The Old Town Community of North Columbus is once again schooling us on the use of horse troughs for cool season color, and this year they are maximizing the use of texture. Since I retired from the University of Georgia, my son James, the color design guru for Old Town, keeps me involved, making me feel as though this is my experiment station.
In early October as he was planting, I thought he had pushed the proverbial envelope right over the abyss. These full sun containers have annuals, perennials, deciduous shrubs, succulents and plants that require shade. Know this first: Although I am talking old-fashioned horse troughs, you can do the same in your favorite containers.
Let’s go over the recipe, concepts and thoughts from the old adage thriller, filler and spiller. Although it is stunningly beautiful now in November, the crescendo brought about by the maturity in March and April will be like the finale at a fireworks display.
The thriller, or tallest plants in the troughs, are the deciduous Double Play Candy Corn spirea. These have become favorites in the South with foliage the colors of candy corn. I suspect Proven Winners was really counting on zone 7, but we adore them in zones 8 and 9, too. Although they are dazzling now they will disappear later, returning in absolute glory. Their retreat in the toughs will never be noticed as the other plant partners will be growing and masking the twigs.
Winter sun is magical; it lets you use shade lovers that look even more dazzling when brought to the light of day. This is why I wanted to tell you the fillers before spillers. In the South, heucheras, also known as coral bells, really do best if given afternoon shade protection. But that’s in summer. In the winter, these evergreen perennials are simply amazing.
Our designer used Dolce Cherry Truffles and Dolce Wildberry. The dark reddish-burgundy and purple foliage will contrast or complement with the spirea and every other plant in the troughs. In the spring the Cherry Truffles will have red flowers and the Wildberry white blossoms.
Another shade lover in the troughs is Queen of Hearts brunnera. These silver and green variegated heart-shaped leaves stand out in the mix not only because of their color, but the distinct leaf shape. In the spring they will have baby blue flowers.
Never ever underestimate the power of the fine leaf texture provided by a grass. Throughout the troughs are strategically placed Evergold carex grasses. The wispy variegated leaf blades give a special, colorful spidery touch while lending an artistic touch.
We used two spillers throughout the troughs. The first is Lemon Coral sedum, with its succulent-like foliage that will gently tumble over the rim like a slow chartreuse colored lava flow. The final filler is the one everyone expects in the season, Cool Wave Yellow pansies. These will put on a trailing show of flowers spreading to almost 3 feet.
I touched on the aspect of the gentleness of the winter sun here in zone 8a, but no doubt some of you are thinking you can’t grow some of these plants because of your soil. Don’t forget these are growing in an organic-based potting, which you too will use. You escape rigorous soil pH requirements during this period of the cool season display.
Son James will pull all these plants for the summer exchange of plant material. Hopefully I will get notice and be there representing The Garden Guy plant rescue service, whereby I will relocate those that need shade or morning sun to a new location.
Cool season container gardening is so enjoyable in the South and even moreso when you can use a farm-sized horse trough.