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.

A Favorite Place

I have my favorite places.  What makes for a favorite place?  A client with an eye for beauty and a committment to the garden.  A client who is always willing to try something new.  That said, an ancient and sparsely foliated scotch pine flanks the front door-Mr. will not now, and not ever,  let me touch it.  This too makes for a favorite place-strong feelings.  The Australian tree ferns I have wintered in a greenhouse for them for about 10 years.  We cut them back to the main trunk in the fall.  By spring they are leafing out vigorously.  This year I underplanted them thickly with maidenhair ferns.    

A pair of chimney pots got planted with an unknown begonia-I like the leaves.  The rusty colored hairs on the stems and backsides of the leaves look great with the rusty brown pots.  Lime licorice grows anywhere for me-sun or shade.  That pale chartreuse color will highlight those deep green leaves.

Planting day was a sunny day-so my pictures are not very good.  A lime, lavender, purple and yellow color scheme is enlivened with an occasion burgundy potunia-just for emphasis. Vinca maculatum will trail dowen long on the far side, as will the misty lilac wave petunias.

The small box got cactus flowered purple dahlias, purple angelonia (new this year) lanai blue trailing verbena, white petunias and lime licorice. 

A pot nearby has a yellow and peach bicolor dahlia, and a skirt of dark red violet trailing verbena.  I like the forms of the plants together as much as I like the color.  I like the contrast of the big dahlia leaves to the slight-sized verbena leaves.  Plants have visual relationships on a lot of levels.   

The centerpiece of this pot is a double (also known as hose in hose) datura.  I caution anyone who grows them-every part of a datura is poisonous.  The plants smell poisonous.  If you cultivate this beauty, wash your hands after you touch it.  Beyond the warning label lies a gorgeous big leaved plant with giant flowers.  A diminuitive white and lavender veined mini petunia against lime licorice is a cooly tart, and small textured mix.  The datura will be the star of the show.

The perennial garden at the pool is just coming to life.  The peonies are out, and the roses are not far behind.  The purple alliums show well from the second floor deck; this is a garden primarily viewed from above.  We add some nicotiana and verbena bonariensis between the tall perennials, and plant an annual border to soften the edge of the pool brick.  This year, showy oregano, appleblossom petunias and heliotrope will fill in and cover the soil.   

When my client asks for herb pots, she is really asking for basil pots.  I did a pair.  Leeks in the middle, and everbearing strawberries with pink flowers at the corners. Lots and lots of basil.  This I understand.  Its pungent smell and taste-irresistable.

This trio of pots feature an old variegated ivy topiary, and a single ball boxwood topiary.  The boxwood got an underplanting of variegated licorice; the third pot is stuffed with a dahlia.  The pots are from Francesca del Re in Italy.  The are very simple, handsome, and frostproof.  The clay is so loaded with minerals that the pots are very strong.  We make sure no water collects in them over the winter.  Freezing water expands as it becomes ice-this process can damage pots.  These terra cotta pots have been outside for a good many years.

This wildly natural rosemary has belonged to my client a long time. The only thing we prune is the rootball; this plant has a life of its own going on.  This year, we underplanted it with white polka dot plant-I think I am going to like this. 


My first project with this client many years ago involved digging up every plant she had, and rearranging. This took 2 days.  There were lots of projects after this-not the least of which was the most romantic garden wedding I have ever been involved with.  My client-she drove that bus.  The story of the driveway?  The drive needed to be enlarged; the original brick was no longer available.  We took up all of the old brick, and reused it with a new brick in an entirely different pattern.  All of the pale brick you see here is original.  The two colors of dark brick are new. It looks entirely believable; the mix of old and new reads as one thought.  The 12 year old waxleaf privet topiaries got planted back in their summer home-they are just about to bloom.  Most every bit of this garden-swell.