The Lattice Box

Lattice refers to overlapping strips of wood or metal joined on the diagonal.  That placement produces diamond shaped air, or empty spaces; the steel or wood forms a continuous series of X’s.  How hard it is to describe in words a shape any gardener would instantly recognize in the garden.  Lattice patterned fence panels, screens, and trellises have graced many a garden.  That diagonal construction is strong.  The large open spaces make it an ideal home for vines that benefit from having places from which to grow in and out.  A lattice screen lets air get to the air conditioner while shielding its bulky steel from view.  A lattice fence provides a kind of privacy that is casually airy.  Why box yourself in, if you don’t need to?  Of course I had a mind to design a lattice box.  My first try featured a button medallion set in a solid diamond.  Should you look carefully at this diamonds, they are perfectly scaled for the size of the panel, and perfectly constructed-all of that is Buck’s doing.  The liner is made of extira board-that water repellant rot proof composite material from which signs are made.              

I know, that first box has something of the look of a Brownie camera-a steel framework around that Brownie camera brown board.  The next boxes featured painted extira board.  We always use Porter paint for any ornament outdoors-their 100% acrylic paint is tough as nails.  The plain rectangular shape at the top did a good job of featuring the lattice pattern, without it becoming visually overwhelming.

This client changes the color of his liners every few years.  The ability to easily and entirely change the look of a container is appealing.  I have one client who had us paint the reverse surface of her liners cranberry red-for the holidays.  The liners are actually 4 separate pieces that drop in behind the lattice.  A finished frame at the top covers the raw edges of the board, and makes for a completely finished appearance.     

Years later, I have moved the plain rectangular planter to the bottom.  I cannot explain why I like this so much better, but I do. These tall boxes look grounded, not top heavy.  They have an elegant air, to my eye.  We make square lattice boxes, but some gardens ask for a little height.  This picture records the first four all steel lattice boxes Buck has made for the Branch Studio.  He just finished them 2 weeks ago.  There is a way in which these four boxes have been 7 years in the making.  I can only say thoughful design takes time; the design and construction of this container has evolved over time.    

Buck welds what are called squashed ball feet to the bottoms of these boxes.  The squashed balls give the visual impression that the box is very solid and very heavy. Those ball feet gone flat are one of my most favorite features of this box.  They are what they appear to be-in the business of beautifully and strongly supporting the life of citrus trees, topiaries, or flowers.     

Once the box gets its final finish, I am pleased to be thinking about how they will outlast me.  They will last my lifetime, and others beyond me.  The fabrication of this box gives me the same pleasure that I get from planting a tree.       

Buck did fabricate a number of steel lattice boxes with copper liners.  All I can think about looking at this picture is a copper lattice box with a steel liner.  How would that look?  The very best part of gardening is how a garden evolves.  The best part of the creative process is that the process is never finished.   

Buck made this steel pergola for the Branch Studio years ago.  I am sure it looks much the same today as it did then.  Sturdy and enduring objects for the landscape enchant me.  I like any garden ornament draped in some kind of story, or history.  My respect for the history of gardens and their ornaments fuels my design.  I am always wondering where I might go from there.   

Buck went there,  all on his own.  He had a mind to construct a series of lattice spheres.  They are amazing and beautiful structures.  How he imagined and fabricated a lattice structure in the round-way beyond my ability.       

Since the fifteenth century, fruit trees have been grown in a two-dimensional lattice known as a Belgian fence.  I sold and planted this group of five latticed pear trees two years ago.  One cannot see the lattice structure at this moment-every tree is studded with pears.  My gardening life-equally studded with pears.

Bringing the Garden Upstairs

I have a few clients that challenge me to be the best I can possibly be-this client is right at the top of that list.  Her design ability-whether it be interiors, or parties and events,  or gardening-is superb. She could have easily founded a  School of Design-had she had any inclination to do so. She and her husband live in a beautifully overscaled modern house with a beautifully high pitched roof, and overscaled high-pitched  dormers. (This is a landscape designers description of architecture; bear with me.)


To drive into the impossibly small front drivecourt, you would think the house was sited on a postage stamp of land.  But in fact, the house is sited on a steep ravine, and hangs out over a rear yard that widens, and goes on to embrace the river. It is a big property, with incredible aerial views.


She loves gardens and flowers.  Flowers and more flowers.  She is a master chef-so any plan for her has to include acres of basil, and the like.  OK-the challenge here-to plant a perennial garden stuffed with roses and other perennials, in a flood plane-courtesy of that river.  The first order of business was a lot of drainage, and rear yard grading. When her son got married, we had to install floors in the tents and stepping stones between them at the last second-which we did.   The perennial garden ramps up to a curvy modern swimming pool.  So far so good.3

I met her when I was young-so I had no problem moving every tree and every shrub within two days of my first work there.   There were trees, shrubs and perennials placed poorly, and too many boulders. But that house was a jewel-perched out over a beautiful piece of property.  The house-a beautifully designed tree house.4

A house sited in the crowns of trees-how beautiful.  But what if you love to cook, and grow flowers, and want to sit with your garden and family  around you?5

The house already had a giant deck all across the back.  Stairs to the lower level had a small landing-perfect for pots. The lower level under this deck-dark, and intimate. My only suggestion-windowboxes.  And lots of pots. 6

We built and hung two giant windowboxes-off the deck, at the railing height.  There is a whole symphony of flowers in those boxes every year-every year a new arrangement. The pots we outfitted with automatic irrigation-there are too many pots for one family and one hose.7

I heard my client tell someone recently  I had brought her garden upstairs for her. I had neither the words, nor the clear conscious intent to do this-but I realized when I heard her that she was exactly right.

8As I said, she is a client that encourages me to be the best I can be.  I am a very lucky designer.

The Window Box: A Hybrid Vehicle

Window boxes have large areas for planting, which can give the impression of annuals in the ground-minus the turning of the dirt, the stooping and the stooping again to weed.  They also put the action at eye level.  Window boxes on a second story is a striking surprise.  Sizing a window box appropriately is the toughest part.  Plan carefully, so your boxes thrive.
I like window boxes to be sized generously in width.  Sizing the box wider than the window puts the visual weight at the bottom, where it should be.  A box narrower than the window makes the window look top heavy and oppressive-windows are large dark shapes during the day.   �
Window boxes are not just for French and English cottage style homes.  A sleek contemporary box can compliment the architecture of a modern home. They provide great mass and substance in the horizontal plane.  They have the added attraction of views from inside, as well as the outside.
A very wide box invites planting  tall annuals, even vines, which serve to frame the window.  The large planting space allows you to showcase the relationship between a number of different plants. Boxes have the heart of a whole garden, in a smaller space.
Many ready made window boxes are sized more to be convenient to load into your car, than convenient for good plant growth.  Undersized boxes are the devil to keep watered, once the plants have rooted in well.  These boxes are 11″ wide and 16″ tall-plenty of room for a soil mass that will retain moisture evenly, and allow for root growth.  A window box that is 8″ tall and 10″  long will need succulents, as they do not root deeply, and they are happy in dry soil.
Window boxes have no need to be fancy, especially if your idea of a good one is profuse and spilling over with flowers. Luxuriant-I like the word, and the look.  These boxes are made from a simple iron grillwork, and lined with galvanized sheet metal liners.  Wood boxes will last much longer, if they have sheet metal liners.  Wood that is constantly wet deteriorates quickly.�
Wet soil is incredibly heavy; be sure the boxes are securely fastened to the wall. The weight issue is somewhat mitigated by the drainage material; I routinely fill the box at least half full with drainage material; bagged bark works well.
Not all boxes need to be attached to a wall. Boxes can be integrated into a pergola roof, or placed on top of a wall to good effect. Clear irrigation tubes can be run to them.  This makes watering simple, as long as you experiment until you know how much time it will take to soak them.  A plain sheet metal box will need reinforcement on the interior to prevent the metal walls from bowing out.  I sometimes screw treated lumber to the inside to maintain a cleanly rectangular shape.
Window boxes are not just for sunny locations.  The caladiums, dieffenbachia, and yellow coleus in this box light up a very shady spot.  The trailing licorice is surprisingly tolerant of shade.�
A great window box is rhythmic. Decide if you want the height in the middle, or at the ends. A uniform height is a more contemporary look.  The colors of nicotiana-terra cotta, and 2 shades of lime, set the stage for this box.  All the supporting cast plants repeat color, or contrast in texture.  A lime green variety of hops is growing on wires outside the shutters. Wispy small growing grasses are great in boxes, as they are neither upright nor trailing.  If you are after a tall middle, plant the center first, then work to the edges.  If you are fond of symmetry, reverse the order of right half on the left.
This box, tucked neatly between dark stained shutters, makes the flowers, and shutters the center of attention. This arrangement of a formal box and equally formal shutters, and green and white planting is elegant, but lively.  �
These boxes,  specially constructed to sit astride a narrow brick wall, say welcome in a very big way.  What a happy improvement over the wall.

What I Mean by Beautiful Pots


Beautiful pots are not only about beautiful plant material, designed and planted in an interesting, or lovely, or architectural way, and well grown. There is the matter of the pots themselves.


Pots could be loosely defined as anything that holds soil, and drains water away.  Once in my twenties I planted four plastic garbage cans (I drilled holes in the sides and bottom) and planted all my vegetables and herbs in them.  My first and only concern was my tomatoes, and what I was growing with them for my salads. It was easy to weed, groom, and pick, standing up.


I have a much different view of pots now.  They are an important sculptural element of the planting as a whole.  They make suggestions about what would look good planted in them, if you ask. They make themselves at home in your landscape.  Many are as beautiful empty as they are planted; some containers need planting.

bigbeautiful9Once you plant an old galvanized bucket with geraniums and strawberries, the eye sees that object in a different way.

Some pots I am not fond of. Most fiberglass and plastic pots have a visually unpleasant surface-no romance there.  These I avoid.  I like genuine materials.  I don’t think this makes me a pot-snob. I have seen vintage baskets and buckets, wood boxes, stainless steel milk pails, and livestock troughs completely transformed visually by someone’s idea to plant them.

If I had to name a favorite, my Compton Pottery snake pot, made during the arts and crafts period in England would rank high on my list.

bigbeautiful8 It was a 50th birthday present, from me, to me. Every time I look at it, I feel the history of the object, and my own garden making.  It is the emotional equivalent of a trip to Europe, touring other gardens, whose pots tell me something about the gardeners who planted them.