String of Pearls

Weird but elegantly pendulous string of pearls likes to hang around. It cascades nicely from hanging pots or tall urns.

It is difficult to see how string of pearls, Senecio rowleyanus, is related to much more colorful daisies and asters. The small, fuzzy and sickly white flowers are not much to look at, and only clutter the elegantly pendulous and oddly succulent foliage. The round leaves are light bluish green, so actually resemble peas more than they resemble pearls. The stems are so very thin and limber that they can only stand a few inches high, but can cascade to three feet!

Although evergreen, stems of outdoor plants can be cut back while dormant through winter to promote fresher growth in spring. The pruning scraps are very easy to propagate as cuttings. Roots are undemanding and sensitive to rot, so should be allowed to get nearly dry between watering. Bright ambient light without too much direct sun exposure is best. Incidentally, all parts of Senecio rowleyanus are toxic.

Ivy Geranium

Ivy geranium cascades splendidly from planters.

Venice in Italy is an ideal situation in which to demonstrate the potential of ivy geranium, Pelargonium peltatum. Because garden space is so minimal, potted plants that cascade from balconies above the canals are quite popular. Ivy geranium cascades so splendidly that some eventually reach the tops of downstairs windows from their upstairs balconies.

Ivy geranium can sprawl over shrubbery to seemingly climb a few feet high. Otherwise, it is unlikely to stand much more than a foot and a half high on the ground without support. If cascading over the edge of a planter, upward growth may be only several inches high. In window boxes, it obstructs minimal sunlight. However, it may hang six feet downward!

Ivy geranium propagates somewhat easily by cuttings of the almost succulent stems, but not as easily as zonal geranium. Its lobed, rounded and quite fragile leaves are about an inch long and two inches wide. Sporadic but continual bloom becomes more profuse for late summer and autumn. Flowers might be white, pink, red, lavender, purplish or striped.

Not All Plants Like Fads.

Ornate pots and planters can be as decorative as the plants within them, and provide extra accommodation for more plants.

Like so many fads too often are, container gardening is overrated, and is actually contrary to the currently most faddish of fads; sustainability. Plants in containers need more regular watering than those that can disperse their roots more extensively into the ground. Those that are so indulged also want fertilizer to be applied more regularly, but are more likely to be damaged if fertilized too generously. Because confinement is stressful, plants in containers are innately more susceptible to disease and pests. Some plants need more pruning for confinement.

Then there are the problems with the containers. If exposed to sunlight, thin plastic containers get warm enough to cook roots within. Pots that do not drain adequately or that sit in their own drainage basins can stay saturated enough to kill roots. Water in drainage basins allows mosquitoes to proliferate. Seepage from large pots can rot decks and stain pavement. Self watering containers work nicely for houseplants (if used properly!), but lack drainage, so can not be used out where they are exposed to rain.

The advantages to container gardening are actually quite limited. Containers are obviously needed for houseplants, and where exposed soil is not available, like on balconies. They are also convenient for plants that want better soil than they can get in the garden, especially if the rest of the garden is responsibly landscaped with sustainably undemanding plants that do not require soil amendment or regular watering. Frost sensitive plants can be moved easily to sheltered locations if contained. Flashy plants like orchids and tuberous begonias that get displayed prominently while blooming can be concealed while not so impressive.

Of course there are many pendulous plants like Boston fern, spider plant, string or pearls and burro’s tail that really are at their best in hanging pots. It is also hard to deny that there are all sorts of artsy containers, like colorfully glazed pots and sculptural concrete urns, which are appealing enough to justify growing plants in them, even if just to show off the fun containers. Bonsai requires containers, but that is another big topic!

Hanging Planters Need Extra Attention

00617thumb
Some plants cascade nicely from pots.

With few exceptions, plants dislike confinement of their roots. They prefer to be in the ground where they can disperse roots freely. Houseplants stay potted because of a lack of other soil inside. Some plants live in pots for portability. Some plants just happen to look good in pots. Plants in hanging planters conform to any combination of these and other reasons. They serve their purpose.

Most hanging planters are simple pots suspended by three wires, chains or strands of plastic, jointed at a hook or loop. The hook or loop hangs from a hook affixed to a ceiling, eave, rafter, beam or tree limb. Hanging baskets are pot-shaped mesh or metallic baskets outfitted with fibrous lining to contain the medium within. Small plants or cuttings can grow from holes cut through the lining.

Of course, hanging planters for houseplants are generally pots instead of baskets, which are too messy for inside. They are likely also outfitted with big saucers for drainage. Hanging planters just happen fit well into spaces that are not useful for much else, such as up near a ceiling in a corner. Many of the most popular houseplants just happen to cascade splendidly from hanging planters.

Portability is another advantage of potted plants. Hanging planters that contain frost sensitive plants outside can spend winter in sheltered situations. Orchids and epiphylums that are prominently displayed during bloom can return to less prominent spots when finished.

Hanging planters are popular mostly because some plants simply look better in them. Cascading houseplants like Boston fern, pothos and spider plant, might look a bit mundane on flat surfaces. Many low growing bedding plants are more impressive if suspended at eye level than they are in the ground. Some bedding plants and small perennials excel at cascading from hanging planters.

However, hanging planters are very different from the ground. Because of limited root dispersion, potted plants rely more on regular watering than those in the ground. Because they are exposed to open air, they dry out fast, so crave more water.

Horridculture – Going To Pot

P00408-1
Would these hanging potted plants even be noticeable if they were not circled?

Container gardening is overrated. Perhaps not so much now as it had been while it was more of a fad a decade or so ago, but it is still overrated nonetheless. Most plants are happier in the ground than they are in confinement. They want to disperse their roots freely to where the goodies are, and not contend with the unnatural temperature fluctuations of contained medium.

There are only a few exceptions for which containment of potted plants is an advantage. Houseplants are the most obvious exceptions. Also, plants that are sensitive to frost can be relocated to sheltered situations for winter if contained. Potted orchids and other flashy bloomers can be prominently displayed while blooming, and then returned to utilitarian locations as they finish.

The justification for the hanging potted plants in the picture above escapes me. Does anyone besides me even notice that they are there? They are hung too high for anyone on the sidewalk to appreciate them, or actually see the flowers that are visible from above. Those on the opposite sidewalk can see them, but only at a great distance across all those lanes of El Camino Real.

Those in cars on the road see less of them than pedestrians. Even those who happen to look up while riding past in convertibles with the tops down will see only the undersides, and only at significant speed. These potted plants would be in the way of the sidewalks if they were lowered to be more visible. No matter where they are, they are not proportionate to the broad road.

Maintenance of the flowers in these many hanging pots was quite a bit of work. The annual flowers needed to be replaced a few times a year, or more if ruined by the weather. Without automated irrigation, someone needed to manually water them, which left puddles on the sidewalks that were more noticeable than the highly hung pots above.

As if all these hanging pots were not already tacky enough, the flowers within were eventually replaced with . . . fake flowers, as seen in the picture below.

P00408-2
Just when it could not get any tackier; they are fake!

Ivy Geranium

90626This is one of the more traditional perennials for old fashioned window boxes, not only because it cascades downward to avoid obstructing associated windows, but also because, back before window screens were commonly available, the aromatic foliage was purported to repel mosquitoes. Ivy geranium, Pelargonium peltatum, is splendid for hanging pots and retaining walls as well.

The best bloom is usually later in summer or in early autumn, but sporadic bloom can continue almost throughout the year. The flowers are very similar to those of more common zonal geranium, but perhaps more abundant. The slightly more extensive color range goes beyond hues of white, pink, red and peach, to include rich burgundy, pinkish lavender and candy striped red with white.

The rounded and lobed light green leaves are rather succulent, so are easily damaged. Some cultivars have slight foliar halos (semicircular zones of darker color around the centers of the leaves) almost like those of zonal geraniums, but not quite as prominent. The thin and nearly succulent stems are easy to root as cuttings. Although fragile, they can sprawl or cascade as much as six feet.

‘Silver Falls’ Dichondra

80124No one seems to know what ever happened to old fashioned dichondra lawns. Everyone seemed to like them, especially those of us who dislike turf grasses. Somehow, they became passe and very rare. The formerly common dichondra that such lawns were made of is now merely a resilient weed in turf lawns. But wait! We have not heard the last of this resilient and appealing perennial.

Silver Falls dichondra, Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’, has the same tiny rounded leaves, dense growth and fine texture as old fashioned dichondra lawns, but instead of rich deep green, it is strikingly silvery gray. It does not tolerate traffic well enough to work as lawn, but is a distinctive small scale groundcover, and cascades exquisitely from urns of mixed perennials or hanging pots.

The trailing growth spreads indefinitely over the surface of the soil, but is not very fast about it. As ground cover, individual plants should therefore be planted only two or three feet apart. They get two to four inches deep. Hanging growth (that can not root into the soil) can cascade more than three feet downward. Silver Falls dichondra prefers regular watering and full sun or a bit of shade.

Parrot’s Beak

71213The Latin name is easy to confuse with the sacred flowers of an aquatic perennial from tropical regions of Asia, or a funny looking British sport coupe. Lotus berthelotii is a diminutive terrestrial perennial known as parrot’s beak. It gets only about a foot high, and spreads to only two or three feet wide. It cascades nicely from hanging pots, and is actually rarely planted out in the garden.

The bright reddish orange flowers bloom mostly in the warmth of spring and summer, but can bloom any time they are neither too hot nor too cool. They are about an inch long and ‘pea-shaped’, but they really look like parrot beaks. The finely textured gray foliage is comprised of small compound leaves that are divided into three or five very narrow leaflets that look like hemlock needles.

Parrot’s beak likes full sun and good drainage. It rots easily if soil is always damp. In hanging pots, it is usually sheltered from frost through winter, or can at least be moved to shelter prior to frost. Parrot’s beak can cascade nicely over the rims of urns of mixed perennials or annuals, but dies back through winter where such urns are too exposed. It is often grown as a warm season annual.