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Flowering Bargains in 4-Inch Pots


There's no doubt in my mind that the real bargains at nurseries are the perennials sold in four-inch pots, sometimes called "quart" containers. They're the perfect size to start with and, at under $2 each, there's no arguing with the price.

You can buy an entire flower garden for what you might spend on a single large citrus or a couple of roses. And, because they are perennials, these cyclical plants will last for years, perhaps getting a little shabby in winter (when they should be tidied up with the shears), but rebounding in spring.

Most of the perennials sold in four-inch pots are smallish plants, perfect for planting around roses, or beside a path or even in paths or patios, between the paving stones. A few are great shade plants and all are just right for filling that empty hole in the garden.

I've probably planted hundreds through the years and just about every one has taken hold and grown quicker than any purchased in a gallon can (and you don't need to dig such a big hole). Because they are such a bargain, I sometimes get reckless and plant perennials I've never even heard of. If they don't work out (they're the wrong color, grow too big or die), I just toss them out figuring I spent less than I did on that bag of popcorn at the movies.

This is a good time to shop for them because so many bloom along with roses in May and you can see what color the flowers are.

Here are a few favorites from among the perennials I've grown through the years:

Achilleas: All the yarrows spread quickly from four-inch pots. Use them to add a little vertical color to the herb garden in spring and summer, or beside a path. Choose from silver-foliaged kinds or green, or those with red flowers (A. 'Paprika' is choice), yellow or lavender flowers. They come in all heights with A. tomentosa short enough to grow between stepping stones.

Aegopodium: For the shade, this spreader grows only a couple inches high with light green and cream leaves. It's great under roses and easy to pull out should it spread too far.

Armerias: The sea pinks make little cushions of narrow leaves, then send up spikes of globular pink flowers. Try in front of roses or around paving.

Brachycome: There are several kinds of perennial Swan River daisies, small of stature and flower. They have lavender or pink daisies in spring and summer. Try with roses and in paths.

Campanulas: All the bellflowers are great from four-inch pots, whether they are the tall spire-like kinds or the creeping ground coverers. Most have lavender or purple flowers, usually called "blue," good around roses.

Coreopsis: Bright golden yellow flowers bloom all summer, planted now. Cut almost to the ground in winter and they'll do it again next year.

Convolvulus mauritanicus: A morning glory-like plant with lavender flowers that stays under a foot tall but densely covers several feet of ground. Great around roses.

Cotula: Very low growing with gray leaves and yellow button flowers. Spreads quickly to cover a square yard or more. C. 'Silver Mound' gets a foot across with feathery foliage.

Diascia: Low, sprawling plants with spikes of coral or pink flowers ('Elliot's Variety' is the best pink). Great around roses.

Dianthus: Dainty carnation-like flowers on gray foliaged plants bloom mostly in spring. Plants are short-lived so buying them any larger would be a waste of money. Great around roses.

Erigeron karvinskianus: Santa Barbara daisies have small white flowers with a pink or lavender blush. 'Moerheimii' has larger flowers, improved form.

Erodium and Geranium: True geraniums and the smaller erodiums are the best rose companions.

Heuchera: All the coral bells with their delicate pink flower spikes do well around roses or in some shade.

Lamium maculatum: Spreading mat of gray-green and white leaves sends up short spikes of pure pink flowers. Good in moist shade.

Liatris: Plant gayfeather now and it will make tall spikes of orchid flowers by late summer or fall. Goes completely dormant in winter.

Nepeta: All the catmints are classic rose companions with floppy bluish flower spikes.

Origanum: Several ornamental oreganos stay low and flop about but have pretty sprays of lilac flowers all summer.

Prunella: Low, slowly spreading plants with handsome leaves and short spikes of purple or pink flowers. Good next to path or around roses.

Scabiosa: Several kinds are tall and good with roses (also for cutting). S. farinosa 'Crete' is different, makes a dense shiny mound of dark green foliage, good beside a path, though the flowers are less than exciting.

Stachys: The only way to plant lamb's ears, a wonderful foreground for roses.

Thalictrum: Meadow rues are tall, lacy plants for the shade. Flowers are small and usually white.

Verbena rigida and V. bonariensis: Two useful, even exciting spring and summer bloomers with vivid purple flowers. The former is short, does great in and along paths, spreads but is easy to pull out. The latter flowers on very tall, skinny stems that are a real eye-catcher. Both seed about but always come up in the right place in my garden.

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