Color contained — and unleashed

Tiniest gardens add a splash of spring hues

A flower box includes Tete a Tete daffodils, Blue Magic grape hyacinths, violas, and pussy willow wands. A flower box includes Tete a Tete daffodils, Blue Magic grape hyacinths, violas, and pussy willow wands. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Carol Stocker
Globe Correspondent / March 17, 2011

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Container gardens — whether enormous pots or narrow windowboxes — can bring a splash of early spring color to any home, regardless of how little yard space is available. Have a deck, a walk, or just a stoop? A handful of frostproof plants will give it new life, and won’t cost a lot.

The popularity of container gardens makes it the perfect theme for this year’s Boston Flower & Garden Show at the Seaport World Trade Center through Sunday.

Professional designers exhibiting at the show will be vying to see who can create the most imaginative container gardens. But what about the rest of us? We asked Peter Vera of Mahoney’s Garden Centers to show us how to assemble a gorgeous windowbox at home.

Step one: Fill the container with lightweight professional potting mix and fold in slow-release fertilizer beads such as Osmacote and polymer beads such as Soil Moist that you have presoaked in water (to reduce future watering needs).

Step two: Take a large container of flowering annuals, such as cold-tolerant violas, and break up the individual three to five plants for planting in your container. These annuals will have bigger root systems than annuals individually grown in six-packs.

Step three: Alternate plantings with shorter flowers placed toward the front of your flower box. Vera alternates violas with Blue Magic grape hyacinths and Tete a Tete miniature daffodils. All the plants are frostproof for outdoor planting in April, and the miniature bulbs are much longer lasting than large daffodils or tulips. Be sure to plant them at the same depth at which they were growing in their previous pots.

Step four: Add several freshly recut pussy willow wands in the rear of the container to add height. Push them all the way through to the bottom of the container, using the root balls of the planted annuals to help anchor them.

Step five: (Optional) “Moss over’’ any exposed soil surface with sheet moss, which you can buy in stores, or grass seed, which will soon sprout to add delicate greenery. Either adds a nice finishing touch.

Step six: Water deeply after planting and twice a week through the spring.

Step seven: In June, pull out the plants and replace with summer annuals. There’s no need to replace the soil.

For more information about tickets, hours, and participants for the Boston Flower & Garden Show, visit

Carol Stocker can be reached at