Freezing Weather

holiday containers 2014 (5)Our recent weather has been much more like January than November.  Day time temperatures the the 20’s, and night temperatures in the low teens does not mean we postpone our winter container work. Even if we could, there isn’t any need. If the prospect of doing winter container arrangements is leaving you cold, perhaps some of our techniques might help make it more satisfying.  Trying to create is tough when one’s fingers and toes are numb. Most of our construction is done indoors-in our garage. Any enclosed space will be a more comfortable environment in which to to work, even if it isn’t heated much. When we do go outdoors, it is for active work-the installation part.

holiday containers 2014 (6)Some of our centerpieces are constructed ahead of the installation time.  A very stout bamboo stake is at the center of every centerpiece.  All of the other materials are arranged around that stake.  Sometimes a good quality rubber band helps to keep the materials in place until you get everything arranged exactly as you wish.  For large and heavy materials, a loose zip tie will do the trick.  For very heavy materials, another pair of hands is best.  Once all of the materials are arranged to suit, we tighten the zip ties with a pair of piers.  Very bulky and heavy materials are secured with concrete wire. A centerpiece may have multiple components or layers.

holiday containers 2014 (7)We construct forms for our greens from dry floral foam.  We glue two layers together for added strength. All of our premium greens are in the range of 18″ long, and are fairly weighty.  Large scale pots may ask for that entire width over the edge in order to look properly proportioned. We can get 2 lengths of greens from one long bough for smaller pots. For pots larger than 36″ in diameter, we usually glue the foam form to a piece of 1/2 inch thick exterior plywood for added support.  The winter pots need to look good over a long period of time in which the weather can bring high winds and heavy snow. Nothing is more miserable than trying to repair a winter container arrangement gone over in mid January or February.  The foam form is secured to the soil in the pot in two ways.  We remove the top 4 inches of soil, so the lower level of foam fits down into the container. The upper level holds all of the boughs.  We sharpen the stems of the greens, for a tight fit.  We then drive rebar through the foam and greens into the soil, and wire the steel posts together. The hole you see in the center of the foam-a place for the centerpiece.  Foam forms do not have to be exact.  They are an armature giving support and flexibility to the finished arrangement.

holiday containers 2014 (8)All that remains to add to the centerpieces on site are those finishing materials that gives each winter container a distinct and unique look. Very contemporary winter pots may be as simple as a mass of twigs set into cut greens. There are plenty of other materials available, should you want a softer look.  These winter pots have sinamay (also known as poly mesh), bleached pine cones, pale gold holiday picks, and mini vine rolls. Rob does a great job of sourcing a wide variety of materials that can find their way into winter pots. He likes giving every gardener lots of choices. We have a long winter ahead.holiday containers 2014 (3)All of these accessory materials are either wired to the greens, or wedged into the stick stack.  All of these materials will be fine outdoors over a winter. Does this process seem like much too much work?  It isn’t really-as the process from raw materials to finished container is not only fun, but doable.  Any gardener can do winter pots for themselves.

First National 2014 (1)
In composing a winter pot, keep in mind that you are without that miracle we know as growing. The winter pots are the same size and scale on the last day of winter as they are on the first. Eucalyptus is bulky-a single bunch will go a long way.  If your container is large, consider 2.  If you want to feature this material, go to three bunches, and use fewer fresh cut twigs.  Sinamay is a synthetic mesh that when rouched like smocking, will occupy lots of space.  No amount of snow will distort the shape you create from the beginning.  I brush the snow off my sinamay at home when the snow threatens to bury it. Curly Grapevine rolls create a lot of volume from not much material.  These mini vine rolls are perfect for adding an airy layer of interest to this pot.

First National 2014 (2)The materials in these pots are subtly colored, but are of a volume proportional to the size of the pot.  The centerpieces is red bud pussy willow, in a 5-6 foot height.  Some pots need a tall element. Branches are graded by height, so the height you need is the height you get.    The fresh cut natural branch sets the stage for the character of all of the other elements.

First National 2014 (3)Though the pots are 36″ tall, and 36″ in diameter, the arrangement is graceful.  Each pot is different, as they are done by hand.  Done by hand can endow anything you with a certain feeling.  Containers imagined and arranged by gardeners have that hand made look. The evidence of the human hand is always attracts my attention and interest.

holiday containers 2014 (4)These pots could stand as is until the spring.  I don’t mind a little sparkle during the winter.  Alternately, they would work just as well, if the sinamay and pale gold sparkle picks came out after New Years.
holiday containers 2014 (2)These very large containers have enough variation in materials to provide some interest, even though the color palette is subdued.

holiday containers downtown 2014The steel gray color of the pots was an important consideration in the selection of the materials.

holiday containers 2014 (1)Few things pain me more than pots sitting empty over the winter. Pots full of this or that, enduring over the course of the winter, speak to the hope that grounds every gardener.  The garden goes on all year round, does it not?  Some seasons, the forms and available materials are different. No reason not to celebrate, whatever the weather.

At A Glance: A Collection Of Fall Containers

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (39)bok choy, violas and pansies

October container 2eucalyptus, broom corn, cabbage, and kale

fall containers 019bleached sticks, eucalyptus, green and white pumpkins and gourds

Oct 11 2013 (3)chrysanthemums and pansies

burlap-sack-pot.jpgstriped gourds

white-pumpkin.jpgwhite pumpkin with white cabbage in a bushel basket

flame-willow.jpgflame willow

fall window boxa mix of fall materials

Oct 11 2013 (17)striped pumpkins and squash on grapevine

Oct 11a 021fall pots with big pumpkins and gourds

Oct 14 2011 023burdock seed heads, bleached plastic grass and peacock kale

October 19a 2013 (10)Rob’s grow-sphere with yellow pumpkins and pansies

fall-container.jpgrosemary and alyssum

variegated-basil.jpgpair of fall pots with variegated basil

planters-for-fall.jpgfall containers

fall-container-with-broomcorn.jpgfall container with broom corn, black eucalyptus, and ornamental kale

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (15)The fall season provides an embarrassment of riches in materials great for fall containers. In a pinch, faux materials can provide just what a container needs in form or color. That material may be fake, but I am a real person putting the whole thing together.  As for you-plant for fall in a way that expresses your take on the season.  I try to exercise a little good sense.  If I put the stems of weeds in containers, I try to put every last seed in the trash, first.  Dry thistle stems are gorgeous in fall pots, but those seeds will spread a terrible weed that is tough to eradicate. That said, I use the intact seed pods of butterfly weed everywhere I can, in hopes it will seed with abandon. If weed seeds must be part of the display, I will encase them on the stem with floral sealer.  I wait until the weather gets good and cool to pile pumpkins and gourds in pots.  Set in place too early in the fall, they will rot.  Outside of that, I’ll stuff pots with anything that looks good.  It makes no sense to exercise restraint at the time of the harvest, does it?

 

The Driveway Garden

the driveway garden (1)
I have a whole lot of landscape surrounding my driveway. Why so?  I drive up and drive out of  it at least 2 times a day, maybe more. There are plenty of other places in my garden that I see only intermittently.  An example that explains how frequent visitation drives design-see the following.  As my house is on a corner, I drive by the front door every day. This is a drive by, not a visit. Until the hydrangeas come into bloom, I am only in that garden to water the pots.  Let’s go to the back door. Lots of traffic there. My driveway is a daily experience.  I suppose I could remove my driveway, as neither Buck nor I use the garage to house cars. I could do a narrow walk to the curb. But that makes getting groceries inside or taking the trash out a challenge.  A driveway makes the transportation of vehicles, and items in and out easy. Given its size and function, it is also easy for a driveway to be unsightly. By that I mean, untouched by a landscape. A great driveway landscape is a quality of life issue.  It should make you reluctant to leave home in the morning, and happy to get home at night.

the driveway garden (10)My landscape crowds my driveway, both on the ground plane, and overhead. I I have trees that arch over both sides of my drive.  This means I have birds singing here in the morning and evening.  New to the driveway trees this past week-a solitary catbird. I only prune when Buck complains he can’t walk by, or the branches scrape up against my car.  4 Parrotias, 3 magnolias and 4 dogwoods.  My driveway garden is congested.  Lots of trees over a drive minimizes a big utilatarian paved space, and goes on to celebrate the garden.  There are yews, both upright and spreading.  There are garden spaces too.  Hellebores, hostas and butterburrs.  In a sunnier spot, there are delphiniums, nepeta, adenophora and alchemilla early on, and phlox and white hibiscus.  It has a weedy and relaxed look.  The lime green of the alchemilla flowers is especially pretty right now.

June 23, 2014 (90)My driveway landscape is a big fluid mix of plants.  This is an effort to make the driveway the least important visual issue, in spite of the need for a car park.  The driveway is necessary, yes. Is the driveway the most important issue in the landscape?  I think not. I would suggest that a thoughtful and beautiful landscape could make the necessity of a driveway a treasured feature. To follow is my take on that driveway. Let’s get back to that expresion of lime green.  The flowers of alchemilla mollis- so beautiful. Other sources of that lime green come from variegated lily of the valley, hosta montana variegata, and gold drop hostas.

the driveway garden (4)What looks like a brick driveway is in fact a concrete brick manufactured by Unilock called Capthorne.  This material looks like it might have been original to my 1930’s home. Whomever designed this driveway in the beginning did a great job.  The drive to the street is in the top left of this picture.  The landscape completely shields it from the view presented by my deck. The parking area looks a lot more about piazza than parking.  I have planted the driveway pots with much the same color scheme as the landscape.

the driveway garden (5)Lots of green. And even more lime green. The driveway garden has a lot of old Sum and Substance hosta, which foreshadow the lime green Princeton Gold maples, and the lime sagina subulata in the upper level fountain fountain.

the driveway garden (6)The lime green in the pots is coming from Wasabi coleus, variegated white sunpatiens, creeping jenny, variegated licorice, and several lime green tropical plants whose names I cannot remember. I am not so concerned if I cannot name a plant.  I am very concerned if I cannot put together a garden that is cohesive.  So many great gardeners I know have no knowledge of the botanical names.  Sometimes, they have no names of any sort.  But they know how to make things grow.  That said, I have plants whose names are unknown to me in my driveway pots.

the driveway garden (3)I aspire to the making things grow group.  The design of my driveway garden pots needs to reflect the landscape all around. This means, to some degree, that I choose plants by instinct.  Plants that strike my fancy.  As this is my home landscape, I have no one to answer to beyond myself.

the driveway garden (7)I do strongly feel that container plantings are an opportunity for any gardener to express themselves in a seasonal way. My driveway landscape has been many years in the making.  The pots and annual plants in the ground is my opportunity to change things up. A chance to make a statement. Go in whatever direction suits me at the time. I have planted my driveway with lots of different schemes over the years.  I like the yearly chance to re imagine.

the driveway garden (2)This year, the lime represented by the green and gold plectranthus, the nicotiana lime, and the variegated sunpatiens, is enough lime green to please me.  The one nicotiana mutabilis in a sea of lime green is an outlier.  I try to design for that. The warm yellow wall looks so great, dressed in lime green.

the driveway garden (9)I have worked for years to make the driveway landscape more visually important than the driveway.  This year, I am pleased all around with the results.  Everything in the landscape takes years to settle in.  In  my mind, everything is working together.

Sept 8, 2013 (192)
Tonight,  both Howard and I have cause to celebrate.

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?