Mixed feelings about mixed containers

On the one hand, I can hardly help but want to group plants together and if there’s a pot big enough for everyone, I’m all for it. And there are places in our gardens that truly demand a mixed container, such as the entrance gate, wedding tent, and porte-cochère. I spent the last two weeks debating buying what seemed to be a behemoth new container (made of very light-weight and hopefully winter-durable resin) for our entrance. I knew the one we were using was way too small but it took Gail’s reassurance and actually seeing the new pot situated to realize that there’s almost no such thing as “too big” for a solitary container placed outside.

I’ve been pretty lucky with these mixed containers in the last few years (last year in particular) but I attribute their success (and by success I mean that they don’t need to be watered more than twice a week) to one very important factor: They’re in partial shade – receiving only morning sun. Glazed or plastic pots obviously hold the moisture longer and I think relying heavily on perennials (or tender perennials) with interesting foliage rather than flowers has helped too. Most of my favorite container plants – such as hakonechloa, farfugium, hypericum, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, and hydrangea will also grow slowly enough in confinement to not overtake their neighbors.

But for the container beds by the greenhouse I would much rather group singletons in pots than plant up a bunch of mixed combinations – for a couple of reasons: One of the beds is in full sun, and in my experience, mixed pots in full sun are a constant struggle. There’s more competition for soil moisture and inevitably something dies and leaves a gaping hole or one thing overtakes and might as well have been planted by itself. (Obviously I haven’t hit the exactly right full-sun combo yet.) With singletons on the other hand, wimps can be babied and tucked behind athletes at least until they’re tough enough to compete. The whole bed can be rearranged on a whim, and as a nester and obsessive futzer, I’m all for that. The only difficulty is pairing pot to plant. But even that is a challenge I look forward to every year. And I have to admit that I never really mind if something like fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) or violets seed themselves in, and so most of our singletons are actually couples.

Do you prefer mixed containers or singletons – or do you have places for both too?