I think of a living arrangement like a close knit group of friends or family. Each on their own are pretty amazing with their unique traits but when you put them together in the same home the whole unit becomes even more spectacular. Every plant has it's place, supporting and complimenting the others in the pot. When viewed by anyone they just seem to work in harmony with each other, it is as if you can not imagine the garden without even one of it's members.
If your group of people are like mine there is one gal in particular that demands to be the center of attention. She is striking in appearance, with a bold and theatrical presence wherever you gather. This girl is graceful and elegeant while sometimes flashy and brazen. This girl is the "Drama Queen".
Back in "the day" it was quite common to have a lovely planter with a mix of petunias, lobelia, geraniums and for height and a zing of texture... a Dracaena spike. Ok, I get that. There is a certain appeal to it's spikey texture mixed with the lush of soft leaves and petals. And, everyone else was using them, so it MUST be the thing to do, right? Not anymore! At least not as often.
I have not utilized many of the common green variety of "Old Faithful" since my container making days began a dozen + years ago, no need to with so many other plants to choose from that can perform the same duties of the original spike - create a sense of height, add dimension with great texture and to ground, or anchor, the whole arrangement. I often use the drama queen as a muse when choosing other plants to either mimic it's shape or texture or to go the other way and purposefully look for plants that have the exact opposite attributes.
Let's look at a few good examples for this role:
Grasses can be of a softer texture and many varieties have different growth habits. Grasses from the genus Miscanthus give height to a pot and with so many to choose from you are sure to find one suited for your color palette, such as Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' with it's interesting yellowish-white horizontal banding and arching form. It would be great in a large container placed in full sun. Likewise, a smaller container or one for shade Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' is a regular go-to of mine.
2. Cordyline and Phormiums
Anytime you feel the need to use a Dracena spike try one of these instead as they have the same texture. But the colors are stunning! Varieties will vary with each nursery and luckliy for us they are gaining in popularity and are becoming more readily available.
3. Other Larger or Taller Plants
Many perennials and annuals that flower or even merely stand out with a large and bold leaf shape could make a good focal point. Ricinus communis, or Castor Bean, is tall with unique folaige and suited for a large pot. Yuccas will provide you with that spikey look if you desire it and are a good choice for hot, dry areas.
4. Flowering Shrubs and Conifers
Choose shrubs with year round interest, taking into consideration their flowering times and look for interesting bark, folaige and overall form. Shrubs that berry will make both us and the birds happy and their flowers will attract pollinators. For something different try highbush blueberries in your pot this year!
Depending on the variety conifers will be lovely all year round but keep in mind that some have a different appearance in the winter than summer, such as Juniper 'Lime Glow'. Also remember that if you plan to overwinter your shrubs, perennials and conifers in their containers you must chose hardy varieties and provide some kind of protection.
5. Standards and Vines
Standards are shrubs that have been trained to grow in a tree form or have been grafted on another trunk to create that effect. If you are using tropical standards it is a good idea to plan on a space to keep them over the winter months if you wish to reuse them the following year. I use Hibiscus and Oleander standards often in sunny locations. Acer palmatum, or Japanese Maples work well in semi shade and the hardier varieties seem to survive our Nova Scotian winters well in a protected area.
Vines growing on some kind of trellis work or obelisk will give both height and drama. Choose an attractive frame so your planter will look fantastic even early on in the season before the vine fills it. I love using Thunbergia alata, or Black Eyed Susan Vine and Ipomoea, or Morning Glories. Mandavillas are beautiful tropical vines that typically come in shades of red, pink and white.
Add some "Wow" to your container garden with a single speciman plant that will give height and a dramatic apperance with boldly textured and colored leaves or flowers. Either left on it's own in a pot or surrounded by a network of friendly floral friends experimenting with different types of 'Drama Queens' will give your planters unique appeal, making them stand out above the rest.