Planting The Pots

The mid nineteenth century cast iron horse watering troughs Rob found in northern England last September have a new and happy home; my clients really like them.   It seemed fitting to me to fill them with water again.  But this time, no horses.  A collection of papyrus and white calla lilies in the gravel filled water flooded trough-this will be a good look, once the plants orient to the sun.  Papyrus (marketed now as King Tut grass, and mini-Tuts) stems break with the least disturbance. But water plants recover faster from damage than soil grown plants.  When they are happy with the water temperature and sun exposure, they grow vigorously. 


This pool terrace is large.  The 27 containers I placed on the limestone do not seem like too many.  Groupings of 5’s and 3’s improve the visual impact.  My clients favor a clean simple and modern look; the pool furniture makes that statement loud and clear.  I took my cue from their expressed interests, and their choices in furnishings.


Four top grafted willows on standard in tall Belgian teak boxes are the stars of the far view.  The wild and wooly silvery foliage atop a barely two inch caliper trunk-very beautiful in these tall contemporary boxes.  The head of the tree is vastly overscaled for the v-shaped box.  I cannot really articulate why I so like the proportion of the tree to its boxy home-it just looks really good to me.  The planting in the giant steel box looks underscaled, yes.  But once those silvery cardoons get to growing, the scale will be perfect.  The white Gallery dahlias lined up like soldiers in a rectangular volcanic slab trough represent white in a strong way.

A pool terrace of this scale needs something going on in the airspace.  The topiary willows are doing a fine job of that.  A single large French terra cotta vase from Ravel, to the right in this picture,  is planted with 8  gallon size mandevillea vines.  A grouping of twelve foot tall natural bamboo poles will provide an aerial home for those vines.  A hot pool terrace will set them to climbing.  The poles are a visual element that occupies and defines the airspace while plants get to growing.  A terrace of this size needs a big idea about the borders, and a bigger idea about ceilings. Comfortable spaces embrace company.  Exciting spaces make explicit reference to size and sky.   

Five containers clustered in a pool terrace corner male a statement about relationships.  A rectangle planted solid with lavender will contrast in form with a spiky agave.  A tall rectangle stuffed with white gallery dahlias and silver dichondra will be a great foil to a large volcanic trough planted solidly with double white datura.  The French terra cotta pot from Ravel-I planted it solidly with Whispers petunias.  The purple accents enliven this grey/green and white planting scheme.    

This pair of steel boxes viewed from the side-a little visual trickery is involved..  The foreground square tall box is planted solid with some blue succulent whose name I have never learned.  The tall volcanic stone slab box is largely occupied by a geranium-no kidding.  Some scented geraniums can grow to astonishing size.  It will only look larger,  better, and loaded with white flowers in 6 weeks. The right hand box is a rectangle-the long view is not available here.  I like a view that tricks the eye.  


Give horizontal view, it is clear what seemed to be a square tall box is in fact a rectangle.  In this rectangle, I planted four hyacinth bean vines.  The four absolutely vertical natural bamboo poles will provide plenty of support to these annual ornamental vines.  The placement of the 8 foot tall vine supports-a contemporary gesture.  

Contermporary container plantings call for lots of one thing, and little in the way of mitigating circumstances. Be simple, be direct, be subtle, be strong, be confident.  None of these containers call for traditional or formulaic plantings. Pick a plant, and plant lots.    

Three times today we had heavy and steady rains.  We kept planting.  A last minute addition-a Ravel pot from France painted white.  This afternoon, we delivered the white French pot, and stuffed it full of rosemary trimmed into spheres.

We finished our plantings at 4pm this afternoon-during the third hard rain of the day. I am not complaining-I am a gardener, so I relish whatever the weather brings. I looked over every square inch of my territory before I left.  A  client with an event at 7:30 pm- we helped them to be ready.

Hot As Bloody Blazes

My shockingly chilly and record setting rainy spring has given way to temperatures hot as bloody blazes.  Temperatures in the mid nineties sounds like July or August-not early June.  I hate planting an annual, a perennial or a tree when it is 95 degrees.  That level of heat is incredibly stressful to transplants-not to mention people. This pool and terrace under construction needs containers-now.  It would be a challenging environment for plants newly transplanted even if it were not 95 degrees.  This will be a blisteringly hot spot in the summer, even on a cloudy day.   

Annual plants have very small root balls-think of it as a life trying to survive in a coffee scoop. Growers use soiless mixes for a lot of reason.  A soilless mix is sterile-no weeds or disease can infect a crop.  Soiless mix is light and easy to handle.  It provides a grower with a lightweight medium that they can fertilize to their personal specification.  If all annual plants were grown in home grown garden soil, no one would have the strength or patience to haul all that weight home and out to the garden.  I transplant all of my container plants into real soil.  That soil will give up its moisture slowly.  This will help the small plants to get established, in spite of their peat based root balls.


A soilless peat based mix can dry out in a matter of hours on a blisteringly hot day. What this means to me is every flat or case of 4 inch flowers needs to be soaked before we load in the morning-never mind that it has been watered 3 times the previous day. Those growers who have plants under glass right now-their lives are a misery. Anyone who grows plants is infected with that miracle of life gene. They would water non stop until bedtime if they needed to. There is that instinct to preserve life.  Preserving life in these containers will require careful plant choices. This means plants that like very hot and exposed locations.

Newly planted plants may need daily water when the temperatures skyrocket. Serious water deprivation may not kill a plant, but it can stress a plant such that its growth is greatly compromised. Make the distinction. Do not water just because it is hot. Some plants wilt from heat-not a lack of water. Butterburrs and dahlias come to mind. They will perk up when the temperatures drop. Water those things whose roots are dry, and water until you are blue in the face. A water bandaid does little-soak thoroughly.  Thern let the soil dry out before watering again.  Overwatering plants in very hot weather is like issuing an engraved invitation to any fungus that happens to be nearby.


Clustering pots in a smaller area is a good look, but it also has  some practical value.  I have containers in 4 places in my garden-and I have a hose nearby for every one of those spots.  Grouping enables me to display a collection.  The collection of pots and the collection of plantings will have interest individually, and as a whole.  These containers are made from large slabs of volcanic stone-hence the perforated surface.  I am assuming the slabs are cut with a giant saw.  The simple round French terra cotta pot is a good foil both in shape and color to the severely geometric grey stone.


Steel box and rectangle keeps a single stone square company midway down the length of the pool.  Of course this arrangement could change, once the pool furniture is placed.  No matter how many times I study the plans and diagrams, there is no ubstitute for seeing all of the elements in place.

This pool terrace asked for a good many containers.  Both the pool and the terrace are very large.  My clients selected what forms and shapes appealed to them; I put together a collection.  I placed all of their containers on the terrace today-it was 105 degrees.  During the entire time I was arranging, I was oblivious to the heat.  Not so my crew.  They were doing the really heavy lifting.  A pair of antique English cast iron horse troughs from the 1850’s weighed over 1 ton each-these we placed with a front end loader.  Once we set them in place, each trough was lifted off the ground via 12 pairs of hands, so a hard rubber spacer could be placed underneath each leg. 

 My clients are wicked intelligent, and have a clearly sophisticated point of view. Though they have a decidedly modern perspective, these antique troughs appealed to them immediately.  They were certain that they wanted them.  They work beautifully here.  They have a very dramatic setting here, which they can handle with aplomb.     

A pool terrace this size asks for a very large statement from every container.  I have some thinking, and some shopping to do.

At A Glance: Fresh As A Daisy

Sunday Opinion: Aging Beautifully


I had occasion to deliver a few pots to a client whom I did landscape work at least 20 years ago.  This picture of her Vincenza stone trough on a frog base that she bought from me 15 years ago I posted a week ago or so.  I like it enough to post it again.  The trough is classic Italian style-the three moss and ivy puppies sitting in a bed of lime selaginella is classic MM style.  I was so pleased to see that all these years later, that trough still looks tended to- great.

I recognized the beds of hostas and roses, some of the specimen trees, and the gravel car park. The landscape was long standing and established the first day I went there.  My client is has a point of view about design.  She loves her land and landscape, and handles all of it brilliantly.  I just lent a hand  on a few projects.  Every bit of her committment was still in evidence.  

She bought some of the most beautiful garden ornament that ever crossed my path.  These antique square French concrete pots were hand carved in a volcanic stone pattern-they are stunning.  An early 20th century French faux bois bench-gorgeous.  All of the trees behind have been there longer than I have known her; they still thrive.  No doubt she has a hand in this thriving going on. 


Next to that bench, a stoneware pot from my Branch studio.  We call thse hugging pots-they are pots deliberately out of round.  The pot was a gift from a group wanting to express their appreciation to my client over her community service to the arts.  They picked well.  A decidedly contemporary pot next to this 90 year old bench-my client’s idea of a good look.

A hand forged iron gate to the side garden is about buried in an arbor of old wisteria.  I do admire how she lets living things express themselves without interference.  She seems to know just when to stop letting something go, and she responds to that gently.  Everything in her garden is kept just shy of chaos-the effort and confidence that this takes I greatly admire about her.   

20 years ago I planted a columnar spruce next to the house-Picea Cupressina. In the intervening years, it has expanded to the limit of the space available, and no further.  The tree placement was fine, I am happy to say. Should a landscape look the best the day it goes in, there is a problem somewhere. This older landscape looks all grown up, in the best sense of the word.     

This antique concrete French urn looks perfectly happy planted with ferns on the granite countertop of the outdoor kitchen.  The one trunk of a trio of katsura trees planted at least 40 years ago is a great companion to this urn.  A very mature landscape that is thoughtfully looked after is such a pleasure. 

The terrace has lots of handmade Italian pots, and a rowdy mix of furniture and ornament.  The boxwood at the right in this picture- visible is just one section of an old snail shaped spiral. This brief visit delighted me.  It may not be front page news, but there are gardeners  shouldering the load of growing, weeding, maintaining, pruning, renovating and nurturing their small part of the natural world.   


I own my house, and everything in it.  I own my car, my businesses, and my watch.  But I am only a steward of the land on which my house sits.  Stewardship is vastly different than ownership.   I have a responsibility to care for the land, the trees, my environment-any natural phenomena within my reach.  I know other gardeners with the same attitude.  Anyone who understand that ownership is a largely irrelevant notion, given a serious interaction with nature, has the potential to be a great gardener.  My client MM-she is a great gardener.