Containers highlight DNLA summer expo


East Coast Garden Center in Millsboro, Del., hosted the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association's Summer Turf and Nursery Expo on Aug. 19, taking advantage of the opportunity to showcase its new Cordrey Enrichment Center which opened in December 2009. The 3,500-square-foot facility, named for Mary Jane and Richard S. Cordrey, was filled to overflowing with DNLA members and guests.
Jay Windsor presented to John Wiest of John T. Wiest Landscape Service in Seaford a plaque inducting him into the DNLA Hall of Fame, “in recognition of his outstanding service to the nursery and landscape industry.”
Valery Cordrey, Karen Fox and Katie Ditmer, all from East Coast Garden Center, offered tips on successful container combinations and maintenance. "Every good container starts with great plants," Cordrey said. Containers have many uses, including hiding things or providing privacy. She suggested combinations such as a night garden with moonvine, night-blooming jasmine and white caladiums.
Containers should be for year round, Cordrey continued. Annuals can be replaced with dwarf evergreens for the winter, which can then be planted in the garden next spring when the cycle repeats. Winter-hardy containers are made of resin and polyfiber, wood, glazed, cement or cast stone and, sometimes, terra cotta. Pots should havae straight lines, no ridges to trap water and ice, which then will cause cracking.
If the pot is extra large, space can be filled with stone (if tipping is a problem), packing peanuts (if weight is a concern), empty water bottles with lids on, or empty production pots turned upside down. Don't throw in a shovel of dirt, Ditmer urged.
Containers should have "pot feet" to lift it off the soil surface, patio or deck. This is most important in winter, Fox emphasized.
"Go make a profit," Ditmer encouraged the audience. Include maintenance in a container contract to fertilize, trim, replace dead flowers and control insects and disease. "Clients won't do the maintenance needed to keep the container pretty and healthy," she explained.
Dan Benarcik, horticulturist at Chanticleer, a public garden 14 miles west of Philadelphia, urged DNLA members to come for a visit. The gardens are "free to professionals in the industry," he said. "We have a lot of containers, and the information in the previous talk is 100 percent correct. But my component is (to share with you) plants to put in a pot and walk away. These are the plants that work."
He showed photographs of "tropicals that pack a punch," some of which are hardy to zone 6. Among them were flowers such as Portulaca Pazazz, a new series from Allentown, Pa.; Mussaenda frondosa, or flag bush, which likes the heat; and Salvia 'Wendy's Wish,' a new introduction that "grows like crazy."
Benarcik urged, "Don't under-estimate foliage." His "single, No. 1" foliage favorite is Melianthus major, a fast-growing South African honey bush. "There is nothing that compares," he declared. (Editor's note: According to, when touched, the plant gives off a strong, unpleasant odor warning that it is toxic when ingested.)
Gossypium vulgare 'Nigrum' was a USDA mistake, Benarcik said, found in a compost pile at BARC, leftover from attempts to grow cotton fiber that wouldn't have to be dyed. The foliage is black. He warned, don't plant this near a cotton field!
He also likes the coarse, bold Hibiscus tiliaceus 'Variegata' which he uses in contrast to more delicate plants. A "spiller" that can be a "thriller" is Jasminum officinalis Fiona Sunrise. Its yellow foliage can grow up 8 feet of deer fencing.
For their form, Benarick recommended Musa basjoo or hardy banana; Ensete ventricosum 'Muralii' which is "explosive in the landscape" and grows to 14 feet; and Phormium tenax with rigid, upright leaves to 10 feet long.
As hardy elements Benarcik recommended Tetrapanax papyrifer (rice paper plant), Cotinus 'Golden Spirit' or smoke bush, Brousnetia papyrifera 'Golden Shadow' and Hibiscus coccineus, which he said had a "sexy flower."
While some of these plants may require a search to obtain, Benarcik encouraged, "Support your local suppliers first."
Attendees split into three groups to continue in concurrent workshops on "Great Landscapes Using Dynamic (Pest/Disease Resistant) Plants," "Let's Build a Rain Garden," and an additional conifer tour of the garden center. Final speakers of the day were Michael Coraggio and Ryan Burrows of EcoWalls LLC in Bordentown, N.J., who described how to "take landscape design to new heights" with vertical gardens.
East Coast Garden Center hosted a closing reception/social hour before the visitors dispersed.