Garden Guide – Thriller, Fillers, and Spillers
Overflowing with flowers and foliage, hanging baskets provide color and charm to outdoor spaces. But here, as many gardeners learn the hard way, that beauty can be short-lived.
Heat and drought take toll on the plants and require work on the part of their caretakers. Too soon, baskets are a tangle of scorched, straggly or struggling remnants better suited for the compost pile than an eye-catching spot on a patio or porch.
To enjoy hanging baskets in our Mediterranean-climate gardens, start by filling them with plants suited to our seasons, which can be dominated by dry and even drought conditions. Here are some planting options that expand their role in succulent, native and edible gardens.
• Cascading, upright and rosette-shaped succulents are ideal partners in hanging baskets where soil and water are limited. Use a cactus planting mix and make sure that basket liners allow good drainage. Then pack in plants much as you would in any container, starting with taller “thrillers,” followed by shorter “fillers” and trailing “spillers.” Design in concentric circles if the basket will be viewed from all sides.
• Ruffled echeverias, bold aeoniums, flowering kalanchoes and colorful geometric crassulas are good focal points, while string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), burro tail (Sedum morganianum), string of hearts (Ceropegia woodii) and rat-tail cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis) will tumble over the sides.
• Native plants also can thrive in the confines of hanging baskets, provided that the chosen plants share similar growing needs. Careful watering and protection from searing sun keeps them looking good year round.
• Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont suggests combinations of trailing seaside strawberry (Fragaria vesca ssp. californica), fragrant yerba buena (Satureja douglasii) and showy coyote mint (Monardella villosa) — all partial-shade lovers. Good centerpiece choices include flowering western columbine, coral bells and sea pink, as well as native clumping sedges (Carex) and California fescue.
• Create a mini herb garden near a kitchen window by filling a hanging basket with culinary favorites that thrive in the summer sun. Surround curly parsley, petite basils, chives or colorful sages with trailing varieties, including thyme in flavors from lemon to spicy orange, caraway or coconut. Regular snipping will help keep the plants — and basket — neat. In spring, add calendula or violas for a dash of floral color and edible flowers to sprinkle on salads. Small but fiery hot peppers and scented geraniums are good summer sparklers. When the heat-lovers flag, freshen the basket with cool-season herbs like cilantro, chervil and sorrel.
• Urban farmers with limited growing grounds can expand their harvest by growing compact, dwarf or bush-variety veggies in hanging baskets. Compact vining (indeterminate) tomatoes bred to fit hanging baskets include ‘Tumbler,’ ‘Micro Tom’ and ‘Patio Princess.’ New eggplant, bell pepper, cucumber and green bean varieties also will thrive in baskets, as will dwarf beets and carrots. Strawberries are especially productive – and pretty – in hanging baskets when the fruit hangs over the sides, safe from hungry snails and grubs. Regardless of where they are grown, vegetables need soil rich in organic materials and regular watering throughout the growing season.