Joanne Hatfield’s Garden Gifts

Joanne Hatfield combines her civic pride and gardening skills to create beautiful flower barrels around Lincoln Park that make the neighborhood more welcoming and beautiful. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Sometimes it’s nice just to stop and smell the roses.  It is even nicer when the flowers and roses are at the corner intersection you drive or walk by every day.

But those wonderful barrels of flowers that brighten our neighborhood don’t just happen; they take ongoing care and attention. For residents and visitors to Capitol Hill alike, the 17 barrels of flowers around Lincoln Park are a gift from one special gardener.

Meet Joanne Hatfield
Joanne Hatfield has lived in a home that borders Lincoln Park for 24 years.
She bought the home as a fixer-upper and ever since, has enjoyed being a part of her neighborhood. Joanne loves gardening, a hobby that she says has kept her busy learning about combinations of plants, water and shade, and many other issues associated with container gardening.

“I love to experiment with color and shape,” says Joanne, “and see what combinations can grow well together.  I am forever learning new things, and best of all meeting new neighbors and people.”  She also notes that it is really good exercise to keep up with all the different barrels especially now that it is getting hot, and they need to be watered.

Her starting point was a messy tree box in front of her house, near the dry cleaners on the corner of 11th St. and East Capitol, SE.  “I just decided that I could make a difference on my block by cleaning the box up, and one thing lead to another,” she says.  These days, she cares for 17 barrels of flowers all within walking distance of Lincoln Park. Joanne describes herself as a doer, and she is certainly that.

The flowers also draw beneficial bugs and butterflies to the neighborhood, like this ladybug enjoying some colorful pansies. Photo: Joanne Hatfield

A Garden Container Formula
Joanne’s professional background is in marketing, and a little bit in art.  She thinks of gardening as a blank canvas, and she creates a picture with the plants, which is like doing art in slow motion.  She likes to think about color as part of her criteria.  She said she learned many years ago a formula for planting containers, and she tries and uses this for each of the barrels she plants.

“You need to think of the container having three parts; thriller, filler, and spiller.”

The thriller is the middle of the pot, and is a plant or flower that is growing to be taller than the rest of the plants.  It should be something dramatic in its shape and bloom. Joanne has often used canna lilies in the pots. These flowers come in bright reds, yellows, and pinks with varied tones of large green leaves, and with the mild winter of the past few years, the bulbs winter over quite well. Another thriller plant used is the spikey plant, Dracaena. It is known for its height and textural contrast. Joanne said she originally planted annual plants, but in the past few years has begun to plant more perennials. A perennial is a plant that lives more than two years.  Perennials tend to cost a little more, but over time are much more economical.

Joanne Hatfield uses the formula “thriller, filler, spiller” to make her containers full, along with considering color and plant watering needs. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

After picking her thriller for a pot, Joanne uses plants for the filler and she likes daisies and impatiens and once again is seeking flowers for color and shape in the pot. Examples of fillers include geranium, coleus, begonia, caladium, ornamental pepper, herbs, and smaller ornamental grasses. She finishes the pot off with spillers.  You might easily guess that a spiller are plants that are vine-like and flow over the lip of the pot, making the whole container look lush and full.

Currently, Joanne is using a lot of creeping jenny, and of course, every gardeners’ favorite, the wavy petunias that come in a great variety of colors.

Joanne says one of the biggest challenges is finding the right combination of plants for watering.  Some plants like a lot of water, like the petunias, and others like the spiky plant are more drought resistant and don’t do well if over-watered.

She really doesn’t keep a journal of her plantings, although she does take a lot of photographs of the barrels.  Like all gardeners she spends the winter months researching plants and planning the pots.

Flower barrels are in the traffic intersections along Lincoln Park, making a colorful welcome to the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Photo: Melissa Ashabranner

A gift to the community
Joanne believes her containers give our neighborhood, often the first area that visitors to DC see after exiting the highways, a more residential feeling.  They give off a friendly vibe.  It is her gift to a neighborhood she has lived in and loved for a long time.  Joanne pays for all the pots and plants, with occasional assistance from neighbors.  “I like being able to create these pots without restrictions from a sponsor,” Joanne says.  “I look out for special sales on pots and sometimes get some of the soil from public sources.”  Joanne says she is good at gardening on a budget.

“When I am out caring for the pots, people do stop and say thanks for doing this,”

says Joanne. “I get a lot of personal satisfaction from my gardening, and consider beautifying my neighborhood a great added benefit.” Joanne says she encourages others to look around and start with a tree box in need of some care.

In these troubled times we are experiencing this summer, I am so thankful for all the beauty Joanne has created for our Hill neighborhood, and truly appreciate her special spark and generosity in creating a stunning gateway to our neighborhood and city.

Tips for New Container Gardeners:
1. Take stock of the amount of sunlight (full sun all day, part sun, or mostly shade).
2. Look for plants in similar light conditions around the neighborhood and take photos.
3. Research online or through in-person shopping to learn options for plants with your
light conditions and preferred color scheme. Also, check which plants will bloom when, so you can have color in the pot for the longest time possible.
4. When you see a ower arrangement that works well at a nursery or in a garden, take a photo so you can later identify the types of owers used and replicate it.
5. Be careful not to mix plants in a container where one may need daily watering and another only wants once or twice a week watering.
6. Test out your picks in your garden to learn which plants thrive in your environment and build on that each year.
7. Learn from your successful creations, and even from the failures. It’s an evolving puzzle and there’s always next year.

Have fun. – Joanne Hatfield

Rindy O’Brien admires and appreciates the special talents of gardeners. She can be contacted at