Marianne Binetti

Northwest Flower and Garden show features edible theme

A taste of spring awaits gardeners as the Northwest Flower & Garden show blooms in Seattle at the Washington State Convention Center. The show starts Wednesday and continues through Feb. 26.

This year, the show’s theme is all about edibles, but that doesn’t mean the 23 full-size display gardens won’t be filled with flowers. The edible theme is just a suggestion for competing designers.

New to the show this year is a tasting corner, which is a gourmet food marketplace to keep garden-lovers fueled amid the more than 300 vendors packing the convention space surrounding the big indoor display gardens.

Here’s one more event to check out at the show. Every day at 11 a.m., I’m hosting a competition called Container Wars, which pits garden celebrities against one another in a reality show format. The audience cheers on as creative container gardens are built instantly. If you need inspiration for your potted gardens this summer, or need tips on how to keep container gardens happy, this is the stage to watch.

Audience members who attend Container Wars have a chance at winning prizes, including fertilizer, tools, gloves and garden aprons.

If you can’t make it to the five-day run of the NWFG show, here are four tips for creating better container gardens:

1. Be sure the container has good drainage. Large pots may need more than one drainage hole. In our climate, winter rains soak the soil and weigh down pots so that excess water is sometimes trapped by the weight of wet soil. To prevent this soggy situation, slide plastic bottle caps under your pots so they are slightly raised from the ground. Even a half inch of air space will stop the suction effect that blocks free drainage of plant pots.

2. Use a lightweight potting soil. Again, rainy weather makes gardening in our area unusual. Potting soils that contain perlite and sand to help the flow of air and water are better than soil from your garden beds. Never use heavy compost as the only medium in pots. Tip: You can reuse old potting soil if it is still lightweight and filled with white perlite particles. Just add a few inches of fresh compost to the top of the potting soil and mix this in. Just don’t overuse compost in pots, or you could drown your plants.

3. The taller the pot, the taller the plants. The top designers featured in the Container Wars competition typically will add drama with a tall or focal-point plant that is twice as tall as the pot. Low, rounded pots look great with lower-growing plants, but tall or tapered pots cry out for something long and lean.

4. Foliage can be flashy. Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz are local designers who have created careers out of using foliage to create beauty in pots. Their first book was “Fine Foliage.” Their latest is “Gardening With Foliage First.” The two designers suggest a three-leaf trifecta that mixes a variegated Tricolor Sage with red Gulf Stream bamboo and purple Crimson Pygmy barberry. Poke these three in a pot and you will have a container garden that looks fine all year long.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at

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The Northwest Flower and Garden Show will be Wednesday through Sunday (Feb. 26) at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Ticket information, shuttle bus reservations and parking tips are available at