Debra Prinzing

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Plant a conifer in a container for evergreen appeal

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Check out pages 122-128 for my "Evergreen Appeal" story featuring Jean Zaputil's container designs

The October issue of Better Homes & Gardens features a container design story that I created with my talented BFF Jean Zaputil of Seattle-based Jean Zaputil Garden Design.

This story began when I pitched the idea of a feature about using ornamental and dwarf conifers as the focal point of a fall container . . . that will then transition nicely through the winter months. My editor in the garden department, Eric Liskey, and his art director Scott Johnson liked the idea. But then they asked me to find a good location for photographing the fall story.

I immediately thought of Jean’s intimate Seattle garden, which is planted for all-season interest and has beautiful seating areas both in the front yard and back garden.

Once Scott and Eric signed off on the location, our challenge continued. Scott thought that a purple palette was both uncommon and a great foil for the evergreen needled foliage. So, needless to say, much of my energy producing this story was spent scouring the greater Seattle marketplace for plum, lavender, aubergine and purple containers. We ended up with a grand total of three pot styles – a small lavender ridged pot; an egg-shaped pot (in 2 sizes) and a classic olive jar shape (also in 2 sizes).

Thank goodness for some wonderful importers here in Western Washington who came to the rescue, including Washington Pottery and Aw Pottery! Our friend Gillian Mathews of Ravenna Gardens was extremely helpful in making those connections for me.

The tiniest pot, measuring only 7 inches, looks quite sweet in Jean's entry garden.

Jean used many of her favorite wholesale and retail nursery sources to come up with the conifer “stars” for each pot, as well as their companion plants.

The idea was to use only two or three accent plants in the container so as to show off the Hinoki false cypress, juniper and other conifers in their full glory.

We hope that this piece inspires readers who never before viewed a conifer as a container plant to do something fun and different this fall. I quoted Jean in the story saying:

“Use the golden glow or silver shimmer of an

ornamental conifer to catch the fall light.”

And Jean color-coordinated with her pots!

Here are some of the tips we outlined:

1. Use a large pot, if possible.

A 12-inch diameter pot is a good minimum size.

2. Start with a small juniper, cypress, or other conifer.

Then combine it with two or three complementary or contrasting cool-season annuals and perennials.

3. Flowering plants might fade after the first frost.

You can replace them with foliage perennials that will last through fall, even well into winter.

Here is the best of the best – from our photo shoot a year ago this month! Kudos to the very talented Laurie Black, who took the magazine photos, such as the one above. The photo of Jean and Pots 1, 2, 3 & 4 are my photos.

Pot 1

POT 1: Sadly, this gorgeous purple egg-shaped pot was left on the cutting room floor! But here is the recipe:

  • Juniperus horizontalis ‘Limeglow’
  • Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrical ‘Red Baron’)
  • Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
  • Chrysanthemum ‘Dazzling Stacy Orange’






Pot 2

POT 2: A miniature garden in a pot – perfect for a side table or the front porch:

  • Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtuse ‘Verdoni’)
  • Japanese sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Minimus Aureus’)
  • Bluestar creeper (Pratia pendunculata ‘Little Star’)







Pot 3

POT 3: This might be my favorite! We photographed it on Jean’s front porch, against her beautiful green screen door:

  • Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtuse ‘Gold Fern’)
  • Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’
  • Vinca minor ‘Illumination’
  • Gazania Gazoo Mix


Pot 4

POT 4: This copper red “turnip” pot is one of two Jean already owned and we thought the color and shape looked autumnal, while also complementing the purple pot tones:

  • Juniperus horizontalis “Limeglow’
  • Moss (Schleranthus biflorus)
  • Sedum hakonense ‘Chocolate Ball’
  • Chrysanthemum ‘Dazzling Stacy Orange’

A few more tips, from the story:

When, and whether, you leave containers out all winter depends on where you live. In Zones 8-10, most conifers and cool-season annuals will survive outdoors in pots. In Zones 7 and lower, few annuals will overwinter in pots, and some evergreens won’t either, depending on hardiness. So before the ground freezes, transplant them to the garden or move the pot into a shed or unheated garage. Water pots as needed to keep soil moist throughout the winter. For outdoor winter use, pots should be glazed, hard-fired clay. Terra-cotta and soft-fired clay do not withstand freezing.