Learning

July 14 2014 (11)Lots of people ask me about how I work with color in the garden.  How I decide on a color scheme for a container.  I have tried to write about my process, but I always have the nagging feeling that the discussion falls short.  Frustrating, this.  Though I know that any creative process cannot be quantified, or reduced to a step by step, I would teach, if I could.  I had occasion recently to view a video of a TED talk, thanks to Buck.  TED, if you are familiar, is a forum for presenting speakers who have something to say about ideas worth spreading.  Interested?  www.ted.com.   He keeps up better than I do-about what there is out there to learn.  Her had me listen to a talk given by Joi Ito.

July 14 2014 (12)In March of 2011 he was interviewing for the directorship of the MIT media lab. Late that night, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, just several hundred kilometers from his wife, children and family.  In the terrifying hours that ensued, he discovered that he could not reach his family.  Nor was any government or news agency broadcasting any information about the damage to nuclear reactions by the earthquake. Frantic for information about his family, and for all the other families besieged by a disaster of this scale, he went to what he knew.  The internet.

July 14 2014 (5)In the following hours and days he contacted friends, hackers, scientists and families and put together a citizen science group he  called Safecast.  Over the next few months this group of amateurs with no scientific or governmental standing managed to invent a process by which to measure the radiation levels.  They put geiger counters on the ground; they measured the radiation.  They made available at no charge information that people could use.  Information for anyone for whom this earthquake had devastatingly personal consequences.

July 14 2014 (4)In his talk, he speaks eloquently of how his drive to get the information he wanted and needed was enabled by the internet.  The volume of information out there that can be accessed is limitless.  The internet allows people who have similar interests to meet digitally.  His discussion of how the internet makes it possible for citizens of certain groups to meet and solve problems which transcend any map or country interested me.  Most certainly passionate gardeners are citizens of a country all their own.

July 14 2014 (3)Joi Ito went on to discuss in simple terms the process of learning. What stood out to me the most?  “Education is something that someone else does to you.  Learning is something one does to/for oneself.”   I like this idea.  In fact, I like it a lot.  If anyone would ask me what was most valuable part of my college education, I would have to say that I learned how to learn about what interested me.  Of course the world has changed immeasurably since 1970.

July 14 2014 (14)One can access an seemingly limitless amount of information with a computer or a smart phone.  Anyone can learn whatever it is that they truly want to learn.  As far as developing a personal sense of how to user color in containers-I did not study this in school.  I was interested enough to learn. That learning process, which is still ongoing, and still of great interest to me, was all about the doing.  Plenty of color combinations did not work out so well. But their is as much to learn from those combinations that do not work out, as there is from those that do.

July 14 2014 (14)How people perceive color is very personal.  What appeals to my eye may not appeal to yours.  But that is not the point. Anything you see that interests or intrigues you may encourage you enough to learn what you need to know to express your own ideas. To understand what color relationships appeal to you as a gardener is all the fun of it.

July 14 2014 (15)Mr. Ito’s talk was very interesting.  Want to watch it for yourself?     http://www.wimp.com/wantinnovate/

At A Glance: Great In The Shade

English trough

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shade pots

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shade container 2014

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dieffenbachia

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shade box

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Sept 4 2013 (11)

Lobsinger 7-07 (3)

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June 30a 2012 012So many choices.

Big Pots

foliage-plants.jpgI am usually done planting containers by the 4th of July.  This year, a very late cold spring meant my container plantings have gone late.  Thankfully most of these late plantings are for clients who had containers planted for spring.  Today we planted 21 very large containers for a commercial client.  As much as I like the idea of having acreage available in which to thoroughly express a container planting idea, big pots can be a challenge.  The plants have to grow to sufficient size to balance, offset, and compliment the size of the container. The late call for planting means I am shopping everywhere for plants in their prime that can answer the call.

July 8 2014 (67)This container is large enough to hold the both of us, and then some. The size of the building entrance, and the building obviously asks for containers of this size.  Proper proportion is a very important element of good design.  Big places need big pots.  Big pots need bigger plantings.  A garden dining table may be perfectly dressed with a low container of much smaller dimensions.  Every space comes with its own visual demands.  Whatever the size of a space, I like to size up with a container.  And further size up with a planting.  Container plantings that go wider, or taller than a container helps keep all of the elements proportional.  A bit more green than pot makes for a happy relationship.  That said, a beautifully shaped or detailed pot might be better featured with an underscaled planting.  The tenants of good design can be broken to great effect. The rule about rules is best summed up by the fact that there are no rules.  Beautiful in the garden has everything to do with an eye that rules and the gardener in charge.

July 8 2014 (71)A big city downtown is more hard surfaces than green spaces. Vast hard spaces.  Businesses who own big buildings understand that the experience of the city is softened by generous sized plantings in containers.  A big container in a city is an opportunity to make a statement about nature in a place that is anything but natural. When we plant downtown, it is a rare passerby who does not comment, or stop to talk.  The natural world is a place that all of us respond to.

July 8 2014 (82)I do think the plantings should appeal, interest, or provoke those people who come and go. They should be scaled such to provide a natural visual haven. Designing for containers in public places requires lots of thought, and a lot more shopping.  The pots we planted today meant a previous busy week of scouting what material would be available the second week of July. Some plants I have to rule out.  I was not interested in blooming plants that needed a lot of deadheading.  Or a watering schedule that could not be quantified. Or plants that would not grow large.  Plants for commercial projects need to grow vigorously.  Fuss budget plants need not apply.

July 8 2014 (91)Commercial plantings in the shade are the toughest to design. Urban shade is different than your shade.  Cities with hard surfaces everywhere means that light gets reflected from cars and the street into the shadiest spaces. Planting shady commercial spaces with sun plants is a gamble that routinely pays off.  The reflected light keeps those sun plants thriving.  Plants that thrive in the sun also thrive with less than perfect watering.  Some commercial spaces tucked underneath awnings or expansive overhangs-sun or shade?   I went with the shade here.  The alocasia and the abutilon should grow large and arch over this container, given enough water. This combination, properly watered, with thrive in the shade.

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These pots are under a large awning.  However, this is a very light shady spot.  The glare in the window of the revolving door makes that obvious. There is no worry about a lack of light.  There is a worry about the water though.  Even in a pelting rainstorm that must have dropped between 1 and 2 inches of rain, none of that rain got into these pots.  They will have to be hand watered.

July 8 2014 (92)I am sure you have noticed by now that many of the plant choices for these shady pots are foliage plants.  The centerpiece of this pot is a strelitzia-a bird of paradise.  They can grow to an enormous size, and they are quite tolerant of shade.  The wasabi coleus is a big grower too.  I have seen it grow to better than 3 feet tall in a single season.  The caladiums do a great job of representing the color red in a big way.  The wasabi coleus above, and the lime licorice and creeping jenny below do a great job of making that red glow.

July 8 2014 (93)Big growing and large leaved foliage plants do a great job of stepping up to large containers. The light coming through the leaves-beautiful.

 

The Deck Pots

June 25 2014 (1)Every year I think I will be able to finish planting annual containers for clients before the beginning of July.  Beginning of July? I do have clients who plant their pots for spring-they have no need of a summer planting until late June.  There are some clients who call the first week of June for pots.  It is late June until I can get to them.  I am hoping to finish all of my private clients this week, leaving a summer commercial installation for next week.  The container plantings I hope to have done by the 4th of July.   Given our cold and off putting spring, It is still taking all the time I have and then some to do the work I have booked. But no matter the work load, I make time to plant my pots at home.

June 25 2014 (3)I do plant lots of containers at home.  Coming home to planted pots is a good thing indeed.  Part of my end of the day routine is to tend to the watering  and maintenance of my pots. Just an hour ago I finished planting the last pot.  Given that I am planting into warm soil, that last pot should show signs of growth in just a few days. Looking at them and after them is relaxing for me.

June 25 2014 (4)I do plant my pots differently every year.  That is part of the challenge, and the anticipation of the summer season.  My trees are in the same place, doing the same thing, every year.  My perennials and roses and groundcover-I do not move these plants around, or change them regularly. Though I may waffle away the early spring planning for my containers, by the time that June comes, I have to commit.  I like that deadline.

June 25 2014 (5)I like that pressure. Too big a time frame gives me too much room to fret.  A short time frame encourages me to make decisions, and plant.  I am pleased with this year’s deck plantings.  Certain things influence my decisions. I have a 1930′s home with Arts and Crafts details that features a brick cladding that is a mix of yellow, cream, and pink.  White looks too chilly here. Silver foliage, as in gray, looks good here.  I will admit that after the consideration of scale and mass, I am very drawn to a discussion of color. Pink and orange, and all the versions thereof, may not interest you.  But those colors suit both me and my space.

June 25 2014 (11)I went on occasion far afield from a pink and orange scheme. The Persian Shield in my Italian terra cotta squares faced down with variegated pepperomia and variegated tradescantia seemed appropriate to the color of the brick, and the color of the Italian terra cotta pots.  I had no problem introducing some dark purple to my scheme.June 25 2014 (7)The pennisetum whose name I cannot remember,  and the orange coleus works with the color and the design of this pot.  I did entertain many other plantings for these terra cotta urns.  Pictured above-my decision. No one else has to be pleased about this decision but me.  That is half the fun of it.  I like this messy head of hair in contrast to the formal and classical style of the urn.  Once the coleus gets to growing, the look will change.

June 25 2014 (8)My terra cotta pots from Mital have  loads of detail.  I try to plant them with an eye to that detail. I try even harder to not to over think it.  I am a big fan of graceful. All the plants in this pot are quite ordinary-petunias, geraniums, lime licorice.  The terra cotta nicotiana is new to me-I like that brick orange color.

June 25 2014 (6)Pink and orange-I will admit my choices for my containers this summer were much about lively color.  The nicotiana “Blue Ice” is an interesting color variation I had not seen before.  I have planted this oval pot all green, with green nicotiana, for many years.  This year is different.

June 25 2014 (10)As for what I have planted in my deck pots this year, I like the relationships generated by color.  Not quite so obvious are my sun issues.  This space does not sit due east.  It sits southeast.  This particular spot gets incredibly hot and sunny for about 6 hours a day.  The brick, once it gets really hot, radiates more heat.  I have to pick plants that are happy in this environment.

June 24 2014 (42)This pot full of orchid pink new guinea impatiens looks swell.  Like the geraniums in the previous picture, this impatiens likes the heat, and a good amount of sun.  The pot is large enough that I am able to keep the soil at the proper moisture level.  Dry New Guineas will flop over dramatically.

June 25 2014 (9)The 1930′s English snake pot is a prized pot.  It does not need all that much in the way of dressing up.  The creme brulee heuchera leaves are big and simple, and compliment the shape of the pot. I can see over it into the garden beyond. The pot has a setting.

June 25 2014 (2)At the bottom of the stairs off the deck, one of the first boxes that my company Branch ever produced. I love this box every bit as much as my Italian terra cotta pots.  The color scheme is a mix of yellow, orange and brown. There is a lot going on, texture and color wise, as the pot sits in front of a big section of brick.

I would share anything I could about my process for planting containers with any gardener.  Why wouldn’t I?  That said, I did not think much about my process until the pots were done.  My container design has everything to do with the place- the architecture of that place.  Color.  Scale and proportion. Rhythm.  Texture, mass and line.  And of course, the maintenance. What can I plant that will be a pleasure to maintain?