Cynara cardunculus, or cardoon, is also known as an artichoke thistle. It is a member of the sunflower family, and is native to Mediterranean climes. The giant coarse toothed leaves are architectural in form, and incredibly dramatic. A lot of that drama comes from the fact that those leaves are a very bright silvery gray. These silver leaves, in the right light, have a decidedly metallic cast. This amazing photograph of a cardoon is from www.greatplantpicks.org. Great Plant Picks is an educational program of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden which debuted in 2001 with the first recommendations for a comprehensive palette of outstanding plants for the maritime Pacific Northwest. No wonder this cardoon has such a fascinating and an exotic look to me. I do not garden in the Mediterranean, or in the Pacific northwest.
Silver leaved plants are not coated with some natural form of metallic silver. Many of them have leaves which are covered with very fine hairs that reflect light. That reflective quality makes the leaves appear silvery. According to the Plant Delights website, “The silver color is not a pigment, but rather some type of mechanism that scatters and reflects light. Some plants with silver foliage have a thick coat of foliar wax. Others are covered with fine hairs. A few silver perennials get their luster from blisters that separate the outer and inner cell layers of the leaf.” Silver leaved plants by and large hail from regions that are very hot and dry. That silvery surface is an adaptation – a means by which the plants can survive high heat and drought. Though I garden in a zone which gets regular rain, and infrequently has temperatures over 90 degrees, I love the look of silver leaved plants. This year’s window boxes at the shop-a celebration of silver leaves.
In the window boxes this year, I have planted artemesia “Valerie Finnis”, a blue/silver eucalyptus whose name I do not know, Cirrus dusty miller, a lavender with silver leaves, kalanchoe “Flapjacks”, the trailing artemesia “Silver Brocade”, an unknown silvery white succulent, and artemesia absinthium-or wormwood. I think I have identified these accurately, but maybe not. My knowledge of the names of exotic plants is sketchy. I was not shopping names for these window boxes. I was shopping color.
Some of these plants might be hardy in my garden, provided they were planted in poor, gravelly, and fast draining soil. Others are strictly seasonal for me, as they would only survive the winter in a very mild climate. Some would thrive and return the following year, only given the absence of a winter.
I am not generally drawn to succulent plants, only because they seem so out of place in a Michigan garden. But my container plantings can be comprised of any collection of plants that interest me. The best part of a seasonal/summer container planting is that I am not restricted by what would survive my winter. Most of the annual plants I use in containers come from tropical regions. I do use perennials hardy in Michigan in containers, provided their habit, texture, form and mass is such that they will look interesting all summer long. A columbine, or lupine in a pot has a very short season of interest. The coming of the hot weather – especially the hot nights – takes a toll on them. The tropical plants can handle the heat, should it come.
As long as I have been gardening, much has been said about the hardiness of lavender. Early on, I planted no end of so called hardy lavender, without much success. My longest relationship with a lavender plant-4 years, and 3 winters. Hardiness is not exclusively dependent on winter temperatures. My area is known for its heavy clay soil. Lavender likes perfect drainage – light soil. Drainage is a surprisingly big part of winter hardiness. A new lavender from Peace Tree Farm shows a great deal of promise. From their website: “One of the hardiest lavenders seen throughout Europe and the United States, ‘Phenomenal’ has exceptional winter survival, as it does not have the winter die back that other varieties like Munstead and Hidcote commonly demonstrate. Lavender ‘Phenomenal’ has also shown tolerance to extreme heat and humidity, and is resistant to common root and foliar diseases. Most commonly popular for its silvery foliage and consistent growth with uniform, mounding habit, ‘Phenomenal’ has an elegant flower presentation and fragrance, perfect for fresh and dried arrangements and oil uses.” Hmm. I will have to buy some plants. What summer garden seems like a summer garden without lavender?
For the moment, I plant lavender in containers, never expecting I could plant them in the ground in the fall, and winter them over. This silver leaved plant is just as Mediterranean in its roots as the cardoons. I am happy to have them, one season. Lavender seems very happy, planted with other plants of like persuasion. The range of silvery colors from bright silvery gray to silvery blue gray in this iron cistern all seem visually compatible. I suspect all the plants enjoy the heat absorbed by the cistern.
Proper watering will be key to their success. At Detroit Garden Works, we group all of the silvery leaved and succulent plants together on a table that is a do not water zone. Euphorbia “Diamond Frost” will deteriorate quickly from too much water. The leaves of helicrysum-licorice-will pucker and decline from too much water. Water the silver leaved plants as infrequently as possible, and then some. Your restraint will reward you.
Some of our echeverias only get water from the sky, when it comes. Otherwise, nothing, and certainly nothing from the hose. It may not have been the best year to decide to plant a collection of silver leaved plants. We have has lots of rain, dating back to early spring. Today, it rained all day, and it looks like it will continue to rain all night. My magnolias and parrotias have that lush green tropical look about them. The high temperature today-59 degrees. Not exactly Mediterranean.
Silver, blue, and gray leaved plants are beautiful in containers. The teucrium fructicans, or silver bush germander, in the center of this container, was lovely all summer long. I wintered it over indoors successfully for 3 years.
Plectranthus “Silver Shield” makes a beautiful seasonal groundcover. This small bed on a pool terrace is hot and dry in the extreme. I have never been able to get a perennial groundcover to winter over in this spot. The silvery gray is so beautiful with the pale pink roses, and white washed wall.
Some silver leaved plants do well in the shade. This silvery green begonia with silver blotches is underplanted with Shadow King gray begonia, and Pilea “Silver Tree”. Pilea “Silver Cloud” is equally as lovely. Silver leaved plants-I am happy to have access to them.
The last two weeks, and the next two weeks, are what I affectionately refer to as hell month. I am designing containers and shopping just about non stop. My crews grab hold of the rope. I print pictures and add notes-scribbled very early in the morning. They scoop it all up, and make it happen-day after day. We all plant containers for clients this time of year-lots of them. We plant close to 60 projects-all of them different. My grower delivers plants to jobs for me. His willingness to do this makes big installations possible. He greatly obliges by custom growing lots of annual plants for me. I am interested in those plants that endure, and perform. And plants that are unusual and interesting. Though all of us are incredibly tired at the end of the day, we have work that has tangible results. Good looking containers, and clients who appreciate them.
This client likes lots of color, and more color. I try to put together color combinations that sparkle. Years of planting containers means I am able to imagine what the finished arrangement will look like in the coming months. So I focus primarily on the color relationships, as the eventual size of the plants is a future I can imagine. I can shop an entire greenhouse in no time, and pick plants for one or several jobs. This is not a skill. It is all about experience. I take special interest in this planting, as this is a landscape, garden, and container client with whom I have had a steady relationship for 25 years.
Her landscape is the best that I have ever seen it. This is a great pleasure for me, seeing a design grow in. Trees and shrubs take time to take hold. Then they need time to grow. This year, her landscape is maturing, and growing. This has taken 15 years. Her summer containers, a gesture for just one summer season, is set off by that landscape. The relationship of the landscape and gardens to the containers is a lively relationship. She is a very lively client. I plant her containers with that in mind.
I do pick a palette of plants for this project that relate to one another-in color, size, and growth habit. Some plants and colors hop from one container to another. Some colors are thematic. Some colors are unexpected. The selection of the plants for a collection of containers is all about rhythm, color, mass, texture- and strong relationships in all of these areas.
I do like pink and orange together. Just the right pink, and just the right orange, is electric. These French made orangery boxes have a centerpiece of orange punch cannas – they will grow up and out once we get a little heat. Some color relationships can be subtle. But in the event that strong color is a primary consideration, I like to use plants whose flowers are large. Orange geraniums are brash and big headed. Giant pink petunias are just that-giant, and intensely pink. All of the plants in these boxes require similar light and water, so the care will be easy.
The best part of container plantings is that you have the option to choose the color, shape, mass and texture for just one year. That one year of pink and orange might make you long for white flowers the following season. The commitment to any scheme lasts but for one season. This is so freeing, and empowering. Anything scheme I might try, I only have to live with for 4 months. The nature of containers should encourage any gardener to experiment. The willingness to flirt with failure can result in a sultry and season long love affair.
Strong color asks for strong and sure placement. The visual relationships you establish from one plant to another will strengthen your container design. The growing relationships from one plant to another is just as important. A container, grown out , should have a beautiful and graceful shape.These lime green Persian Queen geraniums have a luscious chartreuse color. The hot pink flowers are like frosting on a cake-yummy. They will get large, and drapy. These Hypnotica lavender dahlias are highly disease resistant, and heavy in bloom. The pink mandevillea vines have a habit of growth that is loose and lush. The vista petunias will soften the entire mix.
Today’s project was an eyeful about the relationships of one color to another. Some gardeners value the color green, or textures of green, or color from foliage, but this client likes flowers. So flowers she gets.
Pink orange and purple. Th orange is a Caliente orange geraniums. It amuses me whenever I hear that geraniums are so pedestrian and ordinary. Their colors are brilliant, their habit is great. With enough sun and food they perform tirelessly. Geraniums are the little black dress of the seasonal plant/container fashion world. Orange geraniums are stunning-I would not do without them.
I did my first summer container planting today. The fact that it was Memorial Day is appropriate. Michigan is not reliably frost free until the end of May. Just last week we had temps in the 30’s on 2 nights-this is typical. I hung back from planting until now. Seasonal plants, which are invariably tropical plants, hate cold soil, and just above freezing air temperatures. A too early planting can set them back for weeks, if not longer. The caladiums under planting these old tree ferns cannot take any cold whatsoever. I hope the nights will be kind to them. The tree fern on the right had to be cut back to the trunk, following an infestation of mealy bugs this winter. The mealy bugs went in the trash with the leaves. It will leaf out again in no time.
I have been planting containers for this client for the better part of 20 years. She has 2 large decks connected by a deck/causeway, that are one story off the ground. They are like tree houses-for adults. This is where they spend time outdoors in the summer. Three pots have nothing but basil. 2 pots, planted with yellow punch cannas, are under planted with thyme. Another pot features a cherry tomato, chives, and more thyme. The remainder of the pots, and the boxes are planted with flowers.
Every year we do the flowers differently. Last year, the colors were pastel, white, and silver. This year, she asked for lots of color.The pot in the center back of this deck has carmine sonata cosmos. The centers of these cosmos are yellow-thus the yellow boston daisies in the foreground. Cherry geraniums and magenta sunpatiens fill the 2 pots on the right.
The thought of geraniums may make you sleepy, but they come in an extraordinarily brilliant range of colors. The big headed zonal geraniums are beautiful, but challenging for some to grow. They like judicious watering, and lots of food. I planted the deck boxes with an assortment of Caliente geraniums. They are so easy to grow, and bloom profusely way into the fall, with not so specialized care.The outside row of plants includes two shades of ivy geraniums-they will cascade in partnership with vista fuchsia petunias. On the inside/house side, the geraniums are kept company with artist ageratum and gold marjoram.
This deck box is stuffed with zonal geraniums in cherry and red, heliotrope, hot pink gerbera daisies, gold marjoram and vista fuchsia petunias. The color and the textures are strong. This is a very tropical experience of the garden that banishes any thoughts of the Michigan winter. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to garden in a number of different ways, every season of the year. The container plantings can be changed up every year. It is a pleasure to have one part of the garden that can be interpreted differently every season. A fresh look is almost always a good look.
This deck has a small seating area, in the center of the space. The pots describe the boundaries of the deck. This deck can be seen from inside, via a series of sliding glass doors. It took the entire day for all of us to haul the mulch, soil and plants to this upper deck-down into the back yard via large stone slabs, and up onto the deck via a flight of wood steps-but the result is a garden in the sky. All of the pots have the canopies of mature trees as a background.
Some years ago we had wood boxes made that hang off the railings of the deck. This means the connector causeway is available for walking, and the boxes drain off the deck. All the kids and grand kids have plenty of places and spaces to be. But there are summer flowers, everywhere.
A new raspberry, yellow and orange lantana standard is the centerpiece of the pot on the left. It is under planting with a hot coral pink mini cascade ivy geranium. My client tells me that ivy geraniums, and zonal geraniums are very popular in window boxes in Europe, as they are reputed to repel flies and mosquitoes. Really. They will have a chance to test this theory out this summer. The pot on the right? yellow punch canna, thyme, and ever bearing strawberries.
A pair of beautiful lead square boxes have been planted with lots of different plants over the years. This is a partial shade location. The rose pink solenia begonias, wreathed in red solenia begonias, will thrive here.
The master bedroom deck is not large, but it is important. My client opens her eyes to this deck every morning, via a floor to ceiling window. This year, red mandevilleas are encircled by Persian Queen geraniums. Scaevola interrupts the parade of the geraniums. An orange punch canna in the center pot will be offset by an amazing selection of dark purple petunias with a white eye. This variety of petunia is incredibly fragrant-so great for a terrace off a bedroom. At the far left, a Gartenmeister fuchsia is under planted with a tall hot pink angel wing begonia. This was a great day-beautiful weather, beautiful material, and treasured clients.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80’s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.