Pots And Boxes

Pots and boxes-this client has plenty.  Sixteen window boxes on three sides, of the house, and close to thirty pots. It is the better part of the day start to finish to get then dressed for the summer.  The shopping and transport is time that doesn’t show here.  This plant comes from that place, and that plant from somewhere else miles from stop number one.  There is the loading, the driving and the unloading.  But the big story of this entire week’s planting-the heat.  I call 90 degrees since May 21st extremely unseasonably hot weather. Making sure the plants survive in spite of their very small rootballs, a time consuming challenge.    

This gorgeous pair of Mital terra cotta pots handmade in Impruneta Italy on attending plinths are giant sized.  Placed outside a small side terrace, they add a lot of punch to a large drivecourt near the rear of the house.  The banana in the center will grow to a substantial size.  Fisdh and bananas have this in common-they will grow according to the size of their environment-whether that be water, or soil.  If the heat we are having persists, this pot will grow fast.

The side terrace is home to a collection of glazed French terra cotta pots.  Sonic New Guinea impatiens will thrive in this spot; the light is strong for 6 hours a day.  Flanking the couch, a pair of lime irisine grown in tree form.  Sporting green and lime leaves atop red voilet stems, they have a distinctly tropical feeling.  They will have to be pruned regularly, as they grow like weeds. 

This is one of the most beautiful pools I have ever seen; the pergolas are stunning as well.  None of this was designed by me-I just plant the pots.  My client was the force behind the Italian pots-he likes them.  The DeGroot spire arborvitae spend the summer in the pots, and the winters in ground.  They are a reasonable approximation in shape to Italian cypress. If I could petition nature to let just one plant run around the hardiness zone rule, it would be the cypress.  As sculptural as they are stately, they bring Italy, and Italian gardens to mind. 

The color scheme this year-yellow, lavender, purple, white-and cool green.  The pots have lots of variegated licorice.  This green of course is a nod to the starring figures-those 6 Degroot Spires.  Most of the color is not so evident yet-the plants have a lot of growing to do.  Yellow and Vanilla Butterflies argyranthemum are lively, mixed. Popping up between them, yellow and white dahlias gallerys series dahlias. 

Pool decks tend to be very hot places; white in the composition keeps everything looking cool and fresh.  The trailing verbenas have shed their penchant for mildew; the Lanai series is particularly healthy growing.  If they are kept deadheaded, they bloom nonstop long into the fall.  This very dark purple reads well in the company of white petunias. 

This picture in no way reveals that it was cooking hot on that terrace-you will have to take my word for it. The window boxes were especially challenging in that heat. All of the plant material had to be hauled up our extention ladder. This kind of planting is not for the faint of heart.  

It is finally warm enough to bring the heliotrope out of the greenhouse.  This new lavender variety is especially attractive. I am sure you can tell that I like it-I used lots. 

An old iron trough is planted with black leaved orange cannas, and black leaved Fascination dahlias. Wild Lime coleus, Tricolor and Caliente orange geraniums add an unexpected dose of hot color. These big individual cabanas could use it.  

There is much that is yet to come for this terrace.  I can see the pots grown in, and people in the space.  Lovely.

A Lawn Panel

Would that the only thing on my mind were the flowers-so fabulous.  OK, I take that back.  I love nothing better than a landscape that has been designed and agreed upon, under construction. Last July I finished the design for a client who purchased an adjacent property, and required a landscape design that would take their property and and a planned addition on an adjacent property, which would meld them together gracefully.  My plan called for a lawn plane over 120 feet wide, spanning both properties, that would erase any visual reference to previous boundaries, and make whole, what was once separate.   

The rear yard on the river was a study in irregular terrain.  It would be off limits to me, given my new knee.  People friendly spaces require level ground-do not forget this.  Should you want to make your guests and your family to feel comfortable-give them level ground.  Though it is the toughest job on the planet to convince a client that the grade of the land might be the most important landscape gesture they might make, my clients had not one problem grasping the concept.  The drawing I submitted to them was simple; the work that would be necessary to get there-complicated, long,  and exasperatingly involved.

Every square foot of existing grass was scraped up, and hauled away for compost.  Not pictured here, the bulldozers, and dump trucks hauling and delivering soil. The rough bulldozer gestures.   The hand raking.  The checking of the grades.  We restructured the entire rear yard ground plane.

Every square foot of ground from the emerging addition to the water was revisited, regraded, and in the end-hand graded with giant levelling rakes empowered by the hands of my superintendent, Steve Bernard, and his crew. I had not one worry in the world.  I could drop him at a project and visit 6 months later-everything would be thoughtful, well executed-flawless. 

This past November, we sodded the grass plane.  The story of the construction delays-suffice it to say that we had plenty.  We closed down the landscape season on this project one very cold and stormy day.

Spring came-every last piece of sod survived Steve’s careful installation.  The grass plane was level, and intact.  Not so clear in this picture-the entire rear river side of the house and new addition had a sculpted piece of ground on which to sit.  In my mind, this was a considerable contribution to the unification effort, and a giant step towards a beautiful landscape. 

Per the drawing in the first photograph, this grass plane was bisected with gravel X’s.  These gravel lines are 12 inches wide, and precisely contained by aluminum edger strip. My client’s personal space-on the second floor.  This space not only will accomodate large parties and family gatherings on a level plane, they look beautiful from that second story balcony. 

Many months have been involved in transforming a construction site into a functional and beautiful landscape. A gravel walk traversing the entire walkway sits next to the lawn plane.  My client thinks it might suffice as a mini bocce lane-what fun.   


Progress-we have that.   See for yourself.  The final finish-we are closing in. This area will have grass tomorrow. The vegetable garden boxes are done and ready to plant.   Patience I have-should it involve a landscape or a garden.  I have three landscape projects out there now, under construction.  More to follow. This project-a dream come true.  Most projects involving lots of land and plants are slow to finish-as well they should be.  How slow they are to finish, given the change of the seasons, gives me the chance to look over, and edit  an idea. The natural turn of events-comforting.

Black And White

Running crews is the perfect thing for my three month old titanium knee whatever apparatus.  As much as I am inclined to baby that thing, working demands that it be put to use-confidently.  This is not to say that the men on my crews do not cut me some slack-they do.  They get the plants to me; they make sure I get up and down, as needed.  But that knee is getting the workout it needs. This was a black and white day.  My morning installation-so many variations on black, chocolate, red and orange in the plants.  Seeing my palette of bananas, black oxalis, red irisine, lime selaginella and so on, my client asked if I were going traditonal on him.  Very very funny, this from him.  His planting-distinctly alternative.  Very much about spare, serene and modern design.  Much about visual challenges that hopefully represent his notions gardening.      

This quietly gorgeous Francesca del Re tapered pot got a green and black calocasia front and center.  The black red spikes-an unexpectedly tall underplanting. Lime selaginella energizes the entire discussion going on between that large leaved and curving voice, and the spiky and dark second fiddles-good music. 

The centerpiece of these pots-bananas.  Banana plants-they grow  proportional to the pots/soil mass they are planted in.  In ground, 14 feet. In these pots-6-8 feet.  Green and brown leaved, with red violet midribs-a concert with a great opening, and and a dramatic finish.  All of the other plants in this pot will be in celebration of the bananas.  

Lime and black is a dramatic combination.  That said, be sure to back up the black with a lime element that will showcase the subtleties of the black foliage. Consider the eventual size of each plant-growing up and growing out will tell everything about your understanding of maturity.   This lime dracaena will grown faster, and outdistance these black red spikes.  The green/black/red stemmed pepperomias are a transitional element.  The lime creeping jenny to trail- exquisitely lime. Contrasting colors is not enough.  Mass, texture, rhythm-consider these elements as well. 

My box trucks-I haul soil, bark, tools, stakes-whatever.  All over.  My shop is located in an industrial park far off the beaten path.  This makes us a secret of sorts, and we certainly are all about being dirty.  Whenever I see this truck, it makes me laugh.  We like dirty-that dirty work makes a good garden possible.  

The box truck is home to all the tools of the trade-and then some.  The translucent roof makes it possible for me to see what is up there. The American companies that made this truck available to me-many thanks.  This roof-a dream come true for any designer looking at color.  Or for any crew person looking for a roll of bark wire.

My afternoon was all about a client who loves white.  She has no use for anything that even remotely resembles black, although her taste runs to clean lined and modern too. I am happy to oblige. When planngs are done in a single color, the visual emphasis changes.  Form, mass, texture and line become the important issue.   A black morning and a white afternoon made for an exciting day. 

White dahlias, white trailing verbena, white annual phlox and variegated licorice-a very strong statement in white and green.  But not nearly as strong a statement as this steel break formed pot.  48 inches in diameter, there is room to plant plenty.  It would  be equally happy to be planted with loads of a single plant.  I am reluctant to plant one variety only-one never knows what the summer weather will be.  I  would rather replace a few things, than the entire planting. 


No matter the black or the white, the design issues are all the same. This airy euphorbia gets plenty of emphasis from the contrasting green and white large leaved plectranthus.  The relationship of these two plants enchants me.  The best part of my job is being party to lots of gardens, with very different points of view.  I have all kinds of music going on; I could not want for much more.

Sunday Opinion: The Four Alarm Garden

I am swamped with design work, landscape installation projects, planting the flowers,  particular issues with different clients needing time and thought when time is in short supply, plant material and soil arriving, the store busy, the fabrication of custom pots, pergolas and sculpture via Branch-lots of work. Lots and lots of work, all jammed into that brief season we call spring.  This is not to mention dealing with the day to day life of three related but different businesses.  Some days I feel like I am manning the gardening desk at the Library of Congress. Other days seem like I am a garden traffic controller with too many projects needing to land all at the same time.  I got to work at 6 am today, took pictures of that great foggy weather we had early, posted the pictures, got the corgis squared away,  picked up a truckload of plants, helped offload another van load of eighty flats.  I have a big job to install tomorrow. When they figure out how to beam plants from one location to another, I will be the first to sign up.  Now I am writing and drinking a little morning coffee-its 10:30.  Most of the time, I would not have it any other way.  The spring rush around challenges me, and keeps me sleeping soundly at night. 

Warm days bring gardeners and non gardeners alike out of hiding. High temperatures last week near 80 that will persist through this week is too hot for me, but I do not get to choose.  That bed that needs revamping, the front door asking for larger, more welcoming pots, a spring event, a new addition, a rear yard landscape renovation, what tree for this spot, people with new homes needing a master plan, what flowers to plant-the phone rings regularly.  I am in a business that mostly makes people happy. Great outdoor spaces at home are welcoming, relaxing, interesting, companionable, interactive, personal-I could go on about how I feel the landscape and garden industry in this country helps make people’s lives better.

Designing and planting require some involved parties, and some time. Time to cook something up, time to let it grow.  No matter whether you plant an oak tree or grow alyssum from seed, there is a process involved that demands time.  Pots planted May 16th for a May 23rd party will, oh yes, look juvenile. If juvenile but beautifully planted works for you, then a summer garden planting for a spring event will look great.  Ready for company.  The expectation of a mature summer planting the end of May is asking for something no gardening person can provide.  I do not have the ability shift a planting into 5th gear, or engineer time travel.  I am a gardener; I know how to design and make things grow.  This is as close as I get to sitting on the right hand side of Mother nature.

It is my opinion that emergencies are limited to sick or endangered living things.  I will sound an alarm if a planting is threatened by too much water, or too little. Any living creature deserves my immediate attention if they need my protection.  This has to do with a belief in the sanctity of life.  There is nothing tough about figuring out what constitutes an emergency.  When a design and installation of a landscape or garden is important, it is not an emergency.  Things that are important, you take the time for.  People unwilling to put time to their garden-I suspect it is not all that important to them.  There are those requests for gardens, or pot plantings, that are not so much about making something grow.  They are much more about a moment.  Garden books have helped to foster this nonsence moment notion.  A photograph that depicts a garden on the one day a year when everything is perfect-that is the stuff that movie sets achieve.  The day the delphiniums are all in their glory does not take into account what comes the preceding months-as in replacing, staking, feeding, and so on-and even less about what they look like the five months after they are done blooming.  That one day of glory might not be repeated again for years.    The four alarm garden invariably has that look of having too much of everything put to it except time and thought.  They are fueled by an effort to create a crowning moment by artificial means.  To my eye, they are gardens noted for the fact that their slip is showing.  What slips, or slips away in a garden has everything to do with a lack of respect for place, season, and nature.

I take my job very seriously.  No small part of it is about explaining, educating, referring, counseling, interpreting, understanding.  The best part of my effort is that the landscape within my reach might be a fraction better.There is not much mystery to any of this; it is easy to see what is not important to me.  I have a tuna salad every day for lunch, and have for at least 3 months now.  I do not subscribe to Popular Mechanics or Vogue. I did watch my fountain being rebuilt, but I cannot sit still long enough to watch a tv show from start to finish.  Others who do not care about gardens how I do-they don’t bother me one bit.  Its just likely I have little to offer them.  My design advice-figure out what is important to you, and be sure you aim for that.   Should you need a moment, ask for one-do not ask for a garden.  If you like lifelong projects guaranteed at some time or another to be mired down by failure, weather, bad luck, frustration, and disaster that requires just about every ounce of energy you have, a garden will be the perfect thing for you.  When your best laid plans for your garden are crashing down around you, take some comfort in the fact that your thoughtful time and effort to create beauty benefits all.