Green And Graceful

planting annual containers

My work life from 4:30 am until 6 pm every day this time of year is all about planting the containers and annual flowers.  Lots of them, for lots of clients.  The 90 degree weather we had a few weeks ago has eveything believing that the summer season is already half over.  The weather is perfect and warm-where are you??  The saving grace of this very short, pressure packed, and intense season is the opportunity to get up close and focus on container plants.  This year, I have taken a big fancy to the euphorbia cultivar known as Diamond Frost.  This utterly drought resistant and casually airy white blooming annual plant makes all of the more glaringly stiff growing annual plants look better.  More graceful.   

planting summer containers

This client likes green above all.  All of the forms and textures of green.  White is good.  This year, the plantings have moved away from obviously tropical plants like agave.  The look is softer, more ferny. The Belgian boxes set around the fountain began with 3-D silver osteospermum-planted all around a centerpiece of cardoons.  I know cardoons border on that strikingly architectural look, but the daisies will help tone that down.  Frilly white petunias,  scotch moss and variegated licorice completed the planting in these boxes.  To loosen up the entire planting-each box got 4 diamond frost euphorbias.     

planting containers

A terrace can easily represent a garden.  A gardener’s point of view.  In this terrace garden, woven wirework furniture, antique stone and vintage English faux bois pots, green painted Belgian boxes and a striking 19th century American cast iron fountain have green company of the most sublte sort. The Diamond Frost euphorbia will add a little froth to the mix. 

green plants in containers
This landscape is formal, and restrained.  Though the architecture of the house is strongly reminiscent of 19th century Nantucket, my client has no problem interpreting the landscape to suit her own tastes.  This garden is about a person, not about a building.   I greatly admire her love of green plants.  I am sure that someday I will tire of all the color, and plant a green scheme at home.  Just like hers. 

window boxes

The plantings in the pool garden has a bit more color.  The color of the water in a pool asks for a little stronger color from the flowers, unless the pool interior is black.  There are no succulents in these window boxes this year.  Just subtly colored petunias, the enchanted euphorbia, white variegated thyme and lavender, bicolor angelonia, silver dichondra, and purple variegated sage.  Soft, airy, loose.

germander on standard

I have wintered her topiary plants for better than 10 years now.  This means some of them are casting considerable shade.  This year, a wild European ginger covers the soil in the shade of this old silver germander topiary.  The mass of the ginger and its silver variegation makes a lovely contrast to the fine textured germander. 

trailing plectranthus

The bed under this dogwood is planted thickly with green and white variegated spreading plectranthus.  It fits in so comfortably with the whitewashed brick, the white garden furniture, and the single pink roses.   This plectranthus can soften the toughest spot-consider it. The leaves are large, and fuzzy.  Though its stems are quite strong, it has an informal habit.  Though I primarily use it in containers, it makes an unusual, and unusually beautful annual bedding plant.  

bay trees on standard

This double ball bay topiary is 15 years old.  The Belgian box has been finished in marine varnish.  This is a lakeside home that gets all manner of bad weather off the lake.  All of the painted and stained wood surfaces facing the lake get yearly attention. The age and the look of of this topiary is timeless.  There is no need, nor is there any room, to underplant.        

plant texturesll
This is a planting that requires lots of old topiaries brought out of storage.  Many of the container planting has to do with what covers the soil.What did I underplant this old gardenia topiary with?  White polka dot plant, that will be sheared flat.  The left hand container is planted with white dwarf casmos and cleome, and edged all around with dward papyrus.    

annual planting

The playhouse garden is planted with white New Guinea Impatiens, and perfume white nicotiana.  I like height –  I like a mix of plants in an annual beds, unless it is a very contemporary planting.

isotoma fluvialitis

An old and overgrown boxwood hedge was removed from the terrace last year.  A larger pool suround fabricated in steel was installed and painted.  My favorite part of this garden?  The picture frame of isotoma fluvialitis that breaks up a very large expanse of terrace.  It was in full bloom the day I went to plant-a perfect moment. 

Venus dogwood
Last Summer we added a group of Venus dogwoods to this boxwood enclosed rose garden.  In a few years, those white flowering trees will make a spectacular something of this old and beautiful circle of boxwood.  This is a garden that is viewed from far away; it needed some trees.    The bed outside the boxwood was planted with cirrus dusty miller, and white Russian petunias. This planting day was a very good day indeed.  The Diamond Frost euphorbia will make themselves right at home here.

A Plant Collection


Planting containers is a big job, especially when there are lots of them.  I plant almost 40 containers for this client every year; I plant 27 pots of my own at home every year. Every year I have to fight off the urge to plant more pots.  That said, I have a few ideas about how to keep the project manageable-both in design and execution.  Every bill I send is completely detailed as to plant varieties and numbers.  Feel free to try this at home.  Keep track of how many plants it takes to plant your containers.  Take pictures.  Keep notes about what you like-and do not like.  This helps keep the shopping part organized.  I know ther numbers of plants this job requires;  I plan ahead.  This is essential, as she lives 45 minutes away from the shop.      

Round containers-think of them as needing layers of plants-planted in rings.  A centerpiece plant is ringed by a mid layer ring, and an edge ring.  Bigger pots need more rings-smaller ones need fewer. This long rectangular planter needs 2 long rows of plants.  When I lay out the planter, I start in the center, and work to each side, so the planting is symmetrical. This planter, just like a window box, only has so many spaces for plants.  I pick my palette, and then figure out how many repeats I will need.  The repetition of plants establishes a visual rhythm.  In contemporary plantings,  I may plant just one plant all over, and hope that plant has a favorable season.    

Once I have some numbers in mind, I think about what plants make good neighbors-both side to side, and front to back.  My diamond frost euphorbia asks for something with a denser texture and bigger flower-does it not?  Verbena is a great companion plant.  Cirrus dusty miller has big, matte, felted leaves.  A good companion? The tiny and angular leaved shiny succulent pictured above provides good contrast in form and texture, while repeating that grey-blue color.  A good companion to lavender, whose flowers and foliage are so wispy, is alyssum, which flowers low, and profusely.It is hard to see what is going on in this annual bed far from the terrace-but for the blobs of white.  That white is from the leaves of caladiums-they read well from a distance.  Later in the season, short white and tall lime green nicotiana will bloom.  The ground cover under all-white polka dot plant.  This shade planting is a much more interesting solution than white impatiens.  Lime green coleus would look great here as well.  This is a collection of plants that work well together. Larger growing plants means you do not need so many to make a statement.  Space your plants in the ground knowing how they will mature.  In-ground plantings spaced too close together not only invites disease, it can result in an overall shape that is not distinctively shapely.

This old agave-this is its final year.  Agaves need to be quite old before they bloom.  Once they bloom, the parent plant dies, leaves the baby offshoots to continue. This bloom stalk could grow to 14 feet or better.  This agave is part of a collection of plants my client has had for a number of years. We underplanted it with a mass of Kent Beauty oregano, a soft, drapy, and delicately colored ornamental oregano that will highlight the visual architecture of the agave by way of considerable contrast in scale, texture and form. 

Phormiums, or New Zealand flax have an architectural presence on a smaller scale.  The diamond frost  euphorbia will froth up and spill over the container.  This is a collection of two that looks handsome together.

Another member of the topiary plant collection, a Teucrium Fruticans on standard.  Bush germander has silver needled leaves, and grows 4 to 6 feet tall in warmer climates.  This topiary has to be wintered in a barely heated light space.  Any collection of plants that can be wintered over in a light space or garage has two advantages.  They not only live a much longer life than most annuals, they grow and become sizeable. This germander is almost 10 years old; it is a beautiful container plant indeed.

We planted white mandevillea, and staked it on four 10′  natural bamboo poles.  We secure the poles with concrete wire for strength, and covered the wire with simple raffia bows.  Lime nicotiana, white angelonia, silver dichondra, white anyssum and white million bells rounds out the collection.

The newly created plant frame around the fountain is planted with Isotoma Fluviatilis.  I spaced the plants at a foot apart, as it grounds very quickly.  Hardy to minus 20 degrees, and tolerant of heavy foot traffic, it will barely break the plane of the stone.  The new stone around the fountain is angled slightly away from the fountain, so rain will not pool there.  The plant frame helps to minimize that stone set on a slightly higher grade than the original terrace. 

Four lead pots sit on the front walk, each with its own boxwood topiary.  These boxwood are hardy in my zone 7 out of every 10 years, so I winter them in an unheated dark space for the winter-just to be sure.  The ball shaped boxwood with attending topknots is a good contrast to the tapered shape of the lead pots.  Variegated licorice at the corners, with a green dichondra in between completes the planting.

A lovely pair of Kimberly ferns flank the front door.  As they tend to grow upright in a vase shape, I planted maidenhair ferns as a groundcover under the Kimberlys.  This puts the overall edges of the planting gracefully out over the edges of the round lead pots.  I do so love pots planted green.