Who’s heart doesn’t do a little flip at the thought of moonlight and marshmallows? I know. The possibilities seem wondrous. But can you take such a potent commingling and apply it to that ho-hum shady spot in your garden? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, this romantic container recipe starts with a Moonlight fern and Marshmallow fuchsias and builds into a crescendoing froth of blooms and fronds. Heck, there’s even a plant with polka dots.
Plants normally relegated to the inside of the house make ideal container plants for a shady spot in the garden because they’re used to the shade. In fact, direct light is not a desirable. In this recipe, the Polka Dot plant, fuchsia, Moonlight fern and Spider plant are all typically used as houseplants. Outdoors, their fine-textured foliage interweaves in an eye-catching display that’s nicely contrasted by the larger-leaved perennials flanking the container. Narrow flower beds, like the one running along a wooden fence in my garden (see above), can be hard to keep interesting because there just isn’t enough room to create a lot of variation in colour and texture. That’s where a container of unexpected plants becomes a quick and easy solution. I could add another perennial in this spot but I love the effect this container makes (while adding height, too). I keep coming up with new recipes each year and having fun experimenting with new ways to use common houseplants in unexpected ways.
- A: Hypoestes phyllostachya ‘Confetti Red’ (Polka Dot plant)
- B: Lobelia erinus ‘Laguna™ Sky Blue’
- C: Fuchsia ‘Pink Marshmallow’
- D: Pteris cretica cv. ‘Mayii’ (Moonlight fern, Silver Brake fern)
- E: Chlorophytum comosum (Spider plant)
I found plenty of variegated spider plants on offer in the houseplants section of several garden centres but I held out for the plainer solid green variety. With so many textures going on in this recipe, I thought the striped fronds of the variegated spider plant would be just too much. As the season grew longer and the plant started to flower and produce mini-spider plants (see note below), the effect of water sprays jetting up and out was dramatic enough.
All five plants prefer well-drained soil. The Spider plant can actually do well in dry-ish soil but so long as you don’t overwater this container, all plants will be happy. The one plant that’s a little different in preferences from the rest is the Lobelia which doesn’t like heat and humidity. If the plant has a big pout and starts declining in the middle of summer, you can either cut it back to encourage it to re-bloom in cooler late summer and fall weather or pull it out entirely. You can fluff the foliage of the other plants to hide the empty spot and the arrangement will fill in again quickly.
Some things to keep in mind with this plant combo:
- Polka Dot plants are South African natives, grown as houseplants here (Southern Ontario) and as such, are happiest in indirect light so they do well in part shade or light full shade. These plants start out with a mounding habit but, towards the end of the season, they grow taller and more upright. I like the effect but, if you want the ferns to be the thriller stars, keep a check on this one and trim back as needed.
- Spider plants are photoperiodic which means they initiate flowering, followed by ‘spiderettes’ or mini spider plants, as a result of shorter days and longer nights. What this means to your outdoor container is that if you’re blessed with warm weather late into fall, you’ll get a big splash of growth in your container. Snip off some ‘spiderettes’ just before temps take a deep dive for growing on inside and you’ll have plenty of plants for next year’s containers.
- Pteris cretica cv Mayii (Moonlight fern) “has been demonstrated to be an efficient arsenic hyperaccumlating plant, suitable for phytoremediation of this toxic element”. Umm. That’s a good thing. So take your fern indoors at the end of the season. Ferns in general are very good houseplants for purifying the air.
One last thought: This plant combo might appear delicate but I was impressed by its performance throughout the season. Even the Lobelia held it’s own until well into September (see photo above right). For a romantic container recipe, I think this one’s all heart.
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