One look at the lush, overflowing pot of coleus plants that Judy Laird entered in this year's container garden contest at the Rock Island County Fair, and everyone wants to know what her secret is.

No real secret, Laird, of Moline, said. Her large, rounded display with no gaps in the foliage consists of only five plants, representing three varieties. They are planted in Miracle-Gro brand potting soil, but Laird said she does not do any additional fertilizing, just keeps the plants well-watered.

The pot sits in an area where the plants get morning sun, but are shaded in the afternoon.

Laird's entry nabbed second place in the "large container" category of the show, edged out by an entry from Kelly Jo Preston, of Taylor Ridge, only because Preston's entry had more variety, the judges said.

Hers was the textbook definition of container gardening, with papyrus playing the "thriller" role and sweet potato vine as the "spiller." In between as "fillers" were lantana, salvia and calibrachoa, also known as "million bells," the flower that looks like a tiny petunia.

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Laird won first in the "medium" category, though, with her entry consisting of double pink impatiens, a variegated coleus with streaks of pink, green and yellow, and corkscrew willow.

Receiving first place in the "unique" category was Mary Scott's grouping of three red-and-white graniteware containers — two kettles and a cup — planted with herbs for tea. Scott, of Moline, planted lavendar, pineapple and lemon mint, lemon balm and stevia.

The contest, sponsored by the Rock Island County Master Gardeners of the University of Illinois Extension, was judged on Thursday.

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