Nothing signals late spring and early summer more than a bountiful display of flowers and foliage in a hanging basket or window box.
Europeans have this down pat.
Window boxes are evident everywhere in London, Dublin, Copenhagen, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Heidelberg and Geneva.
The Europeans appear to know that baskets and window boxes are as much a gift to the passer-by as they are to the people who assemble the flowers and keep them vibrant throughout the summer.
Tanner Leach at Surry Gardens in Surry — one of the local meccas for Downeast gardeners — has a major hand in planting hanging baskets and arranging window boxes.
Over the summer Surry Gardens will sell somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 to 2,000 hanging baskets of flowers ranging widely from mixed flowers and fuchsia to a variety of begonias and bougainvillea.
Although what is seen above the soil’s surface is what most people pay attention to, what is happening beneath the splash of color is just as important, Tanner said.
Tanner recommends that gardeners first ensure their hanging basket or pot has good drainage — lots of holes.
“The larger the container, the larger the holes should be,” she said.
Next, the planting medium should be a mix that includes soil as well as shredded bark to help shed water.
Leach recommends a mix of 50 percent peat moss; a 25 percent perlite and vermiculite combination, and 25 percent shredded bark.
“It’s very similar to the prepared mixes that you would find in bags,” she said.
Gardeners also need to fertilize once or twice a week with an all-purpose fertilizer.
Leach said gardeners should make plant choices in accordance with the amount of sun and shade and wind in the location where their baskets or window boxes will be located.
“Fuchsia can’t be on the windy, front side of an oceanfront cottage,” Leach said. “They can’t take the wind.”
Gardeners should check the soil in their hanging baskets and window boxes at the start of the season to determine how often they need to be watered.
“You can have big, thirsty window boxes, and big full hanging baskets that need watering every day, some even twice a day,” Leach said, while others might need watering only a few times a week.
“That will change as the plant gets bigger,” she said. “The plant will need to be watered more frequently.”
One popular combination for sun includes verbena, petunias, bacopa monnieri (herb-of-grace), lobelia, scaevola (fan flower) and calibrachoa (million bells), Leach said.
She said another good combination in strong sun might include deep purple calibrachoa, hot papaya petunias and dark blue lobelia.
For containers located in the shade, try blending the apricot begonia solenia; light blue or white lobelia; vinca vine and helichrysum (licorice white).
Leach said gardeners tend to run hot and cold when buying flower baskets — either saturated colors or pastels.
Some gardeners go for the patriotic slant — red, white and blue flowers.
Leach personally likes strong colors. She planted a basket at her home last summer with a combination of flowers in purple, orange and other “hot” colors.
“The boss [owner Jim Dickinson] totally disagreed with me,” she laughed. “It’s all a matter of taste.”
Foliage that provides a nice complement can be found in the ipomoea family, also known as sweet potato vine, she said. One favorite is the Sweet Caroline strain.
For Leach, another foliage option is Lysimachia Goldilocks.