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In Good Thyme

"Most hanging baskets and container gardens are like sci-fi movies, bursting onto the scene in a spectacular show of special effects, lasting just one season. Those splashy cascades of petunias and geraniums may be blockbusters, but with a little planning, you can have colorful container gardens throughout the year.Fall is the best time to start an all-season container garden. Begin with the right pot. Plastic containers are probably the best for the purpose, since they're light, inexpensive, and unlike their clay counterparts, won't crack in winter's cold. Some of the new plastic pots that are made to resemble weathered clay look so real that you have to touch them to be sure. Choose pots that are at least 14 inches deep and 16 inches across. Use a good quality potting mix, not garden soil; add just a little time-release fertilizer and polymer granules that absorb water and release it as needed (available at nurseries).First, select spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus. If you're planting a hanging basket, choose miniature varieties. Plant them at the depth recommended on the package and add a little bulb food, if you like. On top of the bulbs, build your design around an arrangement of small evergreen plants, ornamental grasses and trailing vines. Pick plants with colorful foliage and contrasting textures.Local nurseries are bursting with great selections for fall planting. I visited one of them last week, where nurserywoman Debbie Vanden Haak showed me such hardy beauties as a variegated yellow-green wallflower with lavender blooms; purple-burgundy Euphorbia; yellow variegated sweet flag grass; sages in purple, yellow and tricolor; silver artemisias, and much more. This, of course, is in addition to the traditional array of chrysanthemums, ornamental kales and cabbages, sedums, and winter pansies galore. I fell in love with the spectacular (ITAL) Houttuynia cordata Chameleon. Its variegated green, red, pink and cream foliage will look fabulous in my autumn hanging basket, combined with raspberry-colored button mums. Set the tallest plant either in the center or toward the back of the container. Allow trailing plants to cascade over the sides. Place a few smaller plants in the middle, leaving room for winter bedding plants such as miniature ornamental kale, winter pansies, dusty miller artemisias, small mums or asters. In the early months of the new year you can remove the winter bedding plants and in their place, tuck primroses in cheerful colors. Leave the evergreens and vines, however; they're the permanent backbone of your arrangement. Pretty soon you'll be seeing the bright green foliage of your bulb plants peeping through. In spring, the primroses may be replaced with small seasonal annuals such as new pansies, forget-me-nots or English daisies. Repeat the procedure in summer with alyssum, ageratum, lobelia, petunias, marigolds, or geraniums.If you want to keep the container garden going another year, next fall remove all plants and replace and replenish at least half the potting soil. Add a little more time-release fertilizer. If your backbone plants are still healthy, replant them in the pot or give them a new home in your garden if they've grown too large for the container.A big, hollowed-out pumpkin makes a nice seasonal container. Insert nursery pots of coppery mums, purple asters, burgundy fountain grass, and perhaps gold and green variegated ivy to trail over the edges. After Thanksgiving, you can settle the plants into your garden and toss the pumpkin into the compost.The bronze-to-maroon foliage of chard, canna or phormium (New Zealand flax) is a beautiful backdrop for fall flowers. Imagine them with magenta asters, frilly purple kale, and a graceful arching ornamental grass, spilling from a weathered wooden crate or a wicker basket.Container plants are subject to drying more quickly than those growing in the garden, so check them regularly to ensure they have enough water. Don't give them a lot of fertilizer or they'll grow so quickly your planting will be out of scale. Keep faded flowers and dead leaves clipped.If there's an extended cold snap and you think the soil may freeze, move the containers into the garage or other frost-free area until danger of freezing is past. This is the time you'll really appreciate those light plastic pots! And of course, stow your hanging baskets if one of our infamous Whidbey windstorms threatens.Mariana Graham, a writer and former editor, is a Master Gardener certified through the WSU-Island County Cooperative Extension Service.If you have questions or comments, contact her at the Whidbey News Times, 675-6611; fax 675-2732; or e-mail wnt@whidbey.net.----------------Garden calendarCoupeville Garden Club Regular meeting, Thursday, Oct. 5, at 1 p.m., Fire Station No. 5, 215 Race Rd., Coupeville. Greenbank Garden ClubMeets on Thursday, Oct. 5, at 10 a.m., Greenbank Progressive Club, Bakken and Poor Roads. Plan Oct. 21 plant sale, discuss adopted gardens and potential recipients for community donations. Program will be on greenhouse gardening. Call 678-6615.Seed-saving workshop It's time to harvest seeds from your garden for planting next year.On Saturday, Oct 7, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., the Abundant Life Seed Foundation will present a workshop on seed saving at the South Whidbey Tilth land on Thompson Road and Highway 525. They tell us that they will use a hands-on approach to teaching, using examples from the garden and letting students try various techniques they are learning, said Michael Seraphinoff, of Tilth.Students will learn: basics of botanical classification and pollination; how to maintain purity of a variety; selection, population size and roguing; seed harvesting and cleaning; and storage of seeds and record keeping.The workshop is open to all Tilth members, and to the general public for a $5 suggested donation.A potluck dinner at the Washington Mutual Bank in Freeland will follow, at 6 p.m., and the workshop will wind up with a one hour slideshow about the work of the ALSF. Sponsored by South Whidbey Tilth. RSVP to 678-4168.Hybrid rhodie saleMeerkerk Gardens annual hybrid test garden sale is Saturday, Oct. 7, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (This date has been changed from Oct. 14.) Eight-year-old mature specimen rhododendrons will be available for one day only. In addition, a selection of extremely rare hybrids will be sold by silent auction between 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. The sale will be held in Meerkerk's hybrid test garden where gardeners can choose selections directly from the test beds. Loading will be in the front parking lot area. Buyers will need trucks as these are large mature plants.One gallon size rhododendrons and select mature specimens from the Meerkerk Nursery will also be available for autumn planting time. Sale is cash and carry only. Meerkerk Gardens staff and volunteers will be available to answer questions and load plants. For more information, e-mail meerkerk@whidbey.net or visit the web site:www.whidbey.net/meerkerk/gardens.html.Work partyThe Meerkerk work party date has also been changed from Oct. 14 to Oct. 7. Volunteers will help answer rhodie questions, dig plants and load sale plants. Additional projects will include: cutting back perennials, fall feeding, mulching paths and beds, planting rhodies, bulbs and more. Meet in the volunteer cottage for coffee and rolls at 8:45. Sale begins at 9 a.m.Oak Harbor Garden Club The Oak Harbor Garden Club meets Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 10 a.m. at the IOOF Temple. Speakers will be Kristi O'Donnell, manager of Meerkerk Gardens on All About Rhodies, and Dr. Lloyd Eighme, professor emeritus of entomology, Oregon State University on Insects: The Good and Bad in the Garden. Lunch will be served. New members welcome. Call 675-9167.--------------------September gardening tipIt's time to shop for spring-flowering bulbs to plant when autumn rains begin. "

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