Who’s Choosing Whom?

stone-urns.jpgShopping 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.

concrete urns.jpgContainers 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.

galvanized-tub.jpgGiant galvanized containers next to the side door may overwhelm that secondary entrance. That same container in the center of an herb garden is a properly sized anchor for the garden.

concrete-pots.jpgOnce 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.

black-aluminum-urnsContainers 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.

stone-trough.jpgAntique 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.

Italian-style-urn.jpgNo 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.

fiberglas-bowls.jpgFiberglass 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.

oak-orangerie-boxesThe 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-pots.jpgBelgian 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.jpgGalvanized 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.      Italian-terra-cotta.jpgI 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?

square-steel-tapers.jpgEvery home and garden has an identity all its own.  What gets contributed by the gardener in charge makes that presentation all the more beautiful for being personal.

burlap-sack-pot.jpg Who’s choosing whom?  Good container choices depend on a lively interaction.

The Dogs At Chase Tower

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We were back downtown for our third installation for the Bedrock Realty Company in Detroit.  Today’s venue-the Chase Tower.  The loggia in front of the building has lots of great seating in bright colors, and enormous low white polystyrene planters loaded with King Kong Coleus.   Bedrock Designer Kelly Deines from Rossetti Architects had the idea that these containers needed  an imaginative element that would turn up the heat a little.  Animate the space.  As in, what about a moss dog sculpture for each pot?

Bedrock.jpgEven though I couldn’t quite picture it, I was intrigued.  Once the dogs were delivered to us, Buck devised and built stands for all of them.  They had to be rock solid in the pots.

Chase-Tower-dogs.jpgWe carefully dug up all of the existing plants, and laid them on a tarp.  We had enough buckets that we could sort the good dirt from the sandy drainage material.  The thick 2′ diameter steel plate would rest just above the base of the pot.

setting-the-dogs.jpgOnce the dog was level, and positioned properly, we refilled the pots.

filling-the-pots.jpgI did try to pick dogs that had either a lot of attitude, or a sense of movement.

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We replanted the coleus, and added a few more here and there..  The Wasabi coleus front and center made the planting a little more like a party.

replanted-pot.jpgI was thoroughly smitten with the result.  People walking by were either smiling, or snapping pictures.  The pots had a center of interest which made them suddenly seem more personal, and personable.

the-clean-up.jpgThey made me smile too.  Great job Kelly Deines.  And thank you Bedrock for making us a part of something this positively fun.

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planted-chairs.jpgThese polystyrene chair planters have new hairdos.  Luckily, there were 5′ diameter drain holes in the bottom, so we could stuff the bases with bricks. This giant loggia was transformed by the addition of the dogs, and the planting of the chairs.  What fun!

The Pots At Home

scotch-moss.jpgThe last 2 weeks have been wicked busy.  Several extensive landscape projects swung into high gear, at the same time I began planting containers and annual gardens.  There are but 10 of us that produce all of the work. We have done 67 annual and container gardens, with 6 more to go. One landscape project-a brand new house that needed everything from start to finish. The other project-a new pool and pool house needing a landscape.  Needless to say, I have not done much at home.  The bed around the fountain got replanted with scotch moss.  I did get a few of the deck planters planted, so I wouldn’t have to celebrate my birthday looking at pots of dirt.

surfinia-sky-blue-petunias.jpgI have always liked the color purple in the landscape, but I have never made it the focus of my containers.  Last year’s silver and brown containers were my most favorite ever, but I hate to repeat a scheme.  The entire fun of planting annual containers is that you get to chose something new.  Since I already have Princeton Gold maples, Sum and Substance hosta, and now the lime green moss, I thought yellow might be a good companion to the purple.

purple-and-yellow.jpgThere are plenty of purple and yellow annual and tropical plants.  Scaevola and dark purple angelface angelonia are both on the blue purple side.  Yellow thunbergia, is a vine sporting sunny lemon yellow flowers.  The contrast of colors is lively and cheery.  I also like the look of these colors with my yellow brick.  The blue from the sky and the green from the landscape are important colors in any garden scheme.  The sky occupies a lot of square footage overhead.  But the color of a home will influence the look of any color you put next to it.

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But I was interested in something else besides color.  I have always been a proponent of growing plants that are willing and able to grow.  Some plants are not that demanding.  Some plants deliver lots of satisfaction without asking for much in return.  It is easy to become besotted with Vista petunias, as they grow and bloom profusely.  But this year, I thought I would try to grow some plants that would challenge my ability to grow things.  The lime scotch moss-it is hard to grow in larger areas.  Yellow petunias are not that easy either, although this Proven Winner’s variety “citrus” promises be be a better than usualy grower.

bicolor-angelonia.jpgButterfly marguerites are willing growers, but they require regular dead heading to stay beautiful.  They also seem to need more attention to the water than other annual plants.  If I comer home at the end of a very hot day, it is the marguerites that are wilted.  Angelonia performs well, as long as it gets heat.  The best looking angelonia I have seen in the past week have been in the greenhouse.  Our early summer weather has been especially cool.

lavender-and-pale-yellow.jpgLime licorice will not tolerate too much water. The felted leaves say that loud and clear.  The leaves will bleach, if the plant is grown in too much sun. It will wilt with too little water.  Finding just the right spot for licorice is a challenge.  Growing it with another trailer sometimes provides it with just enough cover to make it thrive.

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Million bells are trailing plants with loads of charm.  This new variety of super bells is called “Miss Lilac”. The color is very interesting.  Growing million bells can also be interesting.  They rot easily, and develop yellow stems and leaves.  I recommend watering in the am only, and fertilizing with miracid.  Million bells do not thrive when the Ph is too alkaline.  Petunias don’t mind the miracid treatment either.  The color of this million bells is delicate-we’ll see if it is tough enough to withstand my care.

variegated-foliage.jpgPurple annual plants for shade are few and far between, so I am trying torenia this year for the first time.  It is so true that the only way to learn how to grow plants is to grow them.  If I have questions about the cultivation of a plant, I like to ask a grower.  This is one of the best reasons to shop for plants at your local farmer’s markets.  The people who are there helping you select plants are growers.

variegated-boxwood.jpgThere are lots of ways to get yellow in a garden that don’t involve flowers.  The millet Jester is an excellent grass whose color is an intense lime yellow. The centerpiece of this container is a variegated boxwood.  The edges of the leaves are a creamy white.

coleus-Wasabi.jpgThe fairly new coleus cultivar called Wasabi is a very strong grower in either sun or shade.  In sun, the plant is butter yellow.  In shade, a yellow green.

annual-planting.jpgIn the center of these pots, I have planted cup and saucer vines.  The dark purple/green foliage sends out delicate purple tendrils which will attach themselves to the poles.  This is one of the few annual climbers that does not require a lot of support.  Once it gets going, it grows fast, and big.

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The flowers open pale green; they will turn lavender, and finally mature to a dark purple color. I have grown cobaea scandens on a wall, but I have never tried it in a pot.  We’ll see how it works out.

begonia.jpgEvery year I swear I am not going to grow any big flowered begonias.  But in spite of the fact that they are big and gaudy, I just can’t resist them.  The obverse of the leaves have a purple cast.  This non-stop yellow begonia is a deliciously intense sunny yellow.  I planted some.  There are pots that are not planted yet.  But I am beginning to feel like I will in fact get them all planted.  The process of the planting comes at a very busy time of year, but is a time I truly enjoy.  Next up, the growing.

A Day In The Life

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This day was a something of a blur.  A new house needed sod.  A pair of annual plantings in a far away location needed to get finished today, as tomorrow is a set date for another planting.  Three major plantings in one day-we worked it out.  Steve’s landscape crew filled my pots, and planted the old topiaries this morning-he was on his way to sod a a new house landscape we have been working on since last fall.  Scott and Shannon delivered the planted to our job 2 in the morning.  Angie, Owen and Lucio knocked out this big planting by 2pm.  At 2:30, we were a block over, planting 13 pots.  Everything got done, in spite of the rain.

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I have been landscaping, and planting pots for this client for better than 20 years.  She has extraordinarily good taste, and is willing to change things up at a moment’s notice.  Every spring, I look to her for a color scheme.  This year-red, purple and lime.  I was happy to oblige.  This is a big job.  130 40 pound bags of soil-for starters.  We have been wintering a number of topiary plants for her better than 10 years.  They weigh a lot.  Those over wintered plants constitute an entire truckload.  She is 45 minutes away from me-so we have travel to consider.  The terrain-a lot of up and down. This summer planting takes 11 people 7 hours to plant.
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I print out pictures from last year’s planting, with notes about what I want to see happen this year.  Those notes are broad.  Once the broad strokes as established, I personally place every plant.  There is no substitute for being there in person.  A client, an environment, several truckloads of plants-something inspired needs to happen.  I worry like crazy the entire time it takes me to drive there.  What if nothing seems like it is working?
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Once I am there, the worry falls away.  I have work to do-there is no time to worry.  I cannot really describe what happens next.  It is a mix of my relationship with a client, the horticulture, and plants at hand.  As this is client is far away, I pack two trucks full of plants.  I want every plant that works available to me.  Planting on location means I need more than what I need-at hand.  What happens next is one part science, one part relationship, mone part inspiration, and one part experience growing plants.

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This pot has a hyacinth bean vine in the center.  The look of this pot will be much different, come August.  But today I value the bones of that look-purple, lime, with a dash of red.  There are upright elements, and horizontal elements.  At the very last, before the sweep-up, all the topiary frames get straightened.
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The deck off the master bedroom-an expression of the color scheme-with the odd pot out.   To the far left in this picture, an old peach flowered abutilon.  That one element that doesn’t fit in will work just fine here.  Annual plantings that match too perfectly- to my mind, too cold.  I like any expression in the garden which is personal.  Really personal-all the better.
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We had winds and heavy rains half way through this planting.  The red leaved red flowering leaved canna Australia-who knew my client would like this?  We surrounded it with red dahlias and red leaved alternanthera.  The verdict on this planting-due in late August.
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There are red purples, and blue purples.  I opted for a mix, with some deep red Caliente geraniums.  Hypnotica lavender dahlia is a great plant-it performs.  The mini blue veined petunias-a great performer.  Lilac wave petunias-a favorite of mine.  I like this mix, with a smattering of creeping jenny and lime licorice.  I feel fairly confident that these deck boxes will only get better over the course of the summer.
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Our box truck-just about empty.
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These old wax leaf privets have a new home this year.  Last fall I told me client that she needed bigger pots, or we would have to abandon these privets on standard.  She was not willing to let them go-I do not blame her.  They are beautiful.  She bought new pots.  These 30″ tall by 30″ diameter pots handle these topiaries with ease.  We under planted them with scaevola, variegated licorice, and mini blue veined petunias.  Today, this planting is all about green, texture, form and mass.  In August,  there will be a another story about color.
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The torrential rainstorms that have been passing through for the last few days means that all of us are wet.  Really wet.  My shoes and socks have been soaked for 3 days.  The late spring weather has not been easy to deal with.  The last time that the spring weather was easy to deal with-years ago.   This is a way of saying that no late spring planting season is easy.  The transition from one season to the next is always about turmoil.  Michigan weather can and does turn on a dime.We have done a number of annual container plantings in the past 3 days.  Thankfully those plantings look a lot more put together than what is left on this truck.  Not that I am complaining-this is work I truly love to do.