Shopping for anything is one part fun, two parts research, and 5 parts anxiety. The anxiety is the toughest part. Is this avocado ripe enough to serve tonight? Will these tennis shoes be comfortable? Will this washing machine handle all of my needs? Is this tennis racquet appropriate for my level of play? Will I like this sweater next year? Is this the right choice? You get the drift. If you have a mind to plant containers for the summer season, the first order of business is choosing the containers.
Containers first and foremost need to be of proper proportion to their placement. Little pots belong on a garden dining table. Mid sized containers are fine on a terrace. Container that flank a front door need to have a size appropriate to the front porch. Proper proportion is to my mind the single most important design element. Galvanized buckets on the stoop of a cottage or an apartment balcony are appropriately sized for the occasion.
Once the issue of scale is determined, there is the issue of style. A cottage style house does well with informally designed pots. A very formal house asks for formal containers. An Arts and Crafts style house has its own language and vernacular. Containers that fit answer the architecture. A home is the largest sculptural element on a property. The pots need to follow suit. Breaking the rules can be effective. A large pot in a small space can be very effective. A traditional home complimented by contemporary pots can present an unexpected visual pleasure.
Containers are available in all sizes. Tall and short. Tall urns can sit on the ground. Short urns can be elevated off the ground with pedestals. Narrow containers can dress up a tight space. Wide containers can hold down a big space. The tall and the short of it depends on what you want at eye level. Tall containers, or urns on pedestals, can be seen from the sidewalk. Low and wide planters can warm up a pool deck. Small planters can dress up a garden table. Medium height planters can put the flowers at eye level on a dining terrace. A big tall planter, planted big and tall, becomes a screen warding off bad views. A fabulous antique stone urn planted with a dome of moss focuses attention where it should be – on the urn.
Antique stone troughs come with lots of history attached. Planted with succulents, they are great for those moments when a gardeners looks downward. They can be filled with water and water plants. Any container properly sited will look good, even when it is empty.
No container does face to face better than an urn on a pedestal. Face to face is good at the front door. Or in the center of a beautiful garden. Or as a focal point in a landscape. This English concrete urn in the classical Italian style has a considerable presence, and could organize a fairly large space. This urn features detail such that the planting would need to acknowledge rather than cover it.
Fiberglass planters are light weight. They are perfect for water gardens. Spherical planters are especially effective in contemporary and geometrically organized landscapes. They are great next to a lounge chair, or a bench. A well planted bowl will keep you company.
The material of a planter says much about style, period, and architecture. Formally designed and fabricated wood orangery boxes recall an age centuries old. French formal, for sure. Four wood orangery boxes could organize a formal landscape with ease. One casually fabricated or vintage wood box stuffed with herbs at the center of a cottage style vegetable garden is all about home. Great meals. Fresh food. When the wood starts to deteriorate, no cause for alarm.
Belgian stoneware containers are subtly textured. They are solid, simply modern in shape, and frost proof. Any contemporary home and garden would be happy for them. That said, the simplicity of their shapes make them easy to fit into any scheme. Galvanized metal buckets and tubs are an alternative idea. Once you have sorted out the proportions, the style, and the size, and the aura, you may have the idea to go way wide. Or way unexpected. Have at this. I find that no matter what containers I would choose for my landscape, the container usually chooses me. The containers that would work well for you will choose you, if you listen. This can make a decision much easier to come by. What container would your home, terrace or garden choose?
We have had quite a string of rainy days. Rainy and cold, every day. Thunderstorms and the downpours to go with. It is plainly too wet to plow. The only gardening we are doing is in containers. Water logged soil can have every last bit oxygen squeezed out of it by foot traffic. Or a wheel barrow wheel. My advice? Stay off of soggy soil. Wait. Some weather conditions are perfect for working the garden. Cool and dry is great. Warm and barely moist is friendly. Hot and dry is no gardeners idea of an ideal working situation, but it beats cold and soggy. The winter was long and vile, and the spring has been chilly and off putting.
We have had a few hours of dry periods between storms. It is clear that the cold tolerant annuals are are not the least bit fazed by any of the unsettled weather. Thank heavens for spring plants. May is never a summer month. But a moderate May makes for a spring cool and dry enough to work. Cool night temperatures mean the spring flowers persist. The difference between 2 weeks of magnolia flowers and two days has everything to do with temperature. The chilly rain has been great for all the plants, but unfriendly to gardeners who only want to get outside and stay there.
There are those plants that handle the chill and the rain without complaint. The parsley I put outdoors in April never fusses. The pansies and violas bow their heads in the rain, but they spring right back. Interested in some spring spunk for containers-try parsley, osteos, pansies, violas, stock, nemesia, godetia, lavender, rosemary, lettuce, nemesia, ornamental cabbage, bok choy, spring flowering bulbs, early season perennials – gardeners have a long list of plants that thrive in a chilly and rainy spring season. The tulips at the shop are glorious, as are the grape hyacinths and hellebores in my garden.
As for what is planted in the ground in my rose garden, I tread lightly. The roses have been devastated by the winter. 5 of them are dead, the other 15 or so died back to within 8 inches of the ground. The new growth is so vigorous that I haven’t the heart to take them out. I don’t have the heart to post a picture of the carnage either. They did after all survive the winter, but it’s not so swell looking right now. The asparagus is four feet tall already. I have not been able to walk in there to cut it. The anemone Honorine Jobert, brunnera and boltonia are growing. The canes of all of the climbers on the wall are dead. New shoots are coming from the ground. The sopping wet ground and wet foliage says keep out.
No gardener likes to stay away. They like to wade in and sort everything out. But it isn’t a good idea to wade in just yet. So the garden news in my zone is about what is stalled, on hold and not yet going on. Hold off as long as you can stand it.
May 18, I still have a winter fleece on. I have yet to step into my garden. The little pleasures? The grass seed in the bare spots in the lawn seemed to sprout overnight. The variegated lily of the valley is up and blooming. The delphiniums are 30″ tall already. I can tell this much from afar. A bucket planted with ferns, hosta and streptocarpus is a pleasure one can enjoy up close.
Anyone who gardens has a fascination with what I call living color. The red of tulip is a much different kind of red than red represented by paint. Color infused by life and light is a special kind of color. It is no wonder that flowering plants are prized by gardeners. Given the winter we just endured, the first signs of color are so welcome. And no plant is more about the joy of color in the spring than tulips. I plant a mass of tulips at the shop every year. It is the perfect opportunity to explore shape and color relationships, as every plant looks just about the same. I A mass of all one color is striking in certain settings, and in small groups. A mix of color and shapes makes for a more painterly approach.
A good mix begins with a selection that blooms at slightly different times. A very early and a very late tulip will never keep one another company. Tulips with related bloom times means that the display of color will evolve over time. From the moment a bud appears to the time of bloom is about a month. The tulips in the foreground of this picture are behind those in the background for a simple reason. They are close to some fairly large lindens that shade them in the early part of the day.
The next step in choosing a mix has to do with height. A mix all at the same height means that each individual flower is not in view. A mix of heights puts the color both up, middling, and down. Once a tulip comes in to bloom, the flowers continue to grow. In a cool spring, the stems will grow to their full height, and stay in bloom quite a while. In a hot year, the stems will be short and the flowers short-lived. Given our fairly cool temperatures, this should be a good year.
Choosing the colors is the most difficult part. No one has the luxury of picking a tulip for its color any other way than via pictures in a catalog. A picture of a tulip is not remotely like the real thing. Solid red tulips can be orange red, or bluish red. Or red violet. Or red with streaks of yellow. Many tulips are comprised of several different colors overlaying one another. The edge of the petals may contrast in color with the body of the petal. Other tulips may be streaked or spattered with another color.
Tulips that have multiple color tones are great for creating a visually satisfying and complex display. This softly colored mix is comprised of tulips with subtle color variations. Choosing colors that are analogous means they are closely related on a color wheel. The overall effect from a distance is monochromatic, but up close, there are many variations. This tulip mix is easy on the eyes, but not sleepy. I like looking at pictures of tulips on the John Sheepers website. The colors represented are fairly true, and they include a written description of the colors as well. No catalog records what the inside of a tulip looks like. That warm and sunny day that mature group of tulips opens their petals wide and flat is a beautiful day indeed. I do take pictures of tulips on my own, for reference. We do a different scheme every year-why not. They are all beautiful. It is surprisingly easy to put colors together that are jarring and ill suited to one another. I do see a fair number of red and yellow tulips planted together. A mix is best with a minimum of 3 colors. The color rhythm is better, and less choppy. Red yellow and dark purple-an exciting scheme. Red yellow and orange, a closely related celebration of hot color. Red, yellow and pink is a little softer, especially if the pink is a littler paler than the others. Pale yellow, watermelon red and the palest pink is a completely different look than the aforementioned schemes. Red, yellow and white is striking by way of contrast.
A color mix also influenced by the ratio of one color to another. 25% yellow, 25% red, and 50% white may read like polka dots. a 33-33-33 blend is an even blend. A 50-50 mix with one big patch of another color is energetic and catchy.
As for this yellow tulip with anemone petals-I have no idea what it is called, or where it came from. But I am glad to have it as part of the mix.