5 Great Containers–Part III

Another Japanese Maple

As promised, here’s another container for the balcony garden. Remember, this is a south facing garden on the 7th floor, with a duplicate balcony above it on the 8th floor, so it gets a little shelter from storms, but is therefore in a rain shadow. Don’t forget to water your outdoor container garden, even if it rains. 


The Plants

  • Acer dissectum ‘Inaba Shidare’
  • Cotoneaster procumbens ‘Strieb’s Findling’
  • Dianthus ‘Wicked Witch’
  • Sedum telephium ‘Xenox’
  • Erigeron glaucus ‘Sea Breeze’

I planned to use a grafted PeeGee Hydrangea (‘Limelight’) that I saw at the nursery, but they were all gone by the time I returned only a few days later. But saw this Japanese Maple, and couldn’t resist. I was pretty sure I’d seen ‘Inaba Shidare’ in the list of trees that tolerated full sun fairly well, so I nabbed it.

Japanese Maples are “understory” trees, so in their native environments they receive some shade from the taller trees around them. In our temperate climate, our not very cold winters, not very hot summers makes it a little easier for the JM to tolerate our sun. Besides, this balcony does get a little less than full south facing sun because of the over balcony.

This ‘Inaba Shidare’ is beautifully shaped, so we’d like to be able to see this feature even as the tree grows and fills out. This means judicious pruning of new branches, and keeping the under plantings short. Hence the following:

Cotoneaster procumbens ‘Strieb’s Findling’

This is actually a ground-covering woody shrub, the lowest growing of the cotoneasters. It’ll have flowers in the summer and berries in the fall/winter, and never grow high, but will begin to tumble over the edge of the pot. The colouring will complement the red/green of ‘Inabe Shidare’.

Dianthus ‘Wicked Witch’; Erigeron ‘Sea Breeze’; Sedum  ‘Xenon’

All of these will bloom pink, the first a deep almost red pink, the second a lavender pink, the last a rich pink with burgundy foliage. Short ones toward the front, tall one at the back.


Also called “Hens and Chicks” (but since there’s only individual rosettes here, no mums-with-babes, I’ll call it a Houseleek), it’s real name is Sempervivum. (You can just see a few reddish spikes at the front of the container.) This is a fun red colour, and the pot I bought had a large extended family of rosettes, so I split them up and divided them among several containers. They multiply like crazy, but like most perennials, they “sleep the first year, creep the second year, leap the third year”.

The Containers

I haven’t commented yet on the containers themselves. There was nothing about the balcony itself that I could coordinate with, so I just asked the client to find something that he liked, and then we looked for appropriate sizes that would match or compliment one another. Containers aren’t cheap, so when you can find them on sale, it may be worth compromising on exactly what you had in mind for the sake of the significant cost savings. In this case we had a pretty small budget, and yet were able to get the sizes we needed (three 24″ diameter pots and three 18″ diameter pots) and still splurge on the plants themselves.

Sometimes you’ll do the exact opposite–the aesthetic of the containers will be more important than what goes in them. This was not that.

That’s it for the trees. Next up will be the grafted shrub–what  cool idea!



Let me know what you think of my creations, and add suggestions. I’m not a big fan of annuals, so you’ll seldom see them in my container gardens, unless they’re annuals that think they’re perennials. But I’m open to any ideas.

Questions? Concerns? Leave your comments, and click on the follow button to get instant updates. (Especially with two more “5 Great Container” instalments yet to come!) And of course, like me on Facebook.

5 Great Containers, Part 2–Trees

A few days ago I blogged about the client who wanted to surprise his wife with a beautiful balcony. And I showed you the first of 5 great containers.

Here is the first:


Click on the image to get a close up of the under plantings.

The Tree

The main plant is of course the Japanese Maple–Acer palmatum ‘Viridis’. This is one of the more sun-tolerant Japanese Maples, which being understory trees prefer a little shade. But our West Coast heat isn’t very intense, nor is our sun, so as long as these lovely trees are given adequate water, they should be fine. This specimen was probably staked to about 4′ then allowed to begin its “droop”. Next year as the canopy flufffs out, the lower limbs can be pruned off (“limbed up”) so that the growing underplantings can be more visible. (I did prune off a few branches already so there was room for the other plants.)

Underplanted With

The underplantings all had to be happy with moderately damp soil, so I chose:

The sweet little Chamaecyparis pisifera–Golden Threadleaf Cypress. It doesn’t have a variety name, but I’m guessing “Sungold’ or ‘Golden Mop’. The tag says it can grow to 10′, but maybe in 20 years or so! It can also be pruned to stay within it’s container limits, and still be an underplanting.

Next is Sisynchrium ‘sapphire’–Blue-eyed grass. Being a cousin to Iris, this will also want a good amount of water. It’s supposed to be a spring bloomer, but there are actually buds on these little guys.

Then one of my all-time-favourite plants, a Heuchera, in this case H. ‘Stormy Seas’. I was hoping to buy one of the purple ones that I knew would be sun-tolerant for this south-facing balcony (‘Obsidian’, ‘Purple Palace’, ‘Georgia Plum’) none of which were at the nursery that day. So I risked ‘Stormy Seas’. Now I find it on a list of “shade tolerant heucheras. But you can see it’s positioned at the back of the planter, slightly shaded by the plant in front, under the overhang of the balcony above it, and in the shadow of the wall to the west of it. So should be OK.

And finally another favourite, Sedum telephium ‘Xenox’–one of the tall sedums, in this can a real plum colour with just-about-to-bloom pink flowers.

There’s one tiny red Sempervivum (“Hens and Chicks”) in the front, rescued from the succulent pot. They multiply like rabbits (or chicks), so one will be many by next summer.

The Design

The design then is as follows:

one tree,

one smaller shrub,

one fluffy perennial,

one taller perennial,

one grass.

Sort of.

This is a formula you can take to the bank, I guarantee it.

And to give you the preview of the next instalment, and following the same formula:

DSCN2020Details to come, so stay tuned…

And of course, as always, would love to get your comments, questions, concerns, even rants–nicely please.