Natives are not just great in the ground, they’re also showstoppers in containers and combinations. The biggest trend right now is that breeders are starting to take notice, too. They’re working more with natives by making natural selections for high ornamental value.
For a long time, natives suffered under the stigma and generalization as only being grasses the municipality used to restore a prairie on the side of a highway. But one of the best things about using today’s natives is that often you can’t tell they are natives. Meaning, these aren’t Laura Ingalls Wilder's prairie grasses!
Today’s natives beautify the space but don’t require compromising the natural environment. They’re often unexpected, like a swath of Muhlenbergia c. 'Fast Forward,' fully blooming in July, or Panicum 'Ruby Ribbons' in a stand-alone pot.
Today’s natives don’t just look different; they are different. But it’s not just in the way they’re selected. It’s in the way you use them. Natives have a far bigger potential than the sweeps and masses they’ve been known for. So how do you get the most out of natives in containers?
5 design principles
Great container gardens start with five principles for great design. Put them to work before you put any combo together, and you’re on the road to a winner.
1. When choosing the container, first decide where you’re going to place it. Full sun or shade? Protected from elements? Will it be a focal point or one in a grouping?
2. Use grasses for texture, form and color.
3. Add flowering perennials for color, fragrance and utility.
4. Choose the correct size pot for plantings. I almost always choose my plant combo first, and then select the pot.
5. Finally, choose your color scheme. Are you going for bold contrast (such as orange and purple, fuchsia and yellow), harmonious color (like pastel blues and pinks) or monochromatic impact (pairing whites and greens for example)?
4 container trends
Try incorporating natives into some of today’s hottest container trends for a double whammy of impact and interest.
1. Use native plants — they are their own trend and can stand alone.
2. Mix bold/vibrant colors — yellows/reds/vibrant purples, black and white, etc.
3. Add fragrance
4. Create “micro-eco systems” — butterflies/hummingbirds, edibles like veggies and herbs, children’s sensory gardens or fairy gardens
In addition to natural beauty, the real fun and potential of natives comes with their lack of rules—use them in unexpected ways and pair them with plants that bring out their best. They offer great things for containers, and retailers can capitalize on the potential!
Pamela Straub is the in-house designer for Emerald Coast Growers, one of the country’s largest liner producers. www.ecgrowers.com