Row Your Way To Color Revisited Again

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DSCN4634The dinghy planting this year is a disappointment.

Those of you who follow my blog may remember the posts that I wrote in 2013 and 2012 on the creative use of annuals in a dinghy (small rowboat) at a Maine marina.  You can find those posts here and here.  I used the dinghy planting as an example of how the imaginative and thoughtful use of annuals can produce an elegant and striking result.  Unfortunately, the planting this year is not up to the former standards.  Normally I wouldn’t feature it, but I thought it might be illuminating to think about what went wrong.


Handy Boat dinghyThe dinghy planting in 2012 was gorgeous.


Handy Boat dinghy 32013 was not quite as sophisticated but made up for this with its exuberance.

When comparing the three plantings the first thing you notice is that the colors for 2014 are too subtle.  I love chartreuse and purple, but in a container planting you need some plants that cause passers by to stop and look.  But the bigger problem is that there are not enough plants.  As I pointed out before, containers generally last for one season only and need to be filled to bursting from the beginning.  There is no time to let them fill in as you would with perennial plantings in the ground.


Handy Boat dinghy 22013 packed with plants


Handy Boat Dinghy 12012


DSCN4630This year’s planting shows a lot of bare soil.  The photos for all three years were taken in early July.

Another mistake the designer made was to ignore the classic filler-spiller-thriller formula of planting containers.  The heucherella flowers in the back just don’t provide the necessary height that you need, especially in a container this big, and will be done flowering shortly.  The sedum, coleus, and plectranthus (I think that what it is) will not fill in the middle, and the fibre optic grass and the two sweet potato vines are not spilling over the side enough.


DSCN4633 A close up of 2014.

Despite my negative comments, as you can see from the photo above, the habit and colors of the plants go well together.  They would look great crammed into a smaller container situated for close up viewing.  I also always encourage the use of perennials in containers, like the sedum and heucherella here.  In late fall, you can transfer them into the ground and enjoy them in your perennial garden for years to come. 

Looking closely at this dinghy planting in good years and bad has given me a lot of ideas about my own containers.  In fact, I had never seen fibre optic grass and purchased some for my window boxes.  I hope you too will find inspiration for your own containers.


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18 Responses to “Row Your Way To Color Revisited Again”

  1. So much is growing slow maybe it will grow in better soon…I did love the 2012 combo…

    • Donna, So nice to hear from you considering I have been out of the blogging world for over a month. The plants that are in the boat are too scanty to fill in anytime soon although I agree things are way behind. A good designer will take this into account. Carolyn

  2. Although being able to plant the perennials into the garden, it is a shame to waste them in containers used for such a short season unless they have been there for years getting mature. Even when planted in the garden the first year, they are not mature enough to make any type of garden statement. The coleus, being an annual, will have time to fill the space. Is that sweet potato vine ‘Blackie’? It will likely overwhelm the grasses in very short time. I see they used sweet potato vine in the 2012 dingy. I bet by the end of the season they were large.

    • Donna, I use a lot of perennials in containers, some of my favorites are lamium, colored heucheras, Hakone grass, and hostas. They are mature when I put them in the container and even bigger when they go into the garden. It is a great way to get “bang for your buck” instead of purchasing all annuals which are now the same price as perennials.

      I agree, when the sweet potato vines get going they will overwhelm the fibre optic grass and be out of proportion to the other plants. The coleus will fill in but there isn’t enough of it. Carolyn

      • nwphillygardner Says:

        Also good as a textural contrast in containers: a bit of Liriope or Carex morrowii for grassy texture if you don’t have Hakonechloa. And of course for trailing (spillers!) you can’t beat some Golden Creeping Jenny aka Lysimachia nummularia. This season, I’ve had enormous success with some newly purchased (from Lowes) pieces of Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow’ to plant with purple pansies. With limited sun, they’ve flourished and nearly covered the edges of a 14″ container.

      • Eric, All good suggestions for perennials for containers. I forgot to mention ‘Black Scallop’ ajuga for its dark purple-black, shny leaves and ferns. I use Japanese painted fern, maidenhair, and last year in a big container, royal fern—any fern looks beautiful. Carolyn

  3. Way cool!! Hope you are doing well… it seems like some time since I’ve seen a post from you Carolyn…. Larry

  4. Hmm, maybe they are on a budget this year? Or the seeds they started early failed? Too bad, the previous ones are so gorgeous. I especially love 2013’s. It was like a whole cottage garden in a boat – awesome!

    • Indie, I don’t think it was budget because there are lots of other containers around the marina filled with plants. I am also pretty sure that someone has been hired to do this so seed starting would not be an issue. The marina is a huge operation not a little Mom and Pop place. Carolyn

  5. bethstetenfeld Says:

    I have to admit–I like all three. I agree, though, that this year’s is scanty (although I love the plant combinations–a little more understated). If they would have added some kind of filler element, it would have looked better. Perhaps there were some budgetary issues, too. Great illustration of container gardening techniques!

  6. To get to a really nice planting you have to experiment here and there, and I guess it doesn’t always WOW the same. Maybe it will fill in a bit more with warmer weather and maybe next year will be better than ever… it would be a little dull if the same thing kept showing up.
    Don’t underestimate the coleus, I think it’s ‘red head’ and will likely overwhelm that end of the boat by the end of the season!

  7. Maybe It isn’t finished. Maybe someone started the planting and was called away and the forgot about it?

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