“A container garden personalizes things. Almost any plant can go into a container for a limited time, and what’s fun about containers is that you can start over again every year and experiment.”
Master gardener Polly Burlingham should know. She specializes in unique container gardens, including hanging baskets, and she knows what a difference they can make on a patio, terrace, or deck.
As owner of Green Gardens & Polly’s Pots for 10 years, Ms. Burlingham has designed innumerable container gardens for clients in Princeton and the surrounding area.
“I like to design and restore gardens, and I like creating intimate spaces,” she explains. “Most gardens have seasonal interest; things bloom at different times, and this creates variety. There can be fall colors, or interesting bark on trees, or texture that stands out in winter. Every season has something special.”
Ms. Burlingham says she was always interested in creating beautiful gardens, a talent she shared with her mother. “My mom was a wonderful gardener, and I was a member of the Junior Garden Club.”
When she became a Master Gardener in 2001 (a process which entails a six-month study program, extensive volunteer work, and ongoing education), Ms. Burlingham became involved in the Barbara Sigmund Park. She has devoted many hours of landscaping, planting, and maintenance to the establishment of a garden there, which has provided a charming and colorful vista for the community.
“I also proposed doing a series of hanging baskets to the Borough, including on Nassau and Witherspoon Streets, and the Albert Hinds Plaza at the library.”
Her handiwork can be seen at all of these locations, as well as at the Princeton Shopping Center, the Peacock Inn, and Alchemist & Barrister. She is also known for the beautiful plantings in the elegant urns at Drumthwacket, the Governor’s mansion.
Ms. Burlingham’s clients depend on her throughout the year to combine her unique style with theirs to create a garden design that continues to provide pleasure, whatever the season.
“I enjoy choosing the plants,” she notes. “I’m very visual, and I also change my mind a lot. I shop for plant materials in a variety of nurseries, and find new combinations that I might not have thought of. This is the most fun — discovering a new plant or color combination.”
She adds that there are many more choices available today than in the past. “One of the surprises has been the emergence of so many new plants and varieties that are now available. The plant palette has expanded so much. Every year, there are new varieties to work with. It keeps it interesting.
“For example, there used to be a few types of geraniums; now, there are hundreds. Today, there are many different kinds of petunias. New varieties of old stand-bys keep us inspired.”
Placing a plant in the right location — whether sun or shade, wet or dry conditions — is crucial, Ms. Burlingham adds.
“The most important consideration is putting the plant in the right place. If a plant likes it dry, you don’t put it in a wet area. It’s good to put like plants together — that is, those that do well in similar types of soil and conditions. Although in container gardens, you have a little more flexibility because you can make changes. And, of course, you also have to think about deer-resistant plants.”
The ability to mix and match the plants in container gardens — from season to season or even within a season — creates ongoing interest, points out Ms. Burlingham. “I like to try several new plants every year. It’s great to experiment. I enjoy including more unusual plants. For example, in summer, you could have angelonia, coleus, and plectranthus. In spring, a container garden might include mini daffodils, herbs, such as rosemary, pansies, violas, and grape hyacinth.
“I also like to include succulents; they have so many interesting shapes and textures. And, I’ll use edible plants like herbs, kale, and lettuce. In addition, I like perennials, grasses, and small shrubs in containers.”
Textures and Colors
“I really specialize in interesting plant combinations, making the most of the textures and colors. My hanging baskets are a good example. There can be coleus (which does well in sun or shade), asparagus ferns (for a feathering look), trailing petunias, and upright angelonia. I can also add a big bold leaf like caladium.”
A winter basket could contain decorative branches, pine cones, berries, and evergreens, she adds.
Ms. Burlingham also provides the container for the plants, and this is another important part of the visual effect. “I use glazed containers, clay pots, wooden boxes, and unusual pieces of logs handcrafted by area artist Peter Soderman.
May and June are especially busy, but Green Gardens & Polly’s Pots is an active year-round operation. Ms. Burlingham has a part-time staff for digging, planting, and installation.
“Fall can also be busy,” she adds. “It is an excellent time for installing new gardens because traditionally, it’s a little wetter. Also, you can put in beautiful grasses, fall-blooming perennials, and a chrysanthemum as an accent. I often start with new clients in the fall, and it’s nice, too, because a lot of the containers are on sale.
“I have a real mix of clients,” she continues. “Some like to be very involved hands-on gardeners. Others just like to sit back and admire the lovely garden setting.”
Of course, budget is always a consideration in terms of the plant material and size of the project. In some cases, projects are on-going and done in increments, continuing over time. A work in progress can be very engaging, and more people seem to be taking an interest in improving their outdoor space, reports Ms. Burliingham.
“In some cases, people are not taking such expensive vacations as in the past, and they want to make their home environment more appealing. I love to help them, and I love to visit all the gardens. Many times, the clients have become good friends, and I really think of it as visiting my own garden!”
Green Gardens & Polly’s Pots can be reached at (609) 947-1015. Website: www.pollysgreengardens.com