May 9, 2010 in Features

Secret Garden owners have all the answers when it comes to container gardening

Susan Mulvihill Correspondent

Dee Peck and her husband, Ed, stand in one of four greenhouses full of pre-bought moss and plastic pots planted with petunias, geraniums, million bells and potato vine at the Secret Garden & Greenhouse, 7717 E. 18th Ave., off Park Road in Spokane Valley.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

Secret Garden & Greenhouse

7717 E. 18th Ave., Spokane Valley, (509) 892-0407

Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until mid-June.

Products: annuals, perennials, vegetable seedlings, containers, tools.

Container plants

For sun:

- Bacopa*

- Calibrachoa (Million Bells)*

- Canna Lily

- Cordyline*

- Diascia

- Geranium (Ivy or Zonal)*

- Lantana

- Lobelia*

- Nasturtium*

- Nicotiana*

- Pansy*

- Petunia (Wave, Trailing, Supertunia)*

- Portulaca

- Salvia ‘Black & Blue’*

- Scaevola

- Sweet Potato Vine*

- Verbena

For shade:

- Begonia, Tuberous

- Coleus

- Creeping Jenny*

- Fuchsia**

- Impatiens, Double


* Tolerates partial shade

** Morning sun, afternoon shade

Want to perk up your front porch? How about adding some drama to your deck? There is no easier way to do this than with attractively planted containers.

A local gardener who knows all about this is Dee Peck who, along with her husband, Ed, owns the Secret Garden & Greenhouse in Spokane Valley.

The Pecks and their staff planted nearly 700 containers for their customers early this spring, each according to their individual wishes.

“We ask them what colors they like and whether the container will be in the sun or shade, so we know where the little babies will be going,” Dee Peck says.

If planting your own containers sounds daunting, not to worry. Peck is willing to share her expertise so you, too, can create knockout containers like a pro.

“First of all, choose the largest container you can find,” she advises. “Larger pots are easier to care for because they hold more soil. It’s harder to keep small containers moist.”

Add drainage holes if the container doesn’t have any, because good drainage is crucial.

Peck puts a layer of pine cones in the bottom of large containers to cut down on the amount of potting soil needed, keeping them light. The pine cones keep the drainage holes from clogging up as well.

Always use to good-quality potting soil, she says.

“It really does make a difference,” Peck says. “I like Pro-Mix the best because it contains fertilizer and (water-holding) polymers.”

She advises against reusing old potting mix because the nutrients will be depleted and disease might be present. Avoid using garden soil because it compacts easily and also might contain disease.

When choosing plants, take into account whether the pot will be located in a sunny spot, in dappled shade or full shade.

For particularly hot locations, set the pot inside a larger pot. This will prevent the sides of the pot from getting so hot that it damages the plants’ roots.

There is a saying that containers need a thriller (the accent plant), a filler (plants to fill in the gaps) and a spiller (a trailing plant), but Peck has one more requirement: “You have to look at the textures of the leaves, too, in order to come up with a winning combination.”

Peck encourages her customers to be creative when choosing plant materials.

“Instead of doing the basic container with a Dracaena spike, two geraniums and a marigold or two, do something interesting,” she says.

“In place of spikes, we love using ornamental grass, Cordyline or Salvia ‘Black & Blue,’ which attracts hummingbirds.”

Keep in mind you can squeeze a lot of plants into a pot to make a greater impact. The plants are only going to be in there for the gardening season so you can ignore the spacing requirements on their tags.

“I like to coordinate the colors, although in nature, nothing really looks bad together,” Peck says. “But I do think the spiller should reflect your main color.”

Of the shade-loving plants, she likes nonstop tuberous Begonias, Torenias, double Impatiens and Creeping Jenny. Her favorite plants for sunny locations are Calibrachoa, also known as Million Bells.

“They are so easy to care for and they’ve come out with so many great colors and even doubles,” Peck says.

When planting, it’s easiest to plant the thriller first, the spiller next and then fill in the gaps with the filler plants.

Look at the roots before each goes into the pot. If they are dense and tangled, tease them apart gently.

Place plants in the pot and press the soil firmly around them to eliminate air pockets around the roots. Once all of the plants have been added to the pot, stand back and see if there are bare spots or if any plants need to be adjusted.

To determine when to water the container, Peck suggests feeling the weight of the pot.

“If it’s heavy, then you’re OK, but if it feels light, water the pot until the water runs out the bottom,” she says.

She fertilizes the plants once a week with a weak solution. Her favorite fertilizers are Miracle-Gro and Schultz, and she top-dresses the pots with a slow-release fertilizer like Osmocote.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via e-mail at

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