I’ve long been a sucker for plants with showy foliage, often falling for their pretty leaves without careful consideration of their sometimes less-than-attractive habits. I don’t much mind plants that produce lots of seedlings; if they’re truly gorgeous, having to snip off the spent flowers or weed out excess offspring seems a fair trade.
Plants that sneak around by creeping roots or stems are another matter. They look all cute and innocent for the first year or two; then suddenly, they’re popping up everywhere and generally making a nuisance of themselves. If I suspect or know for sure that a plant is likely to be a creeper, I’ve learned to trial it in a pot first.
If you try this yourself, keep in mind that creeping plants can be very persistent in their quest to get into the ground and spread far and wide. I strongly suggest setting potted spreaders on a saucer, directly on a solid surface (such as a concrete slab), or on an elevated surface (such as a deck or steps), so the roots can’t sneak out of the drainage holes. Also watch out for creeping stems that trail over the sides of the pot, because they too may take root if they touch the soil. Keeping the pot on a hard surface helps here as well; using a hanging basket, window box, or raised planter is another option.
Here are three out-of-the-ordinary creeping variegates that I’ve had good luck with as container plants over the years.
Variegated Water Celery (Oenanthe javanica ‘Flamingo’)
I remember this plant being briefly popular back in the ’90s; then it almost disappeared from the trade for a while — perhaps because it terrified gardeners with its propensity to spread when let loose in good garden soil. By luck, I first tried it in a window box; it did crowd out everything else, but it was very pretty. When I found it again, I gave it a container by itself, and it made a great show there, forming a dense, pot-filling, 6- to 8-inch-tall clump of lacy, light green-and-white foliage that’s blushed with pink when the weather gets cool.
Clusters of tiny white flowers may appear in summer, but they’re not nearly as showy as the leaves. Full sun to partial shade is fine. As you may guess from the name, variegated water celery is a great plant for container water gardens, but it also grows just fine in ordinary container mix with regular watering. In pots, it’s usually hardy in Zones 6 or 7 to 10. A few sources for ‘Flamingo’ include ForestFarm and Glasshouse Works.
Variegated Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides ‘Crystal Confetti’)
This carpeting creeper grows just a few inches tall, making mats of scalloped green leaves thinly edged with cream to white (and sometimes with a light pink tinge too). In the garden, it hugs the ground and spreads rapidly where the stems touch the soil; in a planter or hanging basket, it makes a delicate-looking trailer for full sun to partial shade.
Like variegated water celery, variegated water pennywort is great for water gardens but also grows well in regular container mix as long as you don’t let it dry out completely. I’d guess the hardiness range would be Zones 7 or 8 to 10 in pots. ‘Crystal Confetti’ is available from Glasshouse Works (listed there as Hydrocotyle sieboldii ‘Crystal Confetti’) and The Water Garden Shop.
Dwarf Whitestripe Bamboo (Pleioblastus variegatus, a.k.a. P. fortunei)
Just the thought of planting bamboo makes many gardeners cringe, due to the plants’ reputation for being ultra-aggressive spreaders. Full-size bamboos can easily bust out of pots after several years, but dwarf types tend to have thinner roots, so they seem more amenable to long-term container culture.
Dwarf whitestripe bamboo is strikingly streaked with green and white, forming an elegant clump when contained by the walls of a pot or planter. If you prefer yellow-and-green markings, look for dwarf yellowstripe bamboo (Pleioblastus viridistriatus).
Both species can reach 3 to 4 feet tall in the ground but tend to be more compact (usually more like 18 inches tall once established) in a container. Give them full sun to partial shade with ordinary container mix. Hardiness is probably Zones 6 or 7 to 10 in pots, though the tops may die back in the colder parts of this range. Sources for both species include Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery, Bamboo Garden, and Tripple Brook Farm.
11 thoughts on “Three Neat Plants”
I had Pleioblastus variegatus in a gravel corner in my garden in Stockholm, but I didn´t know then it was so invasive. It´s not specially common here. I also had put thick garden plastic under the gravel to protect it from weeds(!). This bamboo came up everywhere straight trough it so in the end I had a terrible time to get rid of it without taking up all the plastic!
Poor Susie. I can imagine that was a nightmare. Its rhizomes are thin, but the new shoots are needle-sharp, so I imagine they had no trouble getting through plastic.
Nan, I must admit that plants that come with the warnings grow only in pots with concrete and watch for sneaky runners scare me. Your photos make them look beautiful though.
I hear you, Carolyn. Most of my “neat plant” picks aren’t plants that I’d recommend every gardener try. But for those who have the urge to experiment with horticultural oddballs, planting in pots and taking precautions to prevent spreading can be a good strategy to avoid disasters like Susie’s.
I love all kinds of bamboo. I have tried three different (large) varieties here, but unfortunately none of them lasted more than a couple of years.
I’m sure that you’re disappointed that they didn’t make it, but maybe you were actually lucky, Lene. Some of them can be pretty scary once they settle in.
Good tip, to trial in a pot first. I fell in love with Lysimachia cletheroides. It spread. Vigorously. I dug it out of the bed I originally planted it in and re-planted a few sections in a new bed I badly needed to look good quickly. I suspect this is the year I begin to realise what a mistake that was…
I’ll have to look out for that variegate water celery, it is really pretty.
Well, I bet the loosestrife did a good job of making that bed look good quickly. I’ve had pretty good luck keeping it in check by lifting and replanting it each year (in other words, not leaving it in place for more than 12 to 18 months). Or, by planting it an awful spot, like dry shade or hot, dry, clayey spot. But then it doesn’t look all that pretty, either.
These three neat plant are not for the faint of heart gardener. While they are gorgeous plants, I know, under my somewhat lazy eye, they would escape to freedom. I made the mistake of planting OENOTHERA speciosa Siskiyou Mexican Evening Primrose and I’m still chasing it around the garden 8 years later. Thanks for the warning!
Oh no, that primrose has really been a disappointment for me too. It looks *so* nice in spring but then fizzles out by the end of June, leaving a boring empty space. I didn’t even bother trying it in this garden.
They are beautiful and you have a real knack for bringing out the best features in a plant.
Thanks, Layanee. Pots do a nice job of concentrating creepers into dense clumps, so the plants really show off to advantage.
I like the water celery the best of the three I think. Not that I’ve ever grown it. I like the look of the leaves from your pictures. Is it an edible?
I didn’t think to try it last time I had it around, Dave, but I just did a quick web search and found a number of references to the leaves and stems being edible.
Great post Nan, and something close to my heart! I have to admit I’m always tempted to grow those “very agressive” plants! Perhaps it was growing up on an acreage with so much space…anything that could care for itself and actually spread in our heavy clay and zone 4 winters was a boon! I admit, now I have to restrain myself, having such a tiny garden, but every year, I see the neighbors Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium) and and simultaneously jealous and fearful! I love that first plant (The Water Celery) and will definitely order that from Forest Farm, I need something good and vigorous for our porch planters.
Vigorous it is – you can see how it filled that small pot and trailed freely over the edge. For height, you’ll need something really sturdy to compete with it: maybe a small shrub of some sort.
Yesterday I received the two books I ordered a couple of weeks ago(Fall Scaping & Foliage). So now there will be no time for house cleening, social life, dog walks or sleep! I love them!!
I’m delighted to provide you with an alternative to house cleaning, Susie, but please don’t skip your dog walks. Books can wait, but furry friends are with us only a short time, so time with them comes first!
Hello! Nice post, always helpful to find new variegated species:-)
Greetings from Stockholm, Sweden
Welcome, Hillevi! How nice to meet one of Susie’s readers and a fellow variegated-plant appreciator. Thanks for visiting.
I am in Canada, zone 5 USDA. I grow Pleioblastus viridistriatus since 5 years. Winter fades the showy foliage but sping growth rejuvenates it. It spread slowly but inexorably; roots are wire-like, they grow underground for one year then pop-up the following. Keep an eye on the roots every year, so surprises will be avoided.
Thanks for sharing your experience with the whitestripe bamboo, James. It’s helpful to hear from a different climate.
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