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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Saturday - August 17, 2013

From: New York , NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Container Gardens, Shrubs
Title: Large-scale container garden for New York City
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I am a community volunteer in NYC who is trying to help a non-profit set up two large container gardens (about 3 feet high by 4 feet long by 2 or so feet wide). The problem is that they want natives, evergreens AND some of these to be bushy plants and some to be flowering, etc; I saw your answer to the 2008? question about evergreen bushes near the children's swings but I want to ask about native/evergreen/bushy and/or flowering that are not too large. Many of the evergreens I have seen are quite large. Thank you for your advice.


First, let me refer you to two sources for information on container gardens and then to a previous queston to Mr. Smarty Plants on large container gardens. This previous answer dealt with large container gardens in Central Texas, but there are also several links in that answer you should read including one from the Northeast on the dangers of cold to the roots in container gardens. The two sources we mentioned from our website are both also linked in that previous answer. I'm sorry we couldn't find the previous answer you mentioned; sometimes it just is a case of knowing a keyword to search on in our Ask Mr. Smarty Plants section, and we obviously didn't know the keyword.

From this point, the best thing we can do for you is introduce you to our Native Plant Database. Scrolling down that page to the Combination Search, we will first search on New York for State, and "shrubs" for Habit, with the additional stipulation for "evergreen" under Leaf Retention. Although you gave us the height of the containers, you did not stipulate how high you wanted the bushes to grow above the containers themselves, so we will name a size range of 3 ft. to 6 ft. for Height. There are other characteristics you are probably going to want, including how much light the gardens will get, etc. By just teaching you how to search on the information we have, we hope you will learn to use our database to make your own, more specific, search. The biggest sticking point is is going to be "evergreen," so we'll just have to see what we can get. You can follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant to learn its growing conditions, water and sunlight needs, as well as projected mature height, bloom times and color. You will probably be using some sort of soil mix to fill those containers, so be sure to pay attention to the kinds of soils each plant needs and necessary drainage for container gardens. When we put in those requirements and clicked on "Submit Your Search," we got exactly zero results. We decided to go back and leave the "evergreen" in and not specify a plant height, to see if we could obtain better results.

This search resulted in 20 possibilities. Of those, 9 had warnings that they either had poisonous parts or the whole plant was poisonous. Not knowing if the garden was going to be accessible to children or pets we chose not to recommend the poisonous selections, which are: Andromeda polifolia (Bog rosemary), Andromeda polifolia var. glaucophylla (Bog rosemary), Chamaedaphne calyculata (Leatherleaf), Ilex glabra (Inkberry), Kalmia angustifolia (Sheep laurel), Kalmia latifolia (Mountain laurel), Kalmia polifolia (Bog laurel), Ledum groenlandicum (Bog labrador tea),  and Rhododendron maximum (Great laurel). The other possibilities were not of sizes we thought appropriate.

Container Garden Plants for New York City:

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick) - flowers white, pink March to June, 1 to 3 ft. in height.

Leucothoe fontanesiana (Drooping leucothoe) - blooms white May and June, 6 to 12 ft.

Mahonia aquifolium (Hollyleaved barberry) - blooms yellow March to May, 6 to 12 ft

Rubus hispidus (Bristly dewberry) - blooms white June to September, trailing, woody stems

Gaultheria hispidula (Creeping snowberry) - blooms white April, May, 1-3 ft.

Gaultheria procumbens (Eastern teaberry) - blooms white, pink June to August, 1-3 ft.

Now that you know how to use our database, and since you will have a  better idea of the specific uses of these plants, you will probably be able to make better selections than we could.


From the Image Gallery

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Highland doghobble
Leucothoe fontanesiana

Holly-leaved barberry
Mahonia aquifolium

Bristly dewberry
Rubus hispidus

Creeping snowberry
Gaultheria hispidula

Eastern teaberry
Gaultheria procumbens

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