An Arkansas summer, slow and warm, is marked by time on the porch enveloped in the humidity of the great outdoors. The muggy middle months beg for iced sweet tea on the back porch, morning reading on the front and for those without, the window or balcony is perfect, too. Arkansas’ porches provide a front-row seat to the soft song of chirping frogs, the tweets of birds making their nests, and for some, the distant rumbling and rhythm of train whistles and tracks. But the storybook front porches are always surrounded by lush Southern grounds — rose bushes, Nikko blue hydrangeas (that haven’t fared well this summer due to an early freeze in November) and soft zoysia or tiff Bermuda grass. But for some, the dedication, resources or planning required for those sweeping gardens is simply unattainable.
Arkadelphia florist David Goodman says there is a happy alternative — one that we can all try, regardless of our thumb color: container gardening.
“Having potted things, like hydrangeas or rose bushes, in your yard is great because of their mobility,” Goodman says. “Instead of trying to figure out where something should be planted and if it will survive in that soil and that sunlight, potting gives you a trial period of sorts.”
The owner of Mary & Martha’s Florist and Gifts, Goodman explains that this type of gardening also allows for hopeful gardeners with no gardening space to still obtain that hobby. Think of those beautiful patio gardens in cities like Manhattan or San Francisco. Since they have no yards, apartment dwellers rely on containers to show off their horticulture prowess.
“If you don’t have a spot for a great flowerbed or have great soil, you can do clusters of pots and have your own garden on your patio,” he says.
This type of gardening provides the versatility to try new plants and blooms for the season, bringing them wherever they are needed — the porch, the windowsill or even the kitchen table. In June, Goodman notes there are groves of possibilities for a summer potting garden.
For potters with sunny yards and patios, Goodman advises petunias. Petunias are grown as annuals, meaning they must be planted every year and are divided into two groups: grandiflora and multiflora. With the intent to pot a petunia, they grow best in containers, as they are susceptible to rain damage, while multifloras withstand the water better and can be planted in the ground. Petunias thrive in the summer, often growing bigger as the season drags into fall.
As for shady porches and gardens, ferns, Swedish ivy and hydrangeas flourish without much sun. While ferns and ivy typically are planted in hanging baskets, Goodman says that he sees hydrangeas often planted in pots before being dug into a yard. By starting the large bushes in a pot, gardeners are able to move them around according to where the shade is and still use them to decorate their porches when need be.
Acknowledging that some hopeful gardeners or simply lovers of plants need to start smaller or even start indoors, Goodman says that some of the most successful potted varieties include houseplants, indoor dish gardens and outdoor herb pots, such as lavender, basil, cilantro and mint.
At his florist, almost 40 percent of his annual business comes from selling potted houseplants, such as peace lilies as they are easy to keep and grow inside. Most houseplants require only dappled sunlight and weekly watering, but always check the soil — never overwater. Goodman notes that houseplants are even considered to have health benefits, such as improving concentration and productivity. Research by NASA says they also remove up to 87 percent of air toxins every single day.
As for dish gardens, they serve as good starters for beginners. Consisting of five to 10 small indoor plants, such as succulents and Chinese evergreen, in one pot, dish gardens will grow into full-size plants that can be transplanted into other pots or into the ground when ready. The only maintenance required is the occasional watering, as long as care is minded to not drown the garden if there is no filter at the bottom of the dish.
And for those eager to claim the title of serious container gardener, these next few months can serve as a preparation period for planting in the fall, when a lot of the spring blooms are planted ahead of time. For example, Goodman’s favorite potted adventure is the annual planting of tulips in October. After potting them in the fall, his tulips survive through the winter with a hanging basket or potted plant sitting on top. When March finally rolls around, the yellow, red and pink blooms sprout and decorate his porch until summer. And if he’s lucky, they will bloom again after a mild winter next year.