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Containing Your Enthusiasm


Spectacular outdoor containers overflowing with a variety of plants are one of the hottest trends in gardening today. Creating extraordinary plant combinations in the home using indoor plants has never been easier. In fact, plants like to be grouped together because they give off water vapor, which makes the surrounding air more humid, providing them with a happy growing environment. Our houseplant greenhouses receive fresh shipments weekly, making your design possibilities almost endless.

In years past, flowering plants were used as the central feature of container gardens, but more of our designs use foliage plants which survive indoors longer and can adapt to partially shaded rooms. My favorite combinations really pack in the plants using four basic design functions: size, color, leaf shape and form.

While browsing through our warm and cozy greenhouses, begin your design with an eye-catching upright plant that will add some height to your creation. Among the easiest to grow are dracaenas, often resembling palms with arching leaves and bare, woody stems. Their striking leaves are usually long and striped with various combinations of white, cream, yellow, red and several shades of green.

Most of us are familiar with the popular Dracaena marginata or dragon palm, but Behnke’s carries several new introductions as well. Another favorite of mine is the Ficus elastica or rubber plant. The glossy leaves are large and leathery with prominent midribs and pointed tips. The newer cultivars have a more compact growth habit and colored leaf markings of green, gray-green, creamy yellow, white, pink and burgundy.

Essential for adding surprise and color to your combinations, accent plants often feature bold foliage. Leaves that are variegated or exhibit unusual color, such as burgundy or chartreuse, are especially effective. Codiaeum variegatum, or croton, has magnificent leaves in shades of yellow, orange, pink, red and dark green. Their colorful foliage can be long and thin, broad and rounded, straight or even twisted. For those of you who are seduced by a plant’s flowers (myself included), bury an empty plastic pot in your container, either a 5 inch or 7 inch depending on the size of your creation.

Most of our blooming plants are available in 4-inch or 6-inch sizes and you can insert your favorites into the empty pot without actually planting in the soil. After they have finished flowering you can easily replace them with another. We currently have blooming African violets, azaleas, begonias, bromeliads, chrysanthemums, cyclamens, kalanchoes and miniature roses. In February spring bulbs begin to arrive along with primulas and hydrangeas.

Using a variety of leaf shapes and sizes adds excitement and interest to your planting combination. Look for contrasting shapes and textures to bring life into your design. Here is where I have some fun using several smaller plants as fillers. As their name suggests, these plants fill in the combination, but more importantly, they separate the bolder participants in the container. There are just too many to mention, but some of my favorites include asparagus fern, rex begonia, spider plant, polka dot plant, peperomia, aluminum plant, fittonia, and several types of table ferns.

The final selection for your design should include a trailing plant or two. These plants provide much of the charm to your plant combinations while spilling over the top of the container or mingling among other container inhabitants. There are many types of English ivy and pothos that are colorful and easy to grow. You can also choose from creeping fig, baby tears, purple heart, strawberry begonia, Swedish ivy, and just about any plant you see growing in a hanging basket.

Let’s not forget to mention the new truckload shipments of pottery arriving each month. I am forever in search of interesting pots, whether they are hand-painted by a local artist or hand thrown and painted in a far away land. You can choose from a wide variety of sizes, shapes and style variations, designed especially for the home or office.

Behnkes carries contemporary ceramics, terra cotta, China bowls, Italian or classic cylinders, gloss, matte, or faux finishes, and specialty containers for orchids, bonsai, cactus, and succulents. I recommend Miracle-Gro potting soils and fertilizers to ensure your gardening success. Our Behnke designers can also assist in selecting containers and foliage to match your light, favorite colors, style requirements, and your enthusiasm!

by Mike Bader, Plant Buyer



Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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