Since moving nearly a year ago into my eighth-floor condominium unit, with its wide terrace wrapping around it on three sides, I've been walking on air. Gardening there is pure pleasure, the benefits of an earth-bound garden retained and most of its problems left behind. Those problems that do arise are easily dispensed with.
My collection of containers provides the room to grow most if not all of the flowers I'm curious to try or would hate to do without. Unlike a regular flower bed, in a rectangular planter plants work well in pairs. They can be set to flank a center placement, only one example of which is necessary.
Then too, I've discovered that some plants exposed to the heat and drying air of a terrace don't live as long as they normally would. Rather than grieving over their loss, I look upon it as an opening to stick in something new, gaining two, possibly even three, turns in the space of one.
I can't get over how closely the colors of some plants match. Without realizing that the shades of Pretty in Rose vinca and Dreamland Rose zinnias were practically identical, I planted them in the same box. The effect was sensational. The balsam mixes, too, both the tall doubles and the shorter Caramkole varieties, were so perfectly in tune with the lavender, pink and scarlet blossoms of the Accent and Splash impatiens I teamed them with that you had to look hard to tell which was which.
(The vinca, by the way, an All-America winner for 1991, is the most trouble-free annual I've ever grown. Except for watering, I gave it no attention of any kind. What's more, its vivid hue and 1 1/2 -inch blossoms, larger than is customary for vinca, are wonderfully showy. I also found them easy to grow from seed started indoors.)
I began to appreciate the convenience of gardening in containers on a terrace the day my rose bushes were delivered. True to form, it was pouring rain. Invariably, when we lived in our house, my mail-order trees, shrubs or perennials would arrive during a week of precipitation. Unable to plant my new treasures while the ground was sopping wet, I would nervously watch them languish in pails of water, wondering if they would recover from the wait.
On my terrace, a shower didn't stop me for a minute from planting my roses. I merely parted the soil in the containers I had reserved for them, dropped them in and firmed them into place. When I was finished, my shoes weren't even muddy.
Caring for roses too, is ever so much simpler on a terrace. My 1991 All-America Rose Selections (which I was able to obtain a year in advance), Sheer Elegance and Perfect Moment, brought me great joy. Ensconced in their 16-inch deep and 17-inch square tubs, they remained the picture of health until September, when I was finally obliged to spray them.
The length of time it took for a black spot to develop I attribute to the constitution of the plants, the circulation of air at an eight-story elevation and my diligence in removing fallen leaves -- perhaps harboring fungal spores -- from the soil. That simple act prevents harmful organisms from splashing back onto plants and infecting them.
In my old garden, I was not so fastidious. My plants bore the brunt of my neglect with diseased and dying foliage. My excuse was that it's no fun continually stooping to retrieve debris from the ground and dodging thorns in the process. In a waist-high pot, on the other hand, I can extract spent plant matter without exerting or hurting myself.
It was surprising how well dwarf varieties of other woody plants such as Centennial Celebration rhododendron (bearing heavenly large pink blossoms), Top Hat blueberry (which even produced berries) and Buddleia Lochinch (a summer-long bloomer) have fared in containers. Hydrangeas are a favorite of mine. At the old house, they were out of sight at the lower edge of the property. In my condominium, my lovely All Summer Beauty sits right outside my bedroom. I have only to raise the window to pick the blossoms that now in mid-October are still going strong.
Next to the hydrangea is a pot of Dark Twilight New Guinea impatiens, whose burst of coral-colored flowers, accented by yellow, red and bronze variegated foliage, provide me, in effect, with my own personal sunset.
Were it not for my terrace, I would forgo growing aggressively spreading Houttuynia Chameleon, a stunning ground cover with its leaves a Joseph's coat of colors. In a yard, I'd fear it would take over. In a pot, it's locked in.
In the past, I hardly ever bothered to dead-head geraniums. But to let withered flowers remain on a geranium as beautiful as rosy Rio would be unforgivable. Besides, with the plant sitting next to my chaise, I can put my feet and snap the spent blooms off while I relax.