For the last several years I’ve kicked off the gardening season with a renewed resolution, “This year the flower pots by the front door will look stupendous.”
Ever the student, each well-designed pot I come across before heading to the garden center gets analyzed. Here it’s obvious the designer selected plants of varying heights, some vining, some squatty, some tall and elegant to create this mélange of interest. Or there, the gardener picked a color theme, like a triangle on the color wheel, and carried it through. Or here, herbs and vegetables are mixed in with the flowers adding practicality to the pot. Or there, the variety of textures is the focal point.
Several friends annually create pots that rival those at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I call them for advice. Unfortunately this frou-frou pot planting is second nature and they can only suggest, “Grab what you like. It will all blend together by the end of the summer. There aren’t any secrets.” Since this talent and my DNA didn’t combine, I snap photos of the best arrangements to use as templates.
Around May 15th, the average date of the last frost in Chicago, I stride confidently into the greenhouse where stacks of blooming possibilities overflow their containers and tempt me like siren songs. Surely they won’t fizzle part-way during the summer or expend all their growth in the first few weeks. No, these are plants that will start strong and finish stronger.
Based on the size of my pots, the roving horticulturalist suggests two or three of a filler plant, a center tall plant, and then three or four plants to provide color throughout the summer. I place the small plastic pots in my cart arranged like they will be when planted. Moving them around, closing one eye and then the other, substituting and then changing my mind, I walk to the check-out with seedling-sized confidence .
Fast forward to September. Rather than the vision of outstanding color and texture statements framing the front door, the filler plants have gone wild. Small streaks of color gallantly reach for the sun like a dandelion pushing through a crack in the sidewalk, but the green fillers overflowing the pot have won.
Before the artsy designers showed what professionals could do with soil and terra cotta, my container gardening aspirations were simple. Where the drive and desire to create floral statements on my front step came from eludes me. My master gardener mother focused on perennial flower beds and wouldn’t bother with pots were she still alive. Not competing with her. My house is on a lightly trafficked street. Not out to impress the dog walkers. My house isn’t on the market. Not out to entice a buyer.
Maybe it’s the Scottish stubbornness in my DNA. Maybe it’s the “I can do anything if I put my mind to it” mindset that snags me. Maybe it’s perfectionistic thinking ensnaring me. No matter which shortcoming has germinated and grown, it’s time for a wise and mature response. I will uproot this silly obsession, admit people are gifted in different ways, and aim to exercise my strengths instead of trying to emulate those of someone else.
Next year, it’s back to geraniums.