Plants for long-lasting spring containers

Last week, I took you on a walk in the woods. This week, it’s a walk on the really wild side: Fashionable Bloor Street. It isn’t my usual shopping precinct but happens to be close to my doctor’s office. It also happens to be a great place to window shop – and by that, I don’t mean clothing, but window boxes!

The folks bustling past weren’t as captivated as I was – clearly, they didn’t twig to the cleverness of the floral designers who’d put together ideas for spring containers that would last and last and last.

Here’s the first that glued me to the sidewalk.

What a great display! The design pulls out all the stops. First, a controlled colour palette of pink, dark purple, grey and yellow. Second, lots of interesting foliage – the longest-lasting part of any plant – with contrasts in shape, texture, colour, and size.

Most of this comes from perennials, including fuzzy, grey lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), perhaps ‘Helene von Stein’ aka ‘Big Ears;’ a blackish-purple coral bells (Heuchera); a deep purple Helleborus with white netting on the leaves and “flowers” (really, they’re showy sepals) that last for weeks; and golden ivy (Hedera) and Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa), likely ‘Aureola.’ Just a few spring daffodils (Narcissus) were added to the mix and could be easily missed after the flowers fade. To pick up the show as the weather warms up, some pink, annual African daisies (Osteospermum) and cute little English daisies (Bellis perennis).

Frothing on top, the flowers of variegated spurge (Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’) will be followed by attractive foliage.
And here’s the whole picture. If this were your window box, you could transplant those perennials into your garden when it’s time for a change. Win-win-wow!

A little further down the street was a less floral yet still long-lasting display – simple but effective. All you need is a mass of pussy willow branches (Salix discolor). It’s even native to North America. The moss-covered styrofoam balls aren’t native (insert winkie here), but at least you can recycle them for future use.

And down the way, the designer has used a florist’s hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) with one of my favourite tulips, Tulipa ‘Princes Irene’. More golden ivy drapes over the side, and curly willow (Salix matsudana) adds support and upright lines.

Here’s the transverse view, with repeated pots of tulips.
And here’s the view from the top, with a glimpse of the ivy. Love the way the immature hydrangea blooms pick up the chartreuse in the ivy.

A shrub in a container will also have a long shelf life, if chosen well. And these certainly make the grade, even without the tulips. But the tulip pot could easily be swapped out for something else to extend the look.

Daffodils are glorious in bloom, but sadly not long-lived – especially if they’re the main ingredient and the weather hots up. Which it will. Eventually.

Tucked in among the daffodils, though, those red flowers might push out repeat blooms as long as we don’t get one of those “sudden summers” that can happen in a Toronto spring. They’re the delicate-looking flowers of Ranunculus. All they ask to keep on blooming is cool weather, sunshine, and moist-but-not-soggy soil.

A closeup of a ranunculus from the hydrangea windowbox.

So you might not get your clothes at Holt Renfrew or Harry Rosen. But you can get ideas from the sidewalk outside, if you keep your eyes open. Unlike some high-fashion trends, most of these designs are made to last.


    1. Our long, cool spring has had an a positive effect on longevity, Laura. But even if the weather warms (finally) the Harry Rosen container, especially, should hang in longer. Great choices, beautifully arranged.

  1. Beautiful! I have stopped to admire these boxes on Bloor St. too. The rest of the in- a- hurry pedestrians just have to walk around me!

  2. Hi Helen.
    This is the first time on your site. What a beautiful creation you have made!!! Love this piece on outdoor containers. It is the first one I have read.
    You are my new online gardening magazine. Can I call it a “magazine”???? Thanks for dropping by at the show. You have a new follower
    Caroline dV.

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