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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tonight, both Howard and I have cause to celebrate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?