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How to Use the Color of the Year, Marsala, in Containers

 Refresh your surroundings with unexpected color combinations this season

Written by Jane Carlson and Anne DiFrancesco
  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Spring is finally here and thoughts run to cascading baskets, containers, and window boxes of summery blooms. We sought new inspiration for this year’s container plants. The spark this year comes from Pantone’s Color of the Year, Marsala, a rich, deep, wine-colored shade. We consulted Jay Trottier, a director at Hoffman Landscapes, Inc. in Wilton, CT who has a strong background in ornamental horticulture on his thoughts. He said, “While on first glance, this shade might bring to mind cold and wintry aspects, when planted in combination with complimentary colors such as lime, pale blues, or differing shades of pink, marsala acts as a strong and dramatic backdrop, resulting in a stunning and utterly new color arrangement for your patio or garden.” Of course nature being what it is, the plants featured here as ‘marsala’ color accents require a bit of latitude, but once you look for them, you’ll find that many shades of marsala are widely available at your local nurseries.

    When planning what material will go into your container, consider the hours of daily sunlight and be sure to choose plants that thrive in the conditions they’ll be placed in. We’ve chosen mostly annuals for our containers because they will bloom all summer long and get bigger and showier as the season progresses. However, in a few instances we’ve used perennials as the foundation plant to showcase the color marsala. When the season is over, you can move these hardy plants to the ground, making them part of your permanent landscape (or reuse next year in a container). You will also find a variety of perennial herbs featured in our containers pictured here (and yes, you can eat them!).

    We’ve featured a variety of shade loving as well as sun loving combinations in the containers that follow to provide inspiration regardless of the hours of available sunlight in your landscape.

    Here is Pantone’s Color of the Year: Marsala! Let it be your inspiration this summer.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Scott Fawcett, director at Hoffman Landscapes and a veteran with over 30 years experience provides a few helpful tips before you start planting. “Consider the size, shape, and color of the container you’re using and don’t be afraid to use pots of varying sizes in clusters. Plants in larger containers usually stay healthier longer than those in smaller containers because their roots have room to grow and there is more soil for water retention. Tall growing plants (such as Elephant Ear) tend to look better when placed in the center or back of large, elongated shaped pots, whereas short growing plants like succulents are more attractive in shallow containers.”

    Containers can inspire your color combinations.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    This large, weathered green container is the perfect spot to nestle a large Heuchera or Coral Bells, in this case ‘Frosted Violet’. Tiny pink pearl flowers will appear later in the season, providing a nice contrast against the dark leaves. Thriving in part sun, we’ve interplanted ‘Pink Charme’ and ‘Peach’ Verbenas, along with deep pink ‘Cherry Rose’ New Guinea Impatiens. A trail of ‘Margarita’ Sweet Potato Vine provides a vivid contrast against the marsala colored leaves of the Heuchera.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Gracing a front entryway in a terra cotta pot are Hellebore or Lenten Rose—shown here is ‘Love Bug’ with soft greenish-pink blooms that arrive in early spring. We’ve interplanted the Hellebore with Salvia officinalis Purpurascens or Purple Sage (also a perennial), ‘Paradise: Mango Orange’ New Guinea Impatiens and ‘Rusty Red’ Sweet Potato Vine.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    An old basket was refurbished and planted with varying shades of Salvia—a deep marsala shade in the center and a ‘Bi-color Blue’ alongside ‘Lavender Pink’ Angelonia, pink Scaevola and Calibrachoa otherwise known as Million bells; here we used ‘Miss Lilac.’

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Alocasia or Colocasia spp. or Elephant Ear is an ideal accent or centerpiece plant which will thrive in medium shade to full sun.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Coleus comes in an infinite variety of marsala shades—from very dark leaves to splashes of marsala. Mix and match!

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    A formal urn turns soft and welcoming with Sun Coleus in ‘Velvet Red’ taking center stage surrounded by ‘Sunrise Rose’ Lantana, and another herb perennial, in this case, Allium schoenoprasum better known as chives. A second coleus—‘Indian Summer’—displays both green and hints of marsala, and pulls together all the shades in the arrangement.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Here, an antique plaster pot lives among ferns in a shady spot in the garden, planted with ‘Black’ Coleus, ‘Lilac Splash’ Impatiens and trailing Lysimachia or ‘Creeping Jenny’.  Lysimachia is another perennial we love to use in pots for its trailing qualities.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    This lovely spring bloomer, Saxifrage arensii ‘Rocco Red’ is low growing with compact foliage. It is ideal if you’d like to add a spark of marsala to your rock garden.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    This stunning Origanum rotundifolium (ornamental oregano) has beautiful pink bracts on green leaves and blooms in summer. Lovely on its own in a pot!

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Oxalis triangularis or Purple Shamrock can be used indoors as a houseplant or outdoors in warm months. It has delicate blooms and prefers a shady spot.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    A moss lined hanging basket thrives in a shady spot planted with Asparagus densiflorus “Meyersii” (sometimes referred to as either ponytail, foxtail or cat-tail fern) and two different begonias—one a stunning ‘Mocca Scarlet’ with deep marsala shaded leaves which complements the other begonia with brilliant orange blooms.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Ti Plants are perfect as a centerpiece for a tall urn or elongated container with shorter plants surrounding it.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Cordyline australis, a spiky Ti Plant ‘Red Star,’ draws the eye in with its dramatic marsala shade surrounded with ‘Magentacular’ petunia, a ‘Sweet Sunshine’ pale pink double petunia, and ‘Sky Blue’ Nemesia. These soft and sweet blooms provide an interesting contrast with the sharp spikes of the Ti Plant.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Heuchera or Coral Bells will be an instant scene stealer when you’re looking to make a bold marsala statement in containers.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    Mother Nature has even extended her marsala brush to plants in the succulent family. Here Hen and Chicks live side by side with Heuchera and Sedum. Adding another layer of texture in the background is barberry.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    In a sunny spot we lined a wire-rimmed hanging basket with sphagnum moss using ‘Velour Burgundy’ and ‘Black Mamba’ petunias for our marsala toned centerpiece and surrounded them with trailing plants of lavenders and blues:  Lobularia, ‘Sky Blue’ Nemesia, ‘Colossal Blue’ Bacopa, and purple Alyssum.

  • Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Inc., Wilton, CT

    No it’s not fall, it’s springtime when these lovely maples begin to show their rich marsala colors.

    Plants, herbs, shrubs, and trees with varieties that come in marsala shades:

    Plants:  Purple Queen (Wandering Jew), Viola, Pansy, Ornamental Kale or Cabbage, Sweet Potato Vine, Begonia, Coleus, Saxifrage arensii ‘Rocco Red’, Ajuga, Heuchera (Coral Bells), Hellebore (or Lenten Rose), Allium, Salvia, Elephant Ear, Acalypha ‘Ceylon’ or Copper Leaf ‘Ceylon’, Strobilanthus dyeranus or Persian Shield, Origanum rotundifolium  or Ornamental Oregano 

    SucculentsSedum, Hen and Chicks, Kalanchoe, Echeveria spp.

    Herbs:  Thai basil, orange mint, purple sage, chives, onion grass 

    GrassesFountain grass, Beni Kaze Japanese Forest Grass, Juncus effuses (or common rush) 

    Trees: Japanese Red Maple, Weeping Japanese Red Maple, Copper BeechPrairifire (Flowering Crabapple)

    Shrubs: Barberry, Sand cherry, Black elderberry, Weigela florida