Mary Olson's green thumb is obvious from her front stoop.
Her large front door is framed with oversized, beautifully well-worn terra cotta urns overflowing with colors and scents.
"Container gardening brings in the color because of all the annuals," says Olson, viewing her pots as a blank canvas waiting for her inspiration. "It provides constant color. I look at it as a miniature painting, my own sense of expression."
Creating an instant cornucopia of drama to display throughout the yard in the form of container plantings is satisfying: Plant a pot full of your favorite annuals -- voilÃ¡, you have a masterpiece minutes later.
Olson has different motives to her approach.
"It does immediately spice up your garden, but I am a patient gardener so that doesn't play into my thoughts," she says. "For me, it is more about the creativity."
"My problem is I just keep buying and buying plants until there is no more room in any of my pots. And then, of course, I have to buy more pots."
Olson lists five essentials to successful container gardening: the pot, the plants, their color, texture and height. She suggests finding combinations of these that are pleasing and work well together.
Locating plants that do well in the unpredictable weather of the Midwest can be a challenge, but Olson's needs are met with one plant.
"My very favorite plant to use in containers is coleus because of the foliage and texture. It has everything: a rainbow of colors, height and it spreads like wildfire," Olson says. "They now even have coleus that thrives in the sun. It used to be just a shade loving plant."
Once the harsh, hot and often dry months of summer have passed, and reliable potted annuals are ready to bid adieu, don't store the containers. Do as Olson does.
She suggests, "When things get leggy in late August and early September and the plants are tired, I take them out and give them a decent burial in the compost pile. Then I plant lots of mums in my containers."
Mums continue to show colors well into the fall.
Bonsai trees, Japanese maples and dwarf conifers also can be left in a beautiful container all year. All are stunning standing alone in a container for a simple, clean uncomplicated look.
Olson says deadheading provides maximum results from potted creations.
"Deadheading is very important because the whole idea is continuous blooming and that is how to promote that," she says. "Also, overfertilize because you are looking at a five- to six-month life span and you need to get everything you can out of your annuals."
Containers allow gardeners to be adventurous, take chances and experiment. They are ideal for people with very little green space or who are living in an apartment. Containers offer solutions to unsightly areas and liven up gloomy, barren spots.
Alternatively, they can be a way to guide eyes to a focal point. Most importantly, they are a magnificent way, as Olson has found, to express your creative green thumb.
|Here are some tips for successful containers, provided by garden columnist Jennifer Oldridge:¢ Containers need drainage holes. Put broken tiles or stones over those holes to help them from being plugged by the soil.¢ Start planting in the center of the pot and work your way to the edges. Leave room for expansion but no large gaps.¢ Sprinkle with time-released fertilizer and water well.¢ Containers dry out quickly in warm, sunny or windy weather, so water them often.¢ Clay pots dry out faster than plastic.¢ If you are out of town often, try planting drought-tolerant plants such as yuccas or ornamental grasses in your pots.¢ Feeding is important because the roots are restricted and are in a constant quest for nutrients. Use liquid fertilizer once a week.¢ A permanent planting in a container needs to be repotted every few years, especially if the roots are constricted and growth or flowering becomes weaker.¢ Flowering plants need regular deadheading and the dead leaves removed.¢ Old pots, decorative bowls, pretty storage tins, baskets, buckets, wheelbarrows and rowboats are some good container suggestions. The most off-beat container can boost a garden.¢ Summer color can be created with easy-to-maintain annuals like petunias, begonias, nasturtiums, geraniums and verbenas.|