Solo plants for lush patio containers

Flower containers wrapped in fleece in May, 2015.

Containers in my garden (which I foolishly planted up pre-May Two-Fer), hastily wrapped in fleece in preparation of a vicious overnight cold snap. Photographed on May 22nd, 2015.

Here in southwestern Ontario, the Victoria Day long weekend, which falls on or around May 24th, is anticipated with guarded respect by gardeners. Not because this 3-day weekend also goes by the name May Two-Fer, referring to cases of beer, not the date. No, it’s because this weekend represents all that is soul-crushingly cruel about spring in this part of the world. Right up to this magic date, temperatures can drop overnight, laying waste to tender annuals and zapping the life from tree and shrub blossoms. So like Nascar drivers revving their motors, gardeners wait for the green flag to drop on this day so they can race into their gardens and get planting with relative confidence. This also means that garden centres are suddenly heaving with gardeners in full-throttled purchasing mode. It’s enough to make you want to take a single plant, plunk it into a pot and call it a day. Well, sometimes that’s all you need. Here are 5 plants that do really well as solo plants for lush patio containers.

Campfire™ Fireburst Bidens: Bidens usually have small, plain yellow flowers so this new introduction (now available in Canada for Spring 2016), is a treat. Fiery bicolour blooms in hot oranges and yellows flicker above lacy green leaves (see photos directly below). This plant has a mounding habit that doesn’t collapse over time but instead continues to grow up, out and over the rim of its container, making it a gorgeous choice all on its own. Though it can thrive in both wet and dry habitats where it is native (mainly in Central and South America), you’ll want to place this container planting in full sun and water it regularly until well established. After that, it’s very heat and drought tolerant. When I trialled this plant last year for Proven Winners, I was impressed with the long life of this vigorous annual. I had sprays of bright blooms until the end of October. It also seemed impervious to Japanese Beetle attack although the reasons behind this may not be because it was burning up the patio all summer long.

Santa Cruz™ Sunset Begonia (Begonia boliviensis): Begonias are a popular choice for single-plant containers but most people think they need to be stuck in a shady spot. This striking weeping begonia does just fine in full sun and, in cooler regions like southwestern Ontario, is surprisingly heat tolerant. It gets my vote as a great option for a single-plant container because it’s a luxuriant mounding trailer with equally gorgeous leaves and non-stop blooms. Use it for a centrepiece container with a tropical feel on a sun-filled patio.

Leaves and flowers of a weeping begonia.

Santa Cruz Sunset Begonia is a trailing begonia with gorgeous leaves as well as flowers. Photographed mid-July, 2015.

Endless® Illumination Browallia: Here’s another plant with an elegant mounding habit perfect for containers. New for Spring 2016, it’s on this list because it’s a rare option for part to full shade spots, delivering lots of bright colour all growing season long. I hung this container, planted with a single Endless® Illumination Browallia, from the branch of a low, spreading tree so the container was in dappled shade all day long and it couldn’t be happier.

A browallia for full shade gardens has purple flowers.

Endless Illumination Browallia can add bright purple colour to a part to full shade spot in the garden. Photographed in my back garden, August 25, 2015.

Rex begonias: As much as Santa Cruz™ Sunset can be a scene stealer for a sunny patio, Rex begonias are great at playing heroes in the shade. The Pegasus™ Begonia hybrid (shown below, left) has wonderfully attractive foliage. In a post I wrote about this stand-out plant last year, I described how the leaves serve up ice and wine in the shadows of a garden. The deep green, speckled leaves shimmer with an icy silver gloss. The undersides of the leaves and the stems are a gorgeous burgundy colour. For contrast, try placing a couple of pots of Shadow King™ Cool White Begonias (show below, right) next to your Pegasus. With their chalky white leaves, they practically glow in the shade. Together, these two Rex Begonias can make a stunning grouping. And one plant per pot is all you need. Fillers aren’t needed, spillers would be overkill.

Two kinds of Rex Begonias for single plant containers.

Pegasus Begonia hybrid, left, and Shadow King Cool White, right. I had these containers tucked under a Weeping Mulberry in my back garden where nothing would grow. That spot went from eye-sore to eye-catching. Photographed mid-August, 2014.

Calibrachoas: These plants are popular go-to’s for hanging baskets because of their nice trailing habit and, with a common name like Million Bells, there’s no doubt you’ll get plenty of blooms. But they’re so often simply considered accessories to other plants in a container. Tucked in around the edges of a planting, they reliably fill in a pot and spill over the edges. But Calibrachoas can make gorgeous solo plant containers, too. If planted on their own, their natural mounding habit comes in to full play. Try Superbells® Evening Star Calibrachoa, new for Spring 2016 from Proven Winners. The lovely purple blooms are accented with deep yellow star-shaped throats outlined in almost-black. Place this container planting in full sun–calibrachoas can tolerate brief amounts of light shade but the more shade you give it, the less blooms you’ll get.

A calibrachoa with purple blooms

Superbells Evening Star Calibrachoa is new for Spring 2016. Shot mid-August, 2015, on my patio.

Every year, plant growers offer more new plants with the habit and the impact to make very successful single plant containers. Which plants do you use solo for creating lush patio containers?

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