Gardening with Galligan: Buying plants and keeping them beautiful

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO Isn’t this gorgeous? It’s a basket full of nemesia, that’s the blue, and calibrachoa, the common name is ‘Million Bells.’ Worth taking care of!
Isn’t this gorgeous? It’s a basket full of nemesia, that’s the blue, and calibrachoa, the common name is ‘Million Bells.’ Worth taking care of!

This is the time when many of us are buying plants — for planting in window boxes or for pleasure on tables or stairs, on porches and decks.

I have made enough mistakes in the past decades to feel quite qualified in telling you some do’s and don’ts; some are generic, some quite specific.

Let’s begin with the generic. The first of these is think before you even leave the house; it’s a basic mistake to browse without purpose. It’s easy to be seduced by something new and colorful without having thought it through.

You should be clear on what you need. Look through a catalog, answer the questions about sun versus shade, deer resistance and the like.

Next, make a budget. Decide on how much you want to spend. My experience is that it’s best to leave credit and debit cards at home. Bring cash. That way you don’t have to rely on willpower.

If you have a copy of the White Flower Farm catalog, or a good garden encyclopedia, bring it with you. You will not look stupid if you look something up. You will look smart. In professional places, staff will know the answers to your questions. In smaller places, you are usually on your own.

You wouldn’t ask the guy in the supermarket who is stocking shelves how to make a better spaghetti sauce and you shouldn’t ask the kid making some extra money on a Saturday for advice about your garden.

If you are looking for bedding plants, remind yourself that you cannot rely on what you see. Remember that this plant did not begin its life in an ordinary garden bed like yours; it was either begun indoors in a greenhouse or outdoors under plastic. This means that its bloom time, the flowers you are looking at, will be 10 days to two weeks later in your garden.

Even now, I remember my delight when I thought I had found a partner for my bed of orange butterfly weed. It was tall and blue and would be gorgeous as a companion plant, right behind the orange expanse. Or so I thought.

It was beautiful for that season but never again. The butterfly weed bloomed beautifully. So did the blue spikes, two weeks later. I no longer remember where I moved them or what I replaced them with; I just remember the lesson learned. If I’d brought a reference book with me and taken the trouble to use it, I would have saved myself some disappointment.

If you’re buying plants in pots and you plan to keep them on tables, stairs or decks, check out the Glass House, an extremely large and well-run nursery. It’s located on Route 25, about a mile west of the stoplight in Jamesport, and is well worth the trip. They have literally hundreds of hanging baskets as well as bedding plants.

I have heard people complain that buying potted plants usually results in disappointment, because soon after they buy them, they don’t continue in the same condition as when they were purchased. This is true and there’s a good reason and a remedy. Large nurseries, like the Glass House, have overhead watering systems.

They usually water daily and their water is never without fertilizer; if you want your plants to remain as good-looking as when you bought them, you have to follow the same schedule. This means checking them every morning, and watering with a watering can full of water and probably one-third fertilizer.

This is an easy habit to get into and you don’t need to be too picky. You don’t have to measure, just make the water light blue.

I’ll continue with this subject next column. There’s a good deal more to say. In the meantime, happy shopping.