It's the Plants, Darling

This Is So Not Me.

Petunias

I am so not into pink.

Or petunias.

Or, for that matter, hanging baskets.

And yet, here I am, assembling five hanging baskets to adorn our downtown.  That's what owning a business will do to you.

This is just a pilot project–an effort by a few community groups and business owners to experiment with hanging baskets in the hopes of pulling off a full-fledged hanging basket program next year.This is not the year for cutting-edge design or experimental techniques.  This is the year for big, pretty, pink globes using plants that are so well-tested that they are a cliche.

So we've got your Wave petunias, your PW Supertunias, your PW Superbells, and some pink lobelia. The containers come from a company called BloomMaster that does nothing but municipal hanging baskets.  Here's what the basket looks like:

Petunia pot

There are 30 holes in this 14-inch basket, and of course you need some plants for the top, which means that I walked out of the garden center with more plants than I ever have before in one single trip.  Which is exciting, even when they are pink petunias and superbells and lobelia.

These baskets have been designed in such a way that there should be minimal leakage and no need for a liner.  We'll see how that goes–this is only a test–but you can see from the way the holes are cut from the inside that they have put some thought into the whole thing:

Petunia hole

It was actually very pleasant, spending the afternoon stuffing petunias into pots.  It's kind of like making a casserole–a layer of plants, a layer of perlite, a layer of this special hanging basket potting mix, a sprinkle of (god help me) synthetic time-release fertilizer (I told you we're taking the low-risk, bomb-proof approach our first time out), and another layer of plants.  I have enjoyed figuring out the science behind this stuff–there's something technical to know about every step of the process, from what plants to choose, to the soil mix, to the feeding schedule.  I find it very reassuring to know that there is a right way to do this municipal hanging basket thing.  I'm following recipes and everything.  As I said, it's all so very unlike me.

Petunia roots

The pots are headed to a greenhouse where they will be coddled along until early June, at which point we hope the fierce wind off the Pacific will have died down enough to let us hang these up.

And by the way, this is not just about beautification.  Studies show that good landscaping in a retail district can increase sales, increase shoppers' perception of the value of the merchandise, decrease crime and shoppers' perception of crime, and encourage shoppers to stay longer.  In this economy, we can use all the help we can get.  So go, pink petunias!

I'll keep you posted.  Meanwhile, if anybody has any downtown hanging basket experience to share, let's hear it!

Posted by on May 12, 2010 at 5:36 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling.
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29 Responses to “This Is So Not Me.”

  1. Ha! This is funny. I’ve never liked pink in the garden and I’ve always hated petunias. And yet, what do I find there this year? Yep.

    Suddenly, I am taken with their charm.

    Keep us posted on how the experiment turns out. It seems like a good idea.

  2. Ahhh, a classic case of never say never! None of those are “me” either, yet I’ve found myself using pink Waves and petunias of other sorts because they perform. A beautiful petunia is better than a bad something else any day. They smell good at night, too. :-)

  3. Eliz says:

    We do it every year and our baskets look fabulous; generally there is a mix of petunias, sweet potato vine, maybe some lobelia.

    The trick is not the basket or the planting of the basket, or what’s in the basket. It’s all about the watering and that is why we hire a service to take care of the whole thing all summer (including Sept/half of Oct). Thus helping another local business.

  4. Denise says:

    I too was a petunia hater for many years…partly because my first horticulture job entailed deadheading the slimy little buggers at a Mom and Pop nursery in the late 70′s. I have to say I’ve been quite seduced by the newer supertunias and calibrachoa…putting pink and reddish purple petunias with some orange super bells is this years “cliche with a twist” for me.

  5. I never really liked petunias either, but the Supertunias do seem to perform well. I wish they were available in a little milder color! I don’t like that bubble-gum shade of pink. And I wish they (and calibrachoa) were a little bit more heat tolerant. Here in zone 9A they won’t reliably go through the summer, particularly in a hanging basket.

  6. Michele Owens says:

    Here in Saratoga Springs, there is also a completely uncool program of civic planting–loads of Victorian-style tropicals like cannas and hibiscus with braided stems.

    Totally square and yet fabulous.

  7. Hoover says:

    When I think of shopping Michigan Avenue in Chicago, I think more of the gorgeous plantings improbably sprouting along the busy street than of the shopping.

    Our own burg has made a huge effort to get local retailers to plant appropriate (drought tolerant) landscaping, and we have many gorgeous small groves of olive trees and planters of aloes, lavenders, and rosemary. It’s given the town a distinctive and beautiful look.

    Not a petunia in sight–the local geranium budworm make petunias a wasted effort.

  8. Sharleen says:

    I’ve never been a Petunia fan, but I do love to see healthy hanging baskets no matter what types of plants are in them. Those pots look neat! And your bookstore is gorgeous… :)

  9. Judybusy says:

    I don’t like petunias, either, but have really come to appreciate the calibrochoa–the tinier flowers appeal to me.

    On an embarassing note, I don’t recall if downtown Minneapolis does hanging baskets, but we do have numerus large planters lining Nicollet mall. These are actually very well-planted with mix of perennials an annuals. We also have a street with huge rectangular planters down the middle that one of our premier garden design firms, Tangletown, plants every year with unusual things like verbena boniarenis.

  10. commonweeder says:

    I don’t have any experience with hanging baskets, but I just visited Bryant Park, behind the 42nd Street Library in NYC. That park had been a drug den and when a murder was committed there it was closed entirely by the city until a group decided to clean it up, replant and reorganize it. It is now a jewel in midtown and inspired the creation of a business group to support it which they are glad to do because that whole area has been renewed – because of the park. And we are not even talking about the pleasure of users of the park. The story is told in Lynden Miller’s inspiring book: Parks, Plants and People.

  11. Next year, try the European bred hanging geraniums at Wheeler Farm Gardens:

    http://www.wheelerfarmgardens.com/

    I have been really happy with the way these guys look and perform. Also something different from petunias and million bells.

  12. Claire Splan says:

    I find that I really don’t care what plants are included in municipal plantings–I’m just happy that cities plant anything and actually maintain them. But I do recall that the hanging baskets in certain areas of downtown Seattle were part of the reason I found the area so charming.

  13. I like petunias!
    Had to get that out there. :-) I spent a lot of time deadheading them as a child when my mom explained that would make more flowers! The new waves won’t self seed for me like the old classics but they’re easier. Your baskets will relly create a nice enviroment for your shoppers. Hope they’re glorious all summer!

  14. Ficurinia says:

    I hated petunias because my mom used to have tons of the hybrids and they smelled and felt horrible. Now I only use the old scented kinds and they are amazing!!! White “Rainmaster” is probably my favorite and it is tall! The scent is terrific too.

    Hanging baskets do make everything look wonderful in a downtown area. I think that it shows a lot of pride, and kids like them a lot. I am always surprised by just how many little boys and girls adore giant floral balls of color.

  15. Tom Fischer says:

    I remember Wayne Winterrowd–a fabulous gardener by any measure–saying that if you feel sheepish about growing petunias, you should just pronounce it pet-oo-NEE-ah. That way it sounds like something rare and fancy.

  16. Denise says:

    Visiting English gardens and eating pub food along the way, the enormous hanging baskets at every pub inspired us to try the same at home, a modest bit of gardening that felt do-able at home (unlike Powys Castle). It was a miserable failure. You have to commit to these suckers and apply liberal amounts of fert. and water, both of which I was uneasy about applying in the amounts necessary. No commitment, no success. Hiring a watering service is a great idea. Maybe add water-retentive polymers too if very windy.

  17. Val says:

    Funny how I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing pink, but I absolutely love it in flower form.
    Kudos for civic beautification, in any form.

  18. Marcy says:

    My lovely city of Red Wing, Minnesota is adorned every summer with moss hanging baskets overflowing with petunias and cascading geraniums. It’s quite a beautiful effect when you see them hanging from the decorative light posts lining the streets. Pictures and instructions can be found at this link: http://www.sargentsnursery.com/mossbaskets.html

  19. HollixH says:

    Go Amy! Pink is an infectiously happy color, resistance is futile.

  20. Michelle D says:

    The design of the pot is genius.
    Good for you for overcoming your distaste for pink petunias.
    I have to do pink petunias every year for one particular client. I used to hate it now because it didn’t stretch me creativity.
    I don’t give a flying crap what color the plants are now, as long as she is happy and I can pay the mortgage.

  21. Poor pink! The one garden color everyone feels free to disrespect.

    Regarding the impact of flowers on shopping habits, my understanding is that the most effective strategy is to employ ‘festival colors’, i.e. those oversized planters at the mall with a garish mix of purple, yellow, red, pink, etc. People find this combination to be agitating – which apparently is a mental state that encourages spending money.

    So your charming creation in shades of pink might be too tasteful to get the job done.

  22. susan harris says:

    Um, half my wardrobe is pink, with coral-to-orange gaining on it fast. I also love the overdone petunias+sweet potato vine combo – sorry!@

    But thanks to Tom F. from now on I’m pronouncing petunias in the more sophisticated way he suggests. Though I’m happy to report that no one in my ‘hood really cares how common anyone’s plants are; everyone seems thrilled to see any attempt at gardening.

  23. Tibs says:

    The best watering tool for hanging baskets is to have a golf cart hooked up with a water tank and a long wand. Drive around and water those pots every day. Now if you can just get someone to help with the cost of the golf cart.

  24. Pink petunias were one of my Indiana farmer grandmother’s favorites so I have a soft-spot in my heart for them, if she could take time and effort when nearing age 90 to buy and pot up a few for her garden, I can find a few minutes to do likewise and smile at the memory.

  25. Town Mouse says:

    Mmm. My fair city has had a planted traffic circle and some hanging baskets for a while. The baskets are always a mix of flowers and colors, always a bit asymmetrical, and always bring a smile to my face.

    Are you sure it had to be pink petunias? Well, regardless, flowers are a good thing ;->

  26. I have an embarrassing love of petunias. I know they’re trashy, but I love them. Perhaps it’s because my mother always hated them or because I can only grow them while the weather isn’t blistering hot or because I love deadheading or some combination of different things. I have a batch of petunias out front that smell like floral bubblegum. It’s quite lovely.

  27. Ailsa says:

    I’m with Eliz and Tibs.

    Watering, watering, watering will be the key when those guys get hung up.

    Two points: I find lobelia to be very unforgiving when it comes to moisture. Once they’ve dried out, they’re gone and their pretty foamy cloud turns to brown.

    The second, my experience has shown me that petunias (and all their kinds) react very badly to insecticidal soap — so if aphids are bad, don’t even try to spray.

    I would also say that trailing geraniums are indestructable and that the Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ would be a good substitute for the lobelia.

    Good luck!

  28. DancingOpossum says:

    I never plant a garden without petunias or dianthus, two common little overused but hardy flowers that I adore. Many years ago, I had a beautiful garden that was all but destroyed by an unexpected crisis (long story). The dianthus and petunias were the only things that survived and gave me solace through the chaos and heartache of that loss. Since then, I honor them regularly. Also, I find petunias exceptionally pretty, despite what anyone says. And for first-time gardeners they are a dream of easy work and instant gratification. All hail petunias, dianthus, geraniums and marigolds!

  29. MaryContrary says:

    With the dawn of no-dead-heading- needed-if-a-bit-electric-in-color wave petunias, I have once again embraced my inner petunia lover. I buy a flat of the buggers every year and plant ‘em in, yes, a half whiskey barrel around a tomato or pepper or whatever on the edge of the vegetable garden. They look great all summer, and I can teach the neighborhood urchins the neat trick of sucking the nectar out of the end of the flowers. This year, however, I have given up on geraniums in hanging baskets. Tired of the deadheading and inevitably scabrous foliage — dragon wing begonias are the bomb as a replacement.

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