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 Photographs

glazed French pots

You may have noticed that this website has a new format.   Indeed it does.  My big interest in updating the blog was that the photographs would be bigger-better.  Clearer.  I am no different than most; say what you will, but show me a picture.  A photograph communicates in a graceful yet direct way. The picture of this French pot does a vastly better job of explaining the look than a collection of words.

A photograph does not require good grammar, or proper punctuation.  A good photograph of a garden can capture the light, the weather-the moment.  The written word-a labor of love which invariably looks like labor.  My pictures-sometimes they capture in one fell swoop what would take me 800 words to describe.

Italian terra cotta pots

I have days when I am not interested in reading the words.  I only have eyes for a visual moment. It took me a few days to learn how to use this new format. The lag time made me furious!  What garden writer wants to be out of touch the latter half of May?  But  I am pleased with the results.

mossy clay pots

I like the bigger pictures.  And that you can see them even bigger yet, if you click on them.  As for my post yesterday about the process of choosing great pots, here is an addendum.  A visual addendum.

The gardener who would fall for this contemporary Belgian glazed pot is entirely different from the gardener who would choose wirework plant stands.  The gardener who would mix them in a grouping of pots-another sort. But enough of the talk-enjoy the pictures.

cast iron jardiniere

French cast iron jardiniere

American ridged concrete bowl pot

two-tiered plant stand
two tiered wirework plant stand

English concrete rectangle

glazed French terra cotta

glazed French terra cotta

limestone urn detail

concrete pots

brick and rock pot

terra cotta pots

Rob planted these Italian terra cotta pots.  The combination of great pots and great plants-truly lovely.

 

The Making Of The Pots

What I know about making terra cotta pots wouldn’t fill a teacup, but I have pictures.  These first four are from a book Rob bought for me in France 15 years ago.  “Terres Vernissees” by Christine Lahaussois and Beatrice Pannequin is an overview of the art of French glazed ceramics dating back to the 16th century.  This method of making large pots with wood armatures wrapped in rope is a centuries old technique.  The form begins with a series of wood verticals that describe the height of the piece, and the diameter of the top and the bottom.

Multiple wood ribs that describe the overall shape of the pot are fixed to the central verticals.  Keep in mind that the pots are made top side down.  Heavy rope is carefully wrapped around the wood ribs.  The ribs and the rope create a template for the finished shape of the pot.  Wet clay is very heavy, and very sticky.  To throw a pot of great size takes multiple passes. Only so much of the finished height of the pot can be done before the pot needs to rest, and the clay become leather hard.  Then the next layer can be added.  A giant pot thrown on a wheel all at once would collapse under its own weight.  It is much more efficient to press the sticky clay into the rope.  The form keep the clay from succumbing to gravity.   

These pictures detail how the wet clay is pressed into the rope covered form.  The texture you see here-the finger marks of the person making this pot.  The evidence of the human hand-this is what these pots are all about.  These large pots have been made this way for centuries in France.  I think it is of utmost importance that this history be known, and appreciated.  I appreciate modern technology, and the important news of the moment, but there is more out there.  When I plant a beautiful handmade pot, the planting is as much about the the history of the making, and the maker of the pot, as it is about the plants.    

Once the wet clay is pressed into the ropes, the wheel turns, and the surface is smoothed.  The wood form is collapsed once the clay becomes leather hard.  The clay is cut, and the form removed.  The rope?  This will be burnt off in the firing. 


Rob took this picture 2 days ago.  That the construction of the giant vases has not changed for several centuries-this is very important to me.  How so?  The handmade French pots that will come to the shop in 2 months will have been made by a person, whose hand, skill and judgment will enchant me.  The history is long, the commitmment-just as long.   People who make extraordinary things-I value them.  I do what I can to support this industry, and am always sorry when I see a poterie close.  The making of the pots is an art I would like to see endure.
The finished pots in my shop do not tell this story.  Yes, they have beautiful shapes and graceful curves.  They are heavy, solid-very well made.  With proper care, they will last better than a lifetime.  But the story of how they are made makes for a story any passionate gardener would want to hear. 

The finished pots-they need to rest.

Once they dry, the pots will be fired.  The rope burns, but the pattern of that rope will be fired forever into the interior of the pot.  These pots are ready to be planted.  But please note that the interior surface is every bit as beautiful as the outside.     

Some of the pots get decoration.  Once the clay is leather hard, a potter will work hard to create and affix that garland, that medallion to the body of the pot. 

Giant pots drying have supports.  These supports are not so fancy, just useful.  Simply useful.  Gravity can drag down wet clay.  These not so fancy supports keeps the wet clay aloft.

The attic is a perfect drying room.  Imagine that every handmade French pot gets hauled to the attic to dry.  There are a lot of steps, and a lot of hands that come together to make these pots.  When they are thoroughly dry, they will be fired.  From these hands to yours-Rob does this part.