How to Have Full, Lush Garden Beds

For the style of gardening I like most and try to maintain, the goal is to have garden beds that are packed full of plants to the point that it looks they’re bubbling out. They’re densely packed in, but each plant has sufficient room to do its thing, and there’s a variety of height, texture and colour.

The becomes challenging when some plants disappear part way through the season. Spring bulbs, poppies, and even fern leaf peonies largely disappear when they’ve done their thing for the year. All that’s left is an empty patch of soil.

In the bed in the photo below, I have a large swath of late blooming yellow tulips every spring, but once the tulips are done I’m left with a bald patch. One tactic to avoid this is to plant bulbs closely around other perennial plants with big leaves that will start to grow as the tulip foliage dies down, but that didn’t work out in this particular spot (gardens evolve, and in an earlier iteration I was focused on planting large swaths of spring blooming bulbs, without much thought to managing the next season).


But I have a solution. Rather than live with a scraggly looking border, I plunked a pot with a hosta in that spot and suddenly the bed looks nice and full:


This isn’t an expensive solution or even a particularly fancy hosta, it’s just an extra piece of a hosta I had growing in the garden. I divided the hosta a few years ago and put one of the divisions in a winter-safe pot. This particular pot is made out of upcycled used tires, but I often just use the black plastic pots that trees and large perennials come in from the nursery. The pot is meant to disappear into the surrounding foliage so the more nondescript the better.

Growing a hosta in a pot doesn’t take any special care, other than to water it. Once winter hits I drag all of my pots of hostas, as I have several, into a somewhat sheltered and shaded spot in the back yard and leave them there. In the spring I move them out into a more open spot and water them. Every few years I pry the hostas out of their pots to divide them up and repot them with additional fresh soil. Then they keep going and looking good year after year. As a bonus, I’ve discovered that when I grow hostas in pots they suffer much less damage from slugs and snails than my hostas that are planted in the ground.


Beyond Hostas

They don’t last over the winter, but I use big pots of coleus in a similar manner to the hostas. Here’s an example of a border without and with a big pot of burgundy coleus filling in the spot where another batch of tulips were previously growing:


Again, this is just a simple pot with a big, healthy coleus in it. I water it as needed and pinch it back to make it bushy.


I love to have muscari blooming in the spring, but the plants grow very tightly together and have choked out everything I have tried to interplant with them. Once the muscari foliage dies down I cover the area with mulch to at least make it look neat, but it’s still empty. This year I filled it with a pot of assorted annual plants, and it’s done the trick nicely. I used a decaying wood planter box, well filled with a couple varieties of coleus, a burgundy oxalis, and a sweet potato vine:


The planter adds much needed height to the plantings in this area.


My Inspiration

The first time I went to the big garden tour in Buffalo, Garden Walk Buffalo, I was amazed at how full their garden beds were–the plants just seemed to be jumping right up at you, not just emerging from the ground like mine at home did. Talking to the Buffalo gardeners, and then looking closely, I learned that all the best gardens on the tour had a lot of plants in pots. Some of the gardens were nothing but plants in pots, even though they were put together to look like traditional garden beds.


I wouldn’t want to have an entire garden of pots, as they all need to be watered individually, but I do love what a few well placed pots can do to give a garden bed a lift.


Do you have any spots in your garden that need something more? A pot or two might be the solution!

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