Center of Attraction

Successful container plantings require a focal point.

Cordyline australis with pansies. Purchase Cordyline australis as opposed to Cordyline baueri because the latter grows much too large for any container.What makes a single plant the center of attraction?Is it color, form, height, uniqueness, or a bit of attitude?

Well, all of the above, but not necessarily at one and the same time.

A container wants a variety of plant material, either blending, contrasting or both, but the center plant is the one that will focus the attention for either good or bad.

The first consideration should probably be height as that will determine the relationship or proportion of the plantings to the container. It is important that the ratio be pleasing — that the height and mass of the plants be neither too small nor too large for the container.

We have all seen examples of both and it spoils the whole effect of an otherwise pretty arrangement. Even the untrained eye can detect this.

Of course, with ultimate growth it changes over time, but the centerpiece should consistently be visibly taller and more dramatic than the surrounding plants.

At least three suitable plants come to mind for this position, one very traditional, one relatively new to this area and the third, practically unknown. The first is the green draecena, tried and true and tough; the second, wine-dark cordyline, which is similar in form to draecena. Both provide height and a graceful arching aspect, but the cordyline adds a striking color accent.

It is important to purchase Cordyline australis as opposed to Cordyline baueri because the latter grows much too large for any container. “Red Sensation” is a good cultivar of C. australis.

Green draecena, tried and true and tough, provides height and a graceful arching aspect.The third possibility is rarely seen in this area and thus satisfies the desire for uniqueness, mostly due to its jaunty little cap which resembles a miniature pineapple. Eucomis is its formal name and it can probably be found only in catalogues such as Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, (

Many, many annuals qualify as fillers, particularly pansies which will always be with us, along with their followers, the deer. Pansies, therefore, should be used in hanging baskets, high ones.

Petunias are excellent in spring and fall and there are many new forms and colors, most well known by now. New cultivars are more sturdy and rainproof these days.

Sweet allysum is an old favorite, traditionally white, but lately it comes in luscious shades of lavender, pink and sometimes a combination of those hues along with white, perhaps resembling an Easter basket. Lasting throughout a long springtime, it eventually declines but makes a comeback in the fall if it is cut back when bloom is finished.

Several worthy plants appear to have dropped below the radar and are seldom if ever seen, perhaps because they are small and not as eye-popping as one might wish. But they are certainly dependable and carefree and that should count for a lot.

One is torenia or wish-bone flower. It is smallish - to 8 inches - but very floriferous, long blooming, bothered by nothing and re-seeds itself generously,  although not all over the place. They may be blue or pink or reddish with a bright yellow spot, or beard? - too small to tell - on the lower lip.

Gomphrena, or Globe Amaranth, comes in many colors in the red-pink-purple spectrum.Another completely satisfactory but under used smaller plant is gomphrena or globe amaranth. It comes in many colors in the red-pink-purple spectrum and can range in height from 6 to 18 inches tall, average 12 inches. “Strawberry Fields” is the most delightful color, matching its hue to its name. It is very tough, long lasting and long blooming – excellent in containers.

Old fashioned evergreen candy-tuft, Iberis sem-pervirens, is not often seen anymore, but when it is, one wonders why it is not more popular. Upon reflection, perhaps it is because, although beautiful, mounded and lush in spring, it cannot go the distance of a long, hot Lowcountry summer, so would be best used by those who only plant a spring garden before departing for cooler climes themselves. Containers are fun because you can mix and match and play with contrasting color, form, texture and height. Just don’t forget to provide a special focal point with your “center of attraction”.