silver king begonias, watermelon pepperomia and pink polka dot plant- Persian Shield in the center
silver king begonias, watermelon pepperomia and pink polka dot plant- Persian Shield in the center
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once the piles of snow melted this spring, the rose news was not so good. All of my roses were holding onto their dead leaves for dear life-as if our terrible winter caught them completely off guard. This scene just about broke my heart. A good part of the heartbreak was the uncertainty about the future. Were my roses dead? The early spring was cold and unfriendly. The garden was groggy, and slow to wake up. This story was a story about uncertainty that went on for weeks.
I did not touch them-that was pure instinct. It looked as though every cane was dead. The idea of giving up this old rose garden was very tough to take. The late spring meant we have had an incredibly busy spring at work. I quit looking at the roses, and hoped for a miracle. Hoping for a miracle-what else was there to be done?
More than a few readers of this blog have suggested that our foul winter meant the roses got a rejuvenation pruning. This is polite talk for dead back to the ground. Dead back to the ground, I have learned, does not mean dead. I am glad I have been to busy to fuss over them. It took well into May to see what was gone for good, and what would survive. I watered deeply when it was hot and dry-that’s all. Today’s story? Most of the climbers died back to the ground. The few canes of Jeannie Le Joie that survived are bravely blooming. All of the climbers, including Eden, are coming back strong, from the root. Only one shrub rose is dead. Two of them I suspected were dead send up new canes jut a week ago. I decided not to cut back the dead climbing canes. My idea is to attach the new canes coming on from the ground to the trellis made by the old canes. How do those surviving canes look today? Not gorgeous. Just brave.
My Carefree Beauty and Sally Holmes roses are coming back strong from below ground. The foliage is glossy green, and full sized. A scant month ago I was sure this garden would need to be replanted from start to finish. Not so. The will to live is a very strong will indeed. Any plant that is challenged by a brutal winter, or a lack of water, or a swarm of Japanese beetles-plants respond on their own schedule. The first and the last word belongs to nature. The Carefree Beauty roses I have blooming now are indeed a little miracle.
I am delighted about this turn of events. The two burned spots in the boxwood is the only winter damage I have to any of my boxwood. I was lucky in that regard. The roses are almost 5 feet tall. The Japanese anemone and boltonia are spreading their wings, with all the space and sun they have now.
I took the following pictures last June. This June is remarkably different, but I wonder if that winter rejuvenation pruning to prove to be all for the better. I have the feeling I will have beautiful roses again. It just may take a while.
When I am 64-that would be yesterday. How is being 64 going so far? Sunday had to be one of the most beautiful June days in recent memory. 78 degrees, and breezy. Delightful. I put my feet up, whenever I could. No worries-I took the time to enjoy the day. I have sketchy plans for the work this week-sketchy is good enough. What was I studying on, having turned 64? Orange geraniums, and roses.
Many years ago a client in the fashion industry was miffed that I planted orange geraniums in her pots. She thought they were too pedestrian. I have been planting container gardens since 1987. I have seen a lot of plants come and go. I have passed on a lot of plants that couldn’t stick out a summer season in a container, start to finish. Ordinary plants are ordinary for very good reasons. They deliver. The dandelions bloom and prosper, no matter every effort that is made to eradicate them. Queen Anne’s Lace prospers and blooms in every field, and every crack in the highway. Pachysandra is a green mulch that covers the ground in almost every condition. As for orange geraniums, I love their color and robust habit. They bloom profusely. My client who felt she was getting pedestrian was mistaken. I appreciate any plant that is willing. They are a sensational shade of orange. Orange flowers and ordinary plants did not interest me much, 30 years ago. What did interest me was too embarassing to to repeat. I was a young person, endowed with all those ideas that reeked of babyhood. As for that planting of orange geraniums for my client- I switched her plants out, and took the orange geraniums home.
I was thinking yesterday that my fascination for orange geraniums might be a function of my age. I worry about that. Too much history can smell musty. I have been at planting containers a very long time. I like to think that every year my choices get better, my eye gets sharper. In an orderly scheme of things, my ability to compose gets better at the same rate that my knowledge of horticulture gets better. But maybe my love of orange geraniums, picotee petunias, yellow variegated foliage and purple sweat shirts may be a sign of my age. I have a memory of my Mom in her sixties-how old fashioned she was! It could be I am following in her footsteps. What would a young client think about picotee petunias? They might be appalled. At 64, I am thinking much about how I can continue to be relevant to my clients.That said, I think it is important at any age to put aside fashion, and think independently. Plants go in and out of fashion. Fashion is a concept that applies only given permission. An old windbreaker from the seventies may suit you just fine. My Chevy suburban with 110,000 miles-I am still quite happy with it. So even if a love of orange geraniums is a function of my 64th year, I will go ahead and plant them.
As for the roses, on the occasion of my 64th birthday, I have this to say. I was sure that every one of my 26 roses were dead this spring. I have not touched them for two months, as I have not had time to touch them. Given my neglect, 25 of my roses have come back strong from the root. I was not in any way patient about the trouble they suffered from our winter. I have ignored them, as I had to. I have been so busy, working. They had time to do what they would do, without interference from me. The spring is a very busy time for me. A late spring is all about work day and night. I was not expecting them to burst forth and grow from underground. The day I saw new growth from the bottom shocked me. I was so sure they were dead. Not so. Many of them are going on 5 feet tall now. Five feet of growth in 6 weeks? Astonishing. I have not taken any of the dead climbing rose canes off the wall. Those dead canes still have dead leaves attached to them. The few canes that are blooming are surrounded by dead rose leaves from last fall.
I have never seen anything like this, even though I am 64. I thought about cutting all of the dead canes of the wall, but I decided not to interfere. This decision was pure instinct. I will just tie the new canes to the old. This seems fitting.
I have just about driven Buck crazy, wanting to go see the dead roses every night after work. He is such a good sport about touring the garden, every day. But even he has gotten caught up in the rose drama. The roses are roaring back. I am thinking I might need to hard prune my shrub roses every 2 or 3 years. To force basil growth. Truth be told, my roses were rangy and overgrown. I did not prune them back hard. Maybe I was too old to be tough on them. Our past winter was decisive. Nature may have done for my roses what I needed to do, and didn’t.
A the dawn of the age of 64, I am learning so much I never knew about nature, roses, and the color orange.
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.