Every summer the Toronto Botanical Garden creates a number of container plantings which are placed throughout the garden.
One of my favourites is a raised set of containers that stands at the entrance to the Beryl Ivey Knot Garden.
In 2013, it was an inventive mix of annuals, grasses, perennials and herbs. I especially loved the innovative use of curly parsley and variegated sage.
Last year, the raised containers were a pollinator-friendly mix of colorful plants.
This year it is all about the succulents.
There is something primordial about these plants. It is as if a coral reef has risen up out of some ancient ocean.
I asked Paul Zammit, the Nancy Eaton Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden, a number of questions about these succulent container plantings:
Q: What is it about succulents that makes them so appealing in a container planting?
A: I love the variety and diversity of plants in terms of shape, size, color, texture and even flowers. I also love that they are rather rough, durable and forgiving (providing a few key requirements are met).
Q: What type of soil mix would you recommend for this type of container planting?
A: We used a potting/container mix, in this instance the Pro Mix BX, which we pre-moistened prior to planting. Typically (and in my own garden) I mix 2/3 potting mix with 1/3 perlite or turface (crushed terra cotta available at Plant World) or chicken grit (which a pick up from a farmer's co-op when I am outside of the city.)
Q: The planting material in this container is wonderful. Where can someone, who does not live in a large urban centre like Toronto, find these type of plants? Do you have any online sources you could share?
A: I always find shopping for succulents is a bit of a hunt. This year I was able to pick up some wonderful treasures at Canada Blooms. Another place to get some succulents here in Ontario is Mason House Gardens in Uxbridge.
As far as mail order, Phoenix Perennials (http://phoenixperennials.com) is a great place. Plant Delights Nursery is a very dangerous website in s crazy-plant-addict-kind-of-way.
Wooly Rose, Echeveria 'Doris Taylor'
Up close this Echeveria looks like a cross between a rose and a spider.
Peaking up from the bottom of the picture is Rattail Crassula, Crassula muscosa
Roughly left to right: The tall stripes in the background are New Zealand Flax (Phormium 'Sundowner') Next is stick-like Coral cactus (Rhipsalis cereuscula). The seafoam-green, rose-shaped succulent is Mexican Snowball (Echeveria elegans). Greyish and standing tall is Rhipsalis, Echeveveria 'Perle von Nurnberg'. Paddle Plant, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora has a red edge. Blue Chalksticks (Senecio serpens) is peaking into the shot on the far right.
Note: On the Toronto Botanical Garden website there is a picture of the full container planting ( Plant ID link). Each plant in the picture is identified with a number and the plant name (both common and botanical) appears in a list right below the image.
Paddle Plant, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora
Q: How often does a container planting like this need to be watered?
A: A good watering once a week depending on the temperature. Personally, I check to make sure the container's mix is relatively dry to the touch before I request the planters get watered. What is important is that, when they get watered, they receive a good thorough watering.
Q: What other maintenance, if any, does a container planting like this require?
A: Deadheading blooms, removal of foliage and feeding with an all-purpose fertilizer (i.e. 20-20-20) every two weeks. Be sure to follow the recommended rate of the balanced fertilizer you use.
Q: What happens in the fall? Can plants like this move indoors for the winter?
A: Yes, pot up individual plants or take cuttings to grow indoors in winter. I take tip or leaf cuttings on select plants rather than try and pot up and save the large mother plant.
Q: What indoor winter conditions are best for succulents?
A: Succulent plants do best in a greenhouse setting (bright light and high humidity). Plants also do relatively well on a light stand, but must be kept relatively cool to avoid lots of growth.
Q: Most home gardeners don't have access to a heated greenhouse. Is there any hope for putting their succulents in a bright window? Also, I am wondering if the goal for overwintering succulents indoors is to keep them cool and dry in order to mimic the winter conditions they might find in a natural setting.
A: Yes, good point about mimicking the "winter they might experience in a natural setting". Keeping them indoors on a bright, cool window would work. Avoid hot window ledges. By keeping the plants cool, which they can tolerate, one discourages growth that would otherwise be stretched. Also cut back greatly on the watering.
Echeveveria 'Perle von Nurnberg'
Again, you can find a numbered identification of the various plants here. ( Plant ID link).
Echeveveria 'Perle von Nurnberg'
Many thanks to Paul Zammit for taking the time to answer all my questions. If you live in the GTA, be sure to visit the Toronto Botanical Garden to see this display of succulents for yourself.
I hope this post will have inspired your next container planting.
Paul Zammit is Nancy Eaton Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Paul, a graduate of the University of Guelph, has appeared both on television and in print. His container plantings have been showcased in numerous gardening magazines including Canadian Gardening. Paul is a regular speaker at garden clubs and horticultural trade shows. In recent years, Paul has presented in Germany, Switzerland and Bermuda. On top of all that, he is a really nice guy! (Photo of Paul Zammit courtesy of the Toronto Botanical Garden.)