Begonia 'Bonfire' and Heliotrope

We have a lot of potted plants - roughly 70, which includes about a dozen Japanese Maples and an even larger count of fuchsias on the deck. If it wasn't for Michael, who does an excellent job of caring for them, they would not look this good. The above photo shows a few of our pots on the table on the pergola.

The above photo show a view from the opposite side. You can barely see poor David who is lost in the madness. It is so hard to resist plants when you work in a nursery but I also find that it is an opportunity to learn about growing specific ones so that I can answer customer's questions. Case in point - the ever popular Bacopa, probably our best selling pot plant. It can't be beat as a "spiller" to cascade over the sides of pots. I had not grown it before, or at least I don't remember it, and wasn't exactly sure about what conditions it likes. The tag says "Sun/Part Shade" (so many do) which isn't exactly helpful. So, this year I decided to see for myself what it likes and convey this information to customers. In the above photo, it is blooming profusely in an area that gets dappled sun and a few hours of shade in the afternoon. The second pot of bacopa is on the deck and gets almost all day shade. It has virtually no blooms.

Begonia 'Dragon Wing'

A great plant for shade is the begonia. The 'Dragon Wing' variety has been a favorite of ours for years. It gets to be a big, robust plant with glossy green leaves and is covered with graceful blooms that hang in clusters. It blooms very well on our front porch on the north side of the house will only an hour of sun early in the morning. The one in the photo above is on the deck and this one gets a bit more sun. This plant has been overwintered in the garage for three years now.

Last year, a few hanging baskets came through the nursery that had a new begonia with bright chartreuse foliage. It is called 'Canary Wings' and unfortunately we could not find it in smaller pots. This year we did and I put one on my shelf as soon as it was unloaded from the truck. After planting, it did not impress me at first. It is not as robust as 'Dragon Wing' and did not grow much at all for two months. However, it has really come into its own and I love it now. It is quite happy with some sun. The pot in the photo below ('Dragon Wing' and 'Canary Wing' combined) gets dappled sun most of the day. We also have it in a container on the north-facing front porch (in full shade) and it only retains a hint of the bright color (you can see it in a photo near the bottom of the post).

Begonias 'Canary Wings' and 'Dragon Wing'

And I must mention 'Bonfire' (in the first photo), a begonia that it a must-have every year. This one that can take a considerable amount of sun and does equally well in shade. It is a really spectacular plant.

Our back deck is Fuchsia Central. I've posted about them before and will only include one here - the mystery fuchsia. Of all our fuchsias, this one has overwintered every year in the basement garage and looks better every year. We have no idea who it is.

The mystery fuchsia ('Firecracker', one of Michael's favorites, is in the pot behind it. 

A few years ago, at the end of the season, I brought home a hanging basket from work that was at death's door. The only plant I managed to save out of it was a torenia and it was so beautiful that I have grown it every year since. For one thing, bees absolutely love it! It also blooms in full shade.

For some reason, I can never remember the name of Iresine (or even the common name "Bloodleaf"). I'm trying it for the first time this year. It is a great foliage plant for shade or dappled sun.

Here it is in two separate pots on the front porch -

Two more pots on the opposite side with coleus. There is also a 'Dragon Wing' begonia here and you can see that it does much better without a lot of competition. These are a bit of a mess.

Of course, pots don't have to have flowers. I finally succumbed to the high dollar price tag and purchased a Japanese Umbrella Pine (Sciadopitys verticillate). It is a stunning plant.

Planted late in season under the ginkgo is an annual (or tender perennial) that I liked to grow in Alabama - Blue Daze (Evolvulus).

Bat-Faced Cuphea (aka Tiny Mice) is doing well in this pot in the outer fringes of the garden where it doesn't get much attention. I wish I could say the same for the Rose of Sharon hibiscus growing above it - it is very puny and is going to be banished after this year.

Some tips I've picked up at work and from Michael:

  • Water consistently (usually daily with the exception of Japanese Maples, which do not like as much water). 
  • Deadhead spent blooms
  • Fertilize with a liquid fertilizer every week to 10 days (we like Jack's Bloom Booster (aka 'Peters')
  • Occasionally mist leaves with either liquid fertilizer or sea kelp. On really warm days (85 or above), mist fuchsia plants. They hate heat.
  • Rotate plants if they begin to look sparse on one side
  • Monitor plants closely and you will eventually learn what they like (light conditions, fertilizing, etc.)

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. Suddenly I feel like a slacker! I mean I have way more than 70 containers, but they're filled with succulents and bromeliads that need a lot less care, this looks like so much work! Kudos to you and Michael.

  2. Wow. I'm blown away by all the pots... for me this is really wondrous display since I've never been successful with hanging basket or annuals so, bravo Michael, it's stunning. Begonia 'Bonfire' is a favorite of mine though my attempt to overwinter it failed. Will the Japanese Umbrella Pine (drool) will end up in the ground once it outgrows the pot?

    1. We can't overwinter 'Bonfire' either. Apparently it isn't as hardy as the others. I suppose the Umbrella Pine will eventually go in the ground but from what I hear, it grows very slowly.

  3. I need Michael here to tend my potted plants. They rarely look good after about a month in my care. I did just a few tropical plants this year. They did fine but now they are so tall the wind storms blow them over. I have no way to protect them from the wind. I do have a Torenia that has done well this year. I have seen hummingbirds go to it and it is in dappled shade. It has been fun seeing all of your gorgeous pots. 70, whew, that makes me tired just thinking about it. I have far fewer. I might count them and see how many I have. Cheers.

  4. Wow! Your potted plants all look so lush. Most of my potted plants are succulents (except for a handful of tuberous Begonias and my potted Podophyllums). The succulents all need the same kind of care and so I don't need to keep track of different watering or fertilizing schedules. I used to do potted annuals because I really do love flowers, but I got lazy in my old age. Your Japanese umbrella pine is gorgeous.

  5. I have had trouble with a few containers -- nothing grew well in the past. I thought it was its location, but I think the container may be too shallow for certain plants. Looks like you made the right selections for the right pots.

  6. So many gorgeous potted plants! I am so envious, especially of your fuchsias! Here in central Alabama summer has been so hot and dry that I really have few blooms now at the end of August. I am just trying to keep things alive and am hoping for an early fall.

  7. Michael is a gem! Your containers are so all beautiful. Those are great tips, if I could only stick to them.

    Here everything dries out so fast, and gets dry-wind blasted in autumn, so plants are almost always happier in the ground.


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