Loud And Clear

Airy and wispy container plantings are not for everyone.  Furthermore, there are some places that they simply don’t work.  These planter boxes sit on the wall enclosing a parking lot of a restaurant only a median away from a busy four-lane road.  The speed limit is 45mph; the noise is deafening.  In the 2.5 seconds it takes to zip past this wall, there is an impression that will register with even the most garden-deaf driver.  The combination of colors is ebullient, enthusiastic, splashy-friendly.  The boxes are overflowing; the plants all look healthy.  My client takes great care of them-just like she takes care of her restaurant. That message is loud and clear.              


These large Belgian boxes are visual stoppers at the corner of this terrace.  They ask for a robust planting.  Plants with large leaves and substantial size go a long way to capture the eye.  Bananas, calocasias, alocasias, cannas, farfugium, tibouchina grandiflora-there is a long list of tropicals that can easily handle holding down the fort. Vigorously growing plants in bright colors will chime in.  The smaller planting of a lemon tree, and a pastel mix of petunias, though robust,  would be lost without the big backup.       

A solidly robust planting has much to do with the choice of plants.  The three plants comprising this pot have grown together in a shape that is dense and low overall. Just try to get by it without looking.  Chartreuse makes every other color pop all the more; creeping jenny is a vigorous perennial that loves some shade, and will grow in a bog. There is nothing subtle or airy about this planting-this is by design.   

I can say the same for this pot.  It has grown so vigorously that the pot is no longer part of the composition.  Black and red; red and green-these color combinations are dramatic.  The contrast with the off white wicker furniture is all the more dramatic.  This modern furniture is very chunky and overscaled. These two chairs have some planted company that is even larger, and more chunky. The topknot comprised of a dwarf yellow variegated dracaena and a coleus-that look is in no way planned.  Just natural.  

Gartenmeister fuchsia is an upright variety that handles hot weather like a pro. It can grow to a substantial size, and can easily be wintered over.  However, the dark foliage and small tubular dark orange flowers are rather subdued.  A tutu of lime green coleus turns up the heat.  The red geraniums,magenta petunias and lime licorice don’t hurt. This fuchsia is naturally very airy growing; its woody shoots grow every which way. The colues masks all of those wild hairs; these plants grew together densely in a cone shape.  

Big growing plants are accompanied by lot of leaves.  The leaves of the trailing verbena and petunias are barely visible in this picture, but there is no mistaking the coleus and dahlia leaves.  My office is dark, given this window box planting.  Any container design warrants some study.  Do I need this planting to block an untoward view?  Do I want a container to stand out, or integrate into the large landscape? Right now is a very good time to be looking over your container designs; I take notes.    

A very large terra cotta pot with a purple chocolate glaze is home to this monochromatic planting. Black calocasia, a purple black leaved coleus, and moses in the cradle, makes a sizeable statement about volume and texture.  Calocasia ia a very obliging tropical, in that it will grow as big as the container into which it is planted.  This planting is the better part of 8 feet tall.  This discussion of texture anf form-loud and clear.

Cannas and zinnias-they both are big growing and leafy.  A skirt of trailing geraniums and lime licorice add lots of color at the base.  A neighbor standing behind this pot on the sidewalk would not be seen.  Sometimes a blocky and solid planting can organize a space-in this case, it presides over a densely growing square of boxwood.  Solid, dense and visually clear-this is how I would describe this spot in the landscape.

Large leaved caladiums depend on their size and shape to make a statement.  I like how lush a well grown plant looks.  I am leaning towards planting a lot of them next year.  Loud and clear is much about vigor.  I would much rather work to keep a growing fool of a plant in line, than every day have to convince a prima donna of a plant to choose life.  This is a personal preference. Even the subtle and wispy growing plants that I favor are strong growers.  

But back to loud and clear.  On that list of plants that can deliver that for you-big growers, dense growers, robust growers, large leaved plants, large growing plants, brilliantly colored flowers.  Brilliantly colored leaves; leaves with great shape and texture.    It is up to you to put them all together in a way that enchants your eye.

Hooray For Shade

Shady garden spots have that quiet and peaceful feeling about them-but that does not mean they have to be to uneventfully green.  Sum and Substance hosta is notable for its lime green color; that bold chartreuse looks like someone turned the lights on.  Container plantings in shade can have just as much punch.  This pepperomia is a vibrant shade of green; the intensely pebbly surface reflects light, and attracts the eye.  Pepperomias are small growing shade loving tropical plants that can brighten a shade garden in the summer, and keep you company indoors over the winter.     

There are plenty of tropical plants that are completely happy in shady places outdoors.  These bromeliads are anything but shy in appearance.  I wanted to planty some pots I could keep in the shade of the lindens at the shop.  This red/orange and green duo is just the sort of plant that will brighten that very shady spot.

This pepperomia Jayde features deep green, glossy, and perfectly heart shaped leaves.  It looks juicy enough to be a water plant.  It will make a great companion plant in a container.

This black leaved Calathea is an attention getter.  The shape of each leaf is described by a simple outline and midrib in hot pink.  The green blobby flowers you see pictured here cannot hold a candle to those strikingly beautiful leaves.    The surface of these pale green lance leaved Calathea leaves look as though they had been hand painted.  The pattern reminds me very much of rustic French or Italian china.  Where did I find these plants?  Telly’s Greenhouse, of course.  George has a great eye for unusual and beautiful plants. 

This particular green caladium glows white in the centers of the leaves, and is puinctuated with terra cotta colored blotches; it shines in the shade. 

Putting it all together is the fun of summer container gardens.  A window box in a shady spot can be very lively indeed.

Green Schemes

Containers planted with an all green color scheme can be very beautiful.  Eliminating color as an element in container design means that other elements, such as texture, mass, form, scale, and proportion, become very much more important.  The frosty white Victorian parlor ferns in this planter are a lacy contrast to the big leaves of the white caladiums.  The languid and lax habit of the tradescantia fl. Variegata contrasts to the tight soil skimming habit of the lime green club moss, known as selaginella.  Overall, the planting is loose, and airy-just like the container.  The container itself is such an important element of the overall composition. 

I planted this pair of Italian pots with 2 gallon size zebra grasses, and finished up all around with lime variegated plectranthus.  The colors in one plant mirror the colors of the other-so all of the visual interest is the contrast of the tall narrow grass blades, and the thick felted trailing leaves of the plectranthus.  I pinched the plectranthus, which is related to coleus, all summer long.  This made for an overall shape that was widely horizontal.  The tall grass, in contrast to the very wide plectranthus-a certain visual contrast that satisfied my eye.  The glimpse I still see of the pot at the bottom is just enough to complete the picture.  The planting does a good job of describing what the planter looks like, though you cannot see so much of it. This is a very simple planting which to my eye is very visually engaging.     

Big leaves-do you not love them? This severely contemporary v-shaped limestone  planter benefits from a planting of the paddle-leaved tropical plant dieffenbachia.  The pale yellow green leaves can dramatically lighten a very shady spot.  The yellow variegated ivy once established, I kept trimmed to the inside edge of the stone, as the container itself makes such a strong statement.  The overall shape of the planting seems pleasing to me.  This planting greatly complements the container.      

This planter located on a city street got planted with a lime green version of dawn redwood-a lime green version of Metasequoia.  Small trees can be great in containers; they can be planted in the ground at the end of the summer season.  The  fiber optic grass and Scotch moss are just about the same shade of green.  This planting is simply about texture, and plant habit.  The relationship of one plant to another is enough to keep me gardening.   

The lime green dracaena Jenny Craig is another great tropical plant suitable for containers in shady places. The strappy leaves cascade like water from a fountain.  The variegated licorice petticoat pictured above provides some width that helps to balance the composition.  The detail of the urns is still visible.  I spend a lot of time picking and choosing what of a container gets hidden by draping plants-and what stays exposed.   

This cardoon is a very architecturally striking plant.  The leaves have a prehistoric, slightly menacing look about them. They have an aura which is so strong-they have the visual power to organize a space. The blue green succulent planted at its base-I have no idea what this is called-sorry.  My eyes and my instincts just told me they would work in this container.  These succulents do a great job of softening the look of the cardoon-even though the foliage is stiff, and needle-like. The silver falls dichondra drapes down the corners of this lead container, and puddles on the ground-a languid, and gorgeous contrast to those stiff cardoon leaves.  In general, it is easier to achieve a balanced compostion with three elements, as opposed to two. A container with one or two elements will need thoughtful work on the shaping as it grows, to keep the arrangement visually interesting.  A single well cared for topiary plant in a pot would be a good example of this kind of grooming.  

The lime green flowering nicotiana alata is one of my favorite flowers.  Green flowers-not so ordinary, but eminently satisfying.  The tuft of verbena bonariensis at the top loosens up the entire planting.  The wide outer border planting of white million bells, green and white plectranthus, and Kent Beauty showy oregano, softens the top edge of the container, and balances the height of the nicotiana and verbena.    

These bronze containers are very intricate, and beautiful.  Given that they flank a front door, I plant them tall.  The King Tut papyrus provide great height.  The tall white zinnias read mostly green.  The lime sweet potato vine- they speak strongly to lush. A planting of white mini petunias add some froth where some width is needed.    


Any predominately green composition gets attention from me on lots of  levels.  I cannot really explain this-except to say that great color enchants, and distracts me.  No doubt beautiful color gets my attention.  But when I design, I imagine every element in black and white.  Composing containers in green and white is like looking at the natural world in black and white.  Black and white-this teaches me plenty.