ is a great plant for spilling over the edge of a container blooming all summer. Either of these white varieties will lighten up a container that is planted with colorful flowers. When you shop, you should note that Sutera may be labeled as Bacopa.’
Coleus used to be a shade only plant, but breeding has created varieties that can tolerate full sun. Coleus and other colorful foliage plants like Ipomoea, or ‘Sweet Potato Vine,’ and Alternanthera can be used together, or as accents with flowering plants. Try mixing these all together with the addition of Heuchera (a perennial) for an unusual and stunning combination. Ipomoea, available in lime green, black, and variegated, cascades while the Coleus and Alternanthera grow more upright.
Monochromatic combinations can be very eye-catching as well. Using different plants with colors in the same range is sure to elicit oohs and ahhs from passers-by. Try a container with a blue or lavender Calibrachoa, Lamium ‘White Nancy,’ and blue Sutera for a soothing blue look, or Supertunia ‘Lavender’ combined with Ipomoea ‘Blackie,’ Ageratum ‘Artist Blue’ Sutera ‘Blue’ and Scirpus ‘Fiber Optic Grass.’ For a simple and elegant look for shade, use impatiens in your favorite colors, or solid Torenia.
There are so many annuals that bloom all summer on the market today that the possibilities are endless. The most beautiful container combinations come from simply trying plants that you like. Choose varying textures, heights, and colors. Above all, take notes and pictures so you can look back next year and decide what you liked, what worked, and what you’d like to grow again.
Hilary Newell is Greenhouse Production, Advertsing and Marketing Manager at Bartlett’s Farm on Nantucket