Spikes And Such

dracaena indivisaI plant lots of seasonal containers for clients every year. This season has been particularly intense and compressed.  Cold nights plagued our area until the very end of May.  The week before Memorial Day, we had nights in the 30’s. I was wringing my hands at the prospect of getting out to plant so late, but I have always been stubborn about delaying the planting until we have three nights of 50 degrees or better in a row. It was beginning to feel like that day would never come. This year was a test that kept me awake at night.  Even if the weather turns warmer by mid May, there is a terrific lot of work to do, in a short amount of time. So what does a compressed season have to do with the 6″ buckets of spikes pictured above?  Rarely does the schedule of the planting of the summer containers permit leisurely planning.  The weather turns.  I have a lot of work to do. There are certain plants that look good to me, and others that do not interest me much. My design and plant choices boil down to instinct,  experience, and whatever else captures my fancy. I have no choice but to trust my eye and my hand, and proceed without over thinking my decisions. As for spikes, I have no history of ever planting them in containers.  This year I have planted a lot of them.  Spikes. Yes, I have a little spike fest going on.

spikes and such (3)Who knows why I was suddenly so enamored of spikes. Maybe it is a result of having turned 65 a week ago. A murmuring dialogue about my age, and what that might mean may be influencing my choices. Maybe I was feeling old fashioned and out dated. Most years, I am compelled by a need, on some level, to explore. Exploring is generally a good thing.  Though the fact that I was planting spikes in containers left and right alarmed me, I did not have the luxury of the time it would take to second guess the impulse. I rolled my eyes, and kept on planting them.   Every gardener knows what spikes are.  Their grandmother’s routine and pat pots of geraniums at the front door all has a spike in the middle. A pot full of geraniums with a spike in the middle-an icon of container planting from 50 years ago. Even the grandsons of the grandmothers who planted those spikes vaguely remember them, though they may not be able to identify any other seasonal plant. Today’s container plantings are endowed with an incredible variety of plants unknown and unavailable in 1950. Seasonal container design is a very exciting part of gardening right now. Every interested gardener has a generous palette of plants available, and a design atmosphere that is genuinely challenging and interesting.

spikes and such (6)A spike, Dracaena indivisa, is a tropical green plant.  It is easy to grow, and tolerates lots of different soil conditions.  It likes regular water and sun, but will live amiably with less of everything that it wants. It can be moved inside over the winter, with a minimum of fuss.  The timidly broad sword shaped leaves emanate from a central trunk. The leaves are lax, like a grass. They are the anti-centerpiece. They have no extraordinary color or texture.  They are just about the last in line of the so called architectural plants available to plant in containers.  They are plain green, as in invisibly green.  Worse than that, they are very much out of fashion.

spikes and such (5)So what is it that I am liking about them? Giving up the notion that the center plant in a pot has to be the most important plant is key. I like how a spike gently and unobtrusively softens the appearance of all of these surrounding plants. The geraniums and New Guineas in this urn are stiff, unyielding, and visually demanding. The spike tones down all that bossy color and form.

spikesSpikes are simple to winter over in the house. Simple does not mean it is simple minded to plant them.  I had this pair of spikes a number of years. Grown on to a large size, they have a much more architectural appearance.  In this garden, they provided a little fireworks.

spikes and such (18)

 Cordylines are related to spikes, and  but are not the same genus. They have a somewhat stiffer appearance, and the australis hybrids possess a strong red coloration.  Giving up the notion that only 1 spike is needed opens up the design possibilities. This container has a mass of cordyline in the center.  Dark colors do not read so well in the landscape, so lots of red cordyline means more. Cordylines are fairly indifferent to the vagaries of the weather. They got planted in April, and were in the pots until November. A contemporary pot massed with cordyline can be quite striking.

spikes and such (1)These old red cordylines were grown on from a 6 inch pot. Every year for 8 years now, the arrangement of the pots have changed based on the size of the plants.

spikes and such (13)Phormiums, commonly known as New Zealand flax, resemble spikes and cordyline in their habit, although the leaves are wider.  Some phormiums are quite stiff leaved.  Others are droopy.  There are lots of cultivars available, in different colors and patterns. Phormiums will rot at the base, if they are planted too low in the container.  Outside of that, they are as easy to grow as a spike.

spikes and such (17)The color of this phormium picks up the predominate tones in this group of containers. That peachy pink is especially beautiful with the color of the terra cotta pots.

spikes and such (16)This planting in this pool side pot is simple, but very strong visually.  The phormium “Margaret Jones”, a group of vista fuchsia petunias, and some vinca maculatum work well together, and look nothing like the pots my grandmother planted.

spikes and such (12)This green phormium is a lovely complement to the solenia begonias. Though it is centrally located in the composition, the visual focus is on the flowers.

spikes and such (15)The phormium in this pot takes a much more active role in the overall feeling of this container. Informal and whimsical. The phormium is the plant equivalent of a casual and slightly messy hair do.

spikes and such (14)Phormium “Cream Delight” is hard to find, but it makes a beautiful statement in a container.  The euphorbia diamond frost goes a long way towards softening that spiky appearance, and adds substance, not bulk.

spikes and such (4)Last, but certainly not least, Dianella is related to phormiums, and similar in most ways except for overall size.  They are great for smaller containers. I love how the leaves hover over the rest of the plants in this box. An added plus-dianella blooms.

spikes and such (7)I found a great selection of variegated cordylines at Tellys at Goldner Walsh yesterday. I have not decided what to put with this cultivar,”Torbay Dazzler”, but “Skies of Italy” fancy leaved geraniums might be lovely.  This would be a spike and geranium combination that is both fresh and lively.

spikes and such (8)cordyline  “Paradise”

spikes and such (9)cordyline  “Electric Star”

spikes and such (10)Cordyline  “Electric Flash” is brown leaved with limey green stripes. Imagine the possibilities-all from a consideration of the spike.

The Landscape at 3 Years

June 11, 2015 (2)The very best part of doing containers for clients at the last of a landscape installation for a new house is the chance I might be able to to come back the following year. The opportunity to come back means I can watch, and be part of how that landscape settles in and prospers. The summer container planting comes around once a year, every year. In the best of all possible worlds, the process of the landscape design and installation results in a relationship that is on going.  Planting seasonal containers is ongoing.  I was happy to be invited back.  The John Davis roses, which were part of the original landscape installation, are just about to the roof of the pergola, this June of year 3.

June 11, 2015 (1)Any new landscape comes with troubles.  What you thought would be perfectly happy in this spot refuses to perform. What seemed like a reach takes hold like you never imagined.  Anyone who gardens knows trouble-and how that trouble can be difficult to foresee. This property fronts on a lake. The very heavy clay soil refuses to dry out. We had no end of troubles, getting this landscape to take hold. It is difficult, and takes time, to establish plants on a clay based soil. In the middle of year 2, a daunting year 2, we were making progress.  Year two was not my favorite.  It just had to be lived through. But once the plants take hold, they go for broke. Year 3 is looking good. Along this path to the side yard, each Rozanne geranium is the size of a small shrub.  The astilbes are loaded with flower spikes. The yews have settled in, and are lush and dark green.  And the roses-well, you can see for yourself.

June 11, 2015 (9)John Davis is a climbing rose which is incredibly vigorous and long lived. If pink flowers are to your liking, this rose will reward you with steady growth and lots of roses. I have a client withe John Davis roses that are better than 20 years old.  It is undeniably hardy-bear in mind these roses on planted on the lake side, and subject to terrific winds and cold in the winter. Our last two winters were fiercely cold.  I see damage to plants everywhere from those vicious winters.  These roses never skipped a beat. Planting this summer annual container next to this John Davis in glorious bloom-what a treat.

June 11, 2015 (3)This landscape has begun to come into its own. I did not know this, until the moment I got there with a truckload of flowers for the pots. The best part of spending the day here planting the containers here was the pure pleasure of experiencing a landscape and garden that has rooted in and has settled down.  Everything is breathing, regularly.  There is new growth on every plant, from the yews, to the Venus dogwoods, to the Himalayan white barked birch, to the hydrangeas-to the columnar red maples. The landscape is thriving. The heart of it is beating regularly, and strongly.

June 11, 2015 (5)The boxwood dots in the lawn have put on a lot of weight. That dark green I see everywhere is a healthy green. How is my client managing a landscape on soil that does not drain?  She manages, as she tends to the landscape. Her thoughtful work is obvious. The views from the second story deck was beautiful. That beauty is not of my doing, some three years after the original installation.  It is hers. All a garden needs is for someone to take ownership, like she has.

June 11, 2015 (4)I did plant lots of containers for her today.  She wanted orange geraniums, and nasturtiums.  I planted them wherever I could.  Next week I will plant her cutting flower boxes. We have had incredibly cold and rainy weather. I have postponed planting the zinnias and the sunflowers until next week.

June 11, 2015 (10)The wet meadow is loaded with amsonia Blue Ice-it is in bloom now. The shadier portions are planted with species monarda, and northern sea oats-Chasmanthium latifolium.  The fact that it seeds is all to the good. That wet meadow will dry sometime soon. Cleome and sonata cosmos will provide color in this garden all the summer season long.

June 11, 2015 (8)Though my trip here was to plant containers, how the landscape has taken hold has my attention. Plants in the right place is all the work of a garden-and all of the pleasure.

June 11, 2015 (7)Willy’s garden is presided over by a big group of columnar red maples.  Their foliage is lush this year – finally.  The hostas are fanning out. In the front of the house, the peonies were full of blooms. The birch are growing. The katsura espaliers leafed out beyond all belief.

June 11, 2015 (11)All of the containers featured orange in one form or another.  I was pleased that this urn was stuffed with annual plants in a relaxed fashion.  My crews do an amazing job of arranging all the plants that are scheduled to go into a container in a lively, lovely, and unpretentious way. From the start.

June 11, 2015 (14)I cannot really convey with words what it meant to walk on to a property with a landscape wrought by a relationship with a very special client that seems happy in most every regard. I ws so pleased with everything I saw. My working life right now is busy-jammed packed and intense.  Most days I am up at 4:30 am, and drifting home at 6pm. This seasonal planting settled me right down. Thanks, Harriet. This landscape is growing  just as you would want it to.  I am sure I heard that growing going on.

A Little Sizzle, Please

I  2015 (11)The last two weeks, and the next two weeks, are what I affectionately refer to as hell month. I am designing containers and shopping just about non stop. My crews grab hold of the rope. I print pictures and add notes-scribbled very early in the morning. They scoop it all up, and make it happen-day after day.  We all plant containers for clients this time of year-lots of them. We plant close to 60 projects-all of them different.  My grower delivers plants to jobs for me. His willingness to do this makes big installations possible. He greatly obliges by custom growing lots of annual plants for me.  I am interested in those plants that endure, and perform. And plants that are unusual and interesting. Though all of us are incredibly tired at the end of the day, we have work that has tangible results. Good looking containers, and clients who appreciate them.

I  2015 (20)This client likes lots of color, and more color. I try to put together color combinations that sparkle. Years of planting containers means I am able to imagine what the finished arrangement will look like in the coming months. So I focus primarily on the color relationships, as the eventual size of the plants is a future I can imagine. I can shop an entire greenhouse in no time, and pick plants for one or several jobs. This is not a skill. It is all about experience. I take special interest in this planting, as this is a landscape, garden, and container client with whom I have had a steady relationship for 25 years.

I  2015 (35)Her landscape is the best that I have ever seen it. This is a great pleasure for me, seeing a design grow in.  Trees and shrubs take time to take hold.  Then they need time to grow. This year, her landscape is maturing, and growing. This has taken 15 years. Her summer containers, a gesture for just one summer season, is set off by that landscape.  The relationship of the landscape and gardens to the containers is a lively relationship. She is a very lively client. I plant her containers with that in mind.

I  2015 (12)I do pick a palette of plants for this project that relate to one another-in color, size, and growth habit. Some plants and colors hop from one container to another.  Some colors are thematic.  Some colors are unexpected. The selection of the plants for a collection of containers is all about rhythm, color, mass, texture-  and strong relationships in all of these areas.

I  2015 (29)I do like pink and orange together. Just the right pink, and just the right orange,  is electric.  These French made orangery boxes  have a centerpiece of orange punch cannas – they will grow up and out once we get a little heat. Some color relationships can be subtle.  But in the event that strong color is a primary consideration, I like to use plants whose flowers are large.  Orange geraniums are brash and big headed.  Giant pink petunias are just that-giant, and intensely pink.  All of the plants in these boxes require similar light and water, so the care will be easy.

I  2015 (33) The best part of container plantings is that you have the option to choose the color, shape, mass and texture for just one year.  That one year of pink and orange might make you long for white flowers the following season. The commitment to any scheme lasts but for one season. This is so freeing, and empowering. Anything scheme I might try, I only have to live with for 4 months. The nature of containers should encourage any gardener to experiment. The willingness to flirt with failure can result in a sultry and season long love affair.

I  2015 (23)Strong color asks for strong and sure placement.  The visual relationships you establish from one plant to another will strengthen your container design. The growing relationships from one plant to another is just as important.  A container, grown out , should have a beautiful and graceful shape.These lime green Persian Queen geraniums have a luscious chartreuse color.  The hot pink flowers are like frosting on a cake-yummy. They will get large, and drapy. These Hypnotica lavender dahlias are highly disease resistant, and heavy in bloom.  The pink mandevillea vines have a habit of growth that is loose and lush. The vista petunias will soften the entire mix.

I  2015 (13)Today’s project was an eyeful about the relationships of one color to another. Some gardeners value the color green, or textures of green, or color from foliage, but this client likes flowers.  So flowers she gets.

I  2015 (22)pink and orange, with an intervening phormium.

I  2015 (15)The color is to come.  The lantana topiary is red and orange.

I  2015 (50)Yellow lantana standard and peach pink cascading ivy geraniums.  This container is in full hot south sun.

I  2015 (42)Pink orange and purple.  Th orange is a Caliente orange geraniums.  It amuses me whenever I hear that geraniums are so pedestrian and ordinary.  Their colors are brilliant, their habit is great.  With enough sun and food they perform tirelessly. Geraniums are the little black dress of the seasonal plant/container fashion world.  Orange geraniums are stunning-I would not do without them.

I  2015 (39)What a great day we had today, planting pots. In another month, there will be much more to talk about.

 

May Rain

crazy rain (11)We have had an astonishing amount of rain in the past three weeks. Steady and generous rain. Lately that rain has been accompanied by very warm temperatures.  Timing is everything-as someone once said.  I am watching what regular spring rain and a little heat is meaning to my plants. All of my evergreens, shrubs and perennials are putting on a lot of weight.  I am delighted with the look.  It is no news that every living thing needs water to survive. You, me, the trees, and the planet. Some plants need next to no water-that would be the succulents on the roof of the Vatican that have been there hundreds of years,  they get vastly less than 3 inches of rain a year. Some need regular water and boggy conditions-as in Louisiana iris. All those plants in the middle of this spectrum, in my area, are soaking wet, and growing happy.

crazy rain (5)Water from the hose, or an irrigation system, is nothing like water from the sky. I have no science whatsoever to back up this assertion, but I believe that water from the sky is like no other water.  Water from the sky is imbued and super charged with life. This natural water makes everything explode with growth.   A rainy spring day is great for the garden in my zone.

crazy rain (2)Every plant in my garden is going shoulder to shoulder, given the steady rain.  No fertilizer at work here.  Just good soil that gets a top dressing of ground hardwood bark mulch once in a while, and steady rain. Not every spring is like this. Dry springs make for plants with a much more lean silhouette. Dry springs make every plant look needy.  My plants look ready to to talk to me.

crazy rain (3)This rhododendron is closing in on 30 years old.  It is blooming profusely this year.  I credit the regular spring rain. I do nothing to look after it, except to pinch off the dead flower heads. Just outside my home office window, it is a delight. This late May explosion of form and color is a delight.

crazy rain (6)The ivy growing across my side door steps has been there for 30 years as well, but is looking particularly lush this year.

crazy rain (9)The beech ferns and European ginger have decided to come on.  I was worried that our extremely cold winter would do them in-but not so.  They were slow to show, until the rains came.

crazy rain (18)The Princeton Gold maples are in full and glorious leaf.  Each leaf is bigger than my hand.  All of the yews are sending forth their new growth. The fountain garden is dominated by lime green, in various shapes and forms. As busy as I am, all this spring lime is arresting, and compelling.

crazy rain (13)The boxwoods have begun to grow.  The late afternoon light pictures that growth as another shade of lime.  Hellebores just planted last summer are sending up new leaves. This is a spring view of my garden that gives me so much pleasure.

May 27, 2015 (20)The clematis on the bench have grown by leaps and bounds. The buds are coming on strong. They are starting to lean on my moss cow, Lady Miss Bunny, for support. The pachysandra is loaded with limey green spring growth.  Milo’s path through it is obvious.  When the new growth hardens off, his tracks will recede.

crazy rain (16)When I see plants in my garden growing lustily, I am thrilled. I have gardened long enough to know that I am a second tier provider to my garden.  Nature calls the shots.  And I am well aware than nature bats last.

crazy rain (12)Buck and I sit here every night, after work.  We have nothing to look at in the way of roses.  This past winter finished all of the last of them off.  But every night I look at that space, and try to imagine what might be. But behind us, the boxwood is responding to all of the rain. We have a dialogue going on.  Spring talk-every gardener understands this.

crazy rain (15)The May rain we have had has my garden bursting at the seams. Nature at its most helpful and benign makes me look good. I have a lush garden life right now. For this, I am grateful. My spring could have been very different from this. Nature has her own agenda. She takes no direction. Nature is a wild force that knows no bounds.

crazy rain (7)Though my garden is as green and growing as it could possibly be, I think about people, farmers, and gardeners in California who are suffering from terrible drought. Would that I could FedEx them some of my spring rain. The people in Texas enduring devastating flooding from heavy rains-terrible.  Texas has a long history of flooding, but who cares about the history?  Any person in Texas whose house has been swept away by too heavy spring rains-I feel terrible for their loss and anguish. We have had rain that sustains.  This is my report, for my vicinity.  As for the rain that nature delivers-rain in one place is a gift. Mad and unrelenting rain somewhere else could be a disaster.

crazy rain (8)The spring water from the sky can be good.  Too much water from the sky can destroy lives. Nature is not a friendly force. Nature has her own schedule. Never mind any of us. She does not call for a meeting, before she delivers her water. Her water can be a steady fall over a number of hours.  Or it could be a deluge in minutes.  That water could sustain life.  Or it could wash away lives.

crazy rain (10)I am thinking about rain right now. There is no easy answer. Generous rain endows every garden. Torrential rains can be so distructive.   Nature is a very, very, and more very a wild card. Gardeners know this.