Gardening specialists Ciscoe Morris and Richie Steffen battle in a round of Container Wars, previewing what they'll be doing at the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival.

Plant enthusiasts will gather at the festival for information-packed seminars, D.I.Y. "competitions" with experts, display gardens, and world-class shopping.

Richie's seminar "Great Plant Picks: Must-Have Plants for Beautiful Containers" is Friday, Feb. 9, at 1:45pm in the Hood Room.

Ciscoe's seminar "Life's Lessons: What 30 Years of Gardening Have Taught Me" is Friday, Feb. 9, at 4:30pm in the Rainier Room.

One of my favorite events of the season is the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival. There are fantastic display gardens, great plant and garden art shopping, tons of seminars free with a ticket to the Festival, and lots more. This year it runs from Feb 7 - 11 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Over the years I've given all sorts of talks and seminars, but last year I participated in something new and the audience loved it. It's called Container Wars, and I go up against an equally skilled container designer to see who can put together the best potted design. Last year, and again this year, my competitor is my good friend and very talented head of the Miller Botanical Garden and longtime manager of the Great Plant Picks website Richie Steffen. The Great Plant Picks website contains lists and descriptions of "The Best Plants For The Pacific Northwest" as determined by a panel of experts. Every year GPP gives out very attractive posters on a theme at the Festival, and this year it's 'Great Plants for Containers'. Wouldn't you know, that's sure to give him lots of great ideas for this year's rematch!

The rules are that we each get the same collection of plants to choose from, and we get about a half-hour to put our masterpieces together. When time is up, the audience votes on who won. Last year I won, but it could have had something to do with the Ciscoe bobble head doll I stuck in at the end. Hence we're having a rematch at 11:30 on Friday, Feb 11.

That's not, however, all there is to the contest. The MC, well known garden writer and speaker Marianne Binetti, throws all sorts of curve balls into the game. She lets us steal plants out each other's pots, makes us work with a hand behind our back and pulls all sorts of other devious tricks on us. In the end it's quite a bit of fun. There are audience giveaways and we even give tips on container gardening as we go.

Last year the crowd was huge, so I recommend getting to the area where it all happens early. Then, make sure you vote for my pot as the best design!

By the way, container gardening is one of the most fun ways to garden. Just in case you can't make it to the competition, here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Begin by buying quality potting soil and a good sized ceramic pot. They come in a wide variety of gorgeous colors and as long as they are guaranteed to be frost proof, are very long lasting. Drainage is a necessity, so if the pot doesn't have drain holes, ask the nursery to drill them for you.
  2. Start your design by choosing an architectural, upright shrub or perennial that is well proportioned to the size of the pot as the centerpiece. Look for a plant with special qualities such as colorful leaves, intriguing texture or showy flowers. Place it in the center if the pot will be seen from all sides or in the back if the container is to be located against a wall or in a corner. Next fill in with a variety of mid-sized plants. Choose plants with interesting texture, and colorful foliage or flowers. Cram them in closely. When you’re finished the design should look lush and full. You don’t want to have to wait half the summer for the plants to grow and fill in the gaps.

Finally, leave a little room near the edge of the pot to squeeze in some trailing plants to spill over the side of the pot.

Here's hoping it ends in a tie!



Northwest Flower & Garden Festival

February 7-11, 2018

Washington State Convention Center

Plants in both planters:

  • Heuchera "Lim's Marmalade"
  • Black Mondo Grass
  • Primula Belarina Colbalt Blue
  • Carex Osh. Evergold
  • Primrose Acaolis Type
  • Adiantum Venustum Himalayan

Plants in Ciscoe's Planter:

  • Helleborus Merlin
  • Obsidian

Plants in Richie's Planter:

  • Hellborus "Anna's Red"
  • Heuchera "Crimson Curls"

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