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Just 1 to a pot? Combination planting comes inside

Container gardening is coming in from the cold, replacing the one-plant-to-a-pot displays that have been indoor decorating staples since the Victorian era.

Combination planting — blending different plants in the same containers — is as practical as it is attractive. Arrangements can be created that will thrive through the winter in sunny interiors as much as they would outside in summer on patios or balconies.

"Grouping plants together has several advantages, including the ability to create more impact and to water less often," said Kathy LaLiberte, director of gardening at Gardener's Supply Co. in Burlington, Vt. Those are the same reasons people groups plants in containers outdoors, she said.

Choose your container combinations carefully, however. It wouldn't do to mix plants having different light, temperature and water requirements, such as African violets paired with leaf lettuce, or succulents growing alongside berries.

"Think as much about the horticultural side of the container garden as you would about its looks," said LaLiberte, who recommends a "thrillers, fillers and spillers" style: "You can create a cool pot with one showcase plant, another that tucks under or fills in, and something else that's trailing," she said. "That makes an imaginative arrangement combining different heights, colors and textures."

Light often determines which plant varieties can be used for indoor gardening.

"Unless you have artificial light or access to sunlight, you may want to veer toward getting plants that don't crave it," LaLiberte said. "Some of the most beautiful displays I've seen in recent years haven't had any blooms in them at all, just foliage. There was all this great leaf play."

That translates into grouping different kinds of exotics — caladium, cannas, coleus or ferns, among others. Each is considered a foliage plant, yet each produces a different look: variegated leaves in some cases, or brilliant colors.

Edibles also are great indoor landscaping options, delivering freshness along with convenience and fast maturity. Choices vary from micro-greens to dwarf bananas.

"You can take salad fixings from seed to table in less than a month," said Ellen Ecker Ogden, an ornamental kitchen garden designer from Manchester Village, Vt. "Cut and water and they just grow back again."

Herbs and annual flowers play well together in containers, and their blooms do double duty.

"They'll give you a little taste of summer along with some lovely colors," Ogden said. "And they're easy to grow from seed. Another bonus is that they're low hugging plants. Push some seeds (impatiens, pansies or viola, for instance) into the base of foliage plants to provide more interest."

Ogden recommends starting from scratch, using seed rather than over-wintering mature container plants.

"Some plants are sensitive and don't like being moved. They suffer transplant shock if brought in," Ogden said. "Better that you find something fast-growing so it can be sown directly indoors."

Effective indoor landscaping also includes selecting the right containers, she said.

"There are so many different kinds of pots, with different sizes, different colors and materials. Try some architectural pots. They're big, wonderful things that add greatly to indoor displays."

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