Muffin Evander on Extending the Container Gardening Season

A garden designer's suggestions for container gardening in fall

Muffin Evander.
Photo/Illustration: Steve Aitken

In Fine Gardening‘s September/October 2007 issue ( #117), garden designer Muffin Evander gives us ideas for container gardening in fall. Muffin has inspired us in other seasons, too (see her article, “10 Plants for Year-Round Containers,” in the March/April 2006 issue, #108). She gardens in containers all year round in her Maryland garden. We recently had a chance to ask her how she does it.

You seem to change up your container plantings throughout the year, adding and subtracting plants according to the seasons. What keeps you motivated to make your containers perform all year?
For my own pleasure, really. I like to have something pretty and colorful to look at all year. It’s especially nice in fall and winter when there’s not much going on in the garden.

Do you keep a lot of plant material on hand for your container change-ups, or do you shop for plants when the need arises?
I have a container design business, so I have things on hand all the time. But I do have to shop, too. I always have some bergenias ( Bergenia spp. and cvs., USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9) and heucheras ( Heuchera spp. and cvs., Zones 3-8) on hand. Then I shop for color according to the season, especially in the spring and fall, when I need primroses ( Primula spp. and cvs., Zones 3-8) and pansies ( Viola X wittrockiana cvs., Zones 8-11). I always need more color. I always like to add something. For winter branches I buy bunches of red- and yellow-twig dogwood ( Cornus alba and cvs., Zones 2-8) and winterberry ( Ilex verticillata and cvs., Zones 5-8), because I don’t like to cut much from my own shrubs.

What are some plants for containers that you cannot live without?
Yuccas ( Yucca filamentosa and cvs., Zones 4-11), especially ‘Bright Edge’ and ‘Golden Sword’, because they can take so much abuse and they’re fairly drought tolerant. They can also take a bit of shade. Bergenia and heucheras, of course, especially since heucheras come in so many colors now and they live for years in containers. I use lots of trailing sedums, too, like Sedum sieboldii (Zones 6-9) and Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (Zones 6-9), for the same reasons–lots of abuse and long-lived. Golden creeping Jenny ( Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, Zones 4-8) is great, too. It doesn’t show in the winter, but it comes right back in spring. The color blends with almost anything.

What is your all-time favorite fall combination for a container?
That would be one of the combinations that is featured in the article: ‘Bright Edge’ yucca ( Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’, Zones 4-11), sedum ( Sedum sieboldii , Zones 6-9), ‘Snow Angel’ heuchera ( Heuchera ‘Snow Angel’, Zones 4-9), and ‘Antique Shades’ pansies ( Viola X wittrockiana ‘Antique Shades’, Zones 8-11). It just looks so good for so long. I would do this combo every single year.

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