The Plantings At The Shop

No matter how many container plantings we do in a given year, planting the shop for the summer is a given planting. I put this close to home project off until the great majority of our clients are planted. Some might think that I take the winter to plan what I will do in the summer shop garden, but I do not. Once we start bringing in annual plants for sale, I keep looking until something triggers a decision. Rob plants a lot of containers for the shop, and this year’s collection is especially good. I could characterize how he composes and plants in the following way. He favors green above all, but lavender, rosemary, and all the the herbs to go with run a close second. He gravitates towards annual plants that are relaxed in habit and subdued in color. A wood box may be filled from start to finish with Grosso lavender. An Italian terra cotta pot may feature a Malabar spinach vine trailed up a rusted rod steel sphere. A vintage galvanized steel trough might be planted with tomatoes and herbs. Slatted wood boxes lined with coir, and planted with verbena bonariensis, peach dahlias and pale yellow marguerites are as casually elegant as they are unstudied. His shade container with bird’s nest ferns and selaginella fly out the door. All of his container plantings are reserved. His touch is light. This year’s shop planting is in admiration and recognition of that work. My idea in the big planting bed was to plant a collection of summer blooming annuals in mixed colors, in a a random and relaxed pattern. Nothing too flashy or fussy; think cream colored marigolds. A strip of brown paper towel down the center of the bed would establish a no plant zone. Weeding a wayward and unstudied planting asks for access.

This planting is dominated by 70 some 1 gallon pots of Sonata cosmos. Of course we laid out those cosmos first. As casually as we imagined Rob would place them. We had no idea if the pots were mixed colors, or a single color. Next to come, lots of the airy growing  nicotiana suaveolens, nicotiana perfume bright rose, lime and white, a few purple angelonia, and cream white marigolds. None of these plants truly meadowy-these are all hybrid tropical plants. But mixed in a casual way. It took my crew all of five minutes to grasp the idea.  In less than 2 hours, we had a garden. I am sure Rob would have never plant the nicotiana Perfume Bright Rose-that was my idea.

Once every plant was in the ground, we watered, and watered again. Watering new plantings is nearly a daily job. Hot weather can be deadly to a plant that has not yet rooted into the surrounding soil. Many annual plants are grown in soilless mixes.  Once that small rootball dries out, look out. Annual plants in the ground or in containers regularly watered with take hold and thrive. Once established, sun loving annual plants are remarkably unfazed by dry soil.

Regular rain and moderate temperatures early in the growing season resulted in a dramatic spring flush on the boxwood. We have held off pruning, as our current temperatures have been in the high eighties. Next week is slated to be much cooler, and Melissa and her crew will prune. A gently geometric pruning will provide a pleasing contrast to the planting.

New this year- we covered the entire planting with a mulch of  ground bark fines.  This will help conserve moisture in the soil, and discourage weeds, although who knows.  Maybe the weeds will look good with the planting. Decades of professional gardening and maintenance has made me a weed pulling, plant staking, dead heading, raking and wash down the driveway kind of gardener. When I say nature bats last, I am also saying that this gardener bats in the clean up position. Having just turned 67, I doubt I will be making any substantial changes to the way I work. This planting is not what I would have done, left to my own devices. But having done it, I will try to leave it be, and see what happens.

The window boxes have a similar feeling, but include some plants not in the ground garden. Dwarf cleome, sky blue petunias, variegated sage and white trailing verbena have been added to the mix.

But for that far too bright rose pink nicotiana, this has something of the feeling of Rob’s compositions.

Those of you who are able to visit Detroit Garden Works know that we have galvanized metal planter boxes that traverse the entire length of the roof that faces our street. From this vantage point, it is easy to see that the boxwood has at least 8 inches of new growth. It will take Melissa and her crew all day to prune it. The plants chosen for the garden are in the 24″ high range. The garden will not be visible from the street. To see it, you will have to walk up the driveway and look in. I have always planted this garden taller than the boxwood. Why? Tradition, for good or for ill. This hedge is now in its 20th year, and despite the ravages of two really terrible winters, is quite something in its own right. It will be the star of the summer show, especially given that both the composition and plant choices are plain and simple. Metaphorically speaking, my gardens usually wear shoes and socks. This garden is decidedly less formal than that.

But back up to the roof garden. The boxes were made to sit on the parapet wall that runs across the front. They are outfitted with irrigation, as climbing up here, hose in hand, requires a substantial extension ladder and no small amount of nerve. It is a hot and windy place. The boxes hold 3 rows of plants. The back row is planted with the lemon lime leaved pineapple sage, and a new white, pink and blue angelonia. This hybrid has very thick stems, and was originally developed for the cut flower trade. Both of these plants like full sun and heat. This new angelonia is reputed to grow 40″ tall. If it does, this row of plants will help to mitigate the effects of the wind for all.

The middle row is comprised of 3 colors of vista petunias, interspersed with white and pink Gaura. The white tinged pink petunia cultivar “Silverberry” was planted in the two center boxes. Then moving towards the edges on both sides, Vista “Bubblegum”, and finally Vista “Fuchsia”. Petunias are the one of the most ordinary annual plants, but this cultivar is a vigorous grower seldom bothered by any problems. We try to stay away from problems on the roof. In the front row, a thick planting of the annual white variegated vinca vine.

We are ready just in time for summer.

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A Plant Collection

The past 9 days have been a grueling blur. Once I establish a rhythm, I plant by instinct. I trust my first thought more than the thoughts that come later. I don’t really have time to second guess my decisions, so I don’t. I cannot imagine how my crews must feel. I feel certain that they needed this Sunday off. My crews have another couple of weeks before this phase of the summer’s work is done. Their work on every project we take on makes me look good. I treasure each and every one of them.  One project that always grabs me by the shoulder and gives me a good shake got planted last week. My container planting for this client dates back  20 years. In the early days, there were lots of flowers. Purples, whites, and some pale pink. Boxwood edged parterres enclosed pink roses. The early container plantings were lovely. Flowery. But like any serious gardener, her taste evolved over the years. There were changes made to the landscape as well. I was always keenly interested in what she had to say about the summer plantings each spring, and challenged by how to interpret that in a way she would like. A project of such long standing and commitment from both myself and the client is a project I treasure. Every year there would be fewer flowers, and a few more green plants. Topiary plants made their appearance. Once we had topiaries, there would be winter storage and care in a greenhouse. Green plants that would visually recall an English conservatory were a favorite of hers. Ferns would figure prominently in the mix. The ferns in the above picture were wintered many times in an unheated greenhouse. They are a beautiful size and proportion for where they are placed.

The wire planters on the front porch are planted fresh every year. We redo the moss lining before we plant. This planting of white Victorian parlor ferns, broad leaved pepperomias, variegated ivy, and variegated tradescantia respects and features the detailed iron filigree of the container. The planter is a delicate foil for the mass of the Kimberly Queen fern. A side note on the Kimberlys – taking the time to pull the past year’s fronds for the new fronds coming on keeps them vigorous and fresh looking.

The back yard terrace and pool yard is home to a number of containers.  Each one chosen and placed over the years. A pair of stone planter boxes that finish off a pair of seat height stone and brick walls are a feature of this terrace. This year’s planting does include white nicotiana and purple and white bicolor nicotiana, in addition to the green carex “Everest” and variegated licorice. A little color contrasts with the collection of primarily green plants.

I draw or write the schemes for most of the containers I plant on paper, or on a photograph of the planting from the previous year. But these planters, and 3 others, I lay out when I get there. After so many years, I have an idea of how many plants to take, and how many more to add so I am sure I have enough material. But it takes being there to determine how the plants will go together.

A pair of antique cast iron planters that sit on the walls got the same treatment. I know what plants I will use, but not how I will plant them until I am standing there. The placing can go fast or slow.

This year’s planting is a mix of lavender, lanai white trailing verbena, tricolor sage,the white variegated carex “Everest” and variegated licorice. The planting is fairly low and does not obstruct the far view. I recommend collecting a group of plants that you like (that share the same optimal conditions for growth) and arrange them until you get a composition you like. This approach will help to make clear if something is missing from the mix.

A majority of the containers are summer homes of a collection of topiary plants. These two boxwood topiaries have been part of the collection a good many years. The containers are large, and we do some judicious root pruning at planting time. The only way to obtain boxwood topiary of this size is to grow them yourself. Evergreens in pots can be wintered over in Michigan, but it is not easy. It is tough to get the watering right, and a fiercely cold and windy winter can damage or kill the hardiest of boxwood. No matter the size of the containers, the roots are still above ground. These boxwood are put in an unheated greenhouse space for the winter. The pot in the foreground is under planted with silver ferns.  In the back, the big glossy leaves of pepperomia “Jayde” is a textural contrast to the small leaves of the boxwood.

In the foreground is a paddle leaved ficus with a braided trunk – charming.  It is under planted with white flowering thyme. Another large Kimberly fern is planted in a pot that sits on top of the wall.

This ficus is a variety that is new to me, and new to this collection. No topiary plant lives for decades, so any collection has to be updated regularly. I hope we can manage to keep this one happy for a while. That won’t be simple. A tropical plant grows at a much faster rate than a boxwood. There will come a time when it no longer fits this container, or it becomes overgrown in an unattractive way.

The opposite corner has another new topiary – a lemon tree. We under planted it with parsley. The boxwood topiary is under planted with tibouchina, which will bloom with large blue/purple flowers if the season is long and hot enough. If not the felted green leaves are beautiful.

Closer to the boxwood hedge which encloses the fountain is a collection of pots clustered around an antique English double sided bench. The footed pots had for many years been home to a pair of variegated boxwood that finally succumbed. In their place this year, Chicago figs, and crinkle leaf pepperomias.

Four steel boxes from Branch anchor the north and south side of the terrace. I always plant all four with white mandevillea, although the under planting may change. At the four corners of the boxwood rectangle, 4 English made wood boxes.  They are planted this year with spikes (the most underrated of all the green container plants), white XXL dahlias, sky blue and white petunias, and variegated licorice.  This is a traditional and formal container planting that is appropriate for the place.

The new plant in the steel containers is not blooming yet. Felicia amelloides, or blue daisy bush, will provide a small touch of color.

This is the third year for the Duranta on standard.  They do not lend themselves to formal pruning, which is good.  They have a graceful if irregular natural shape.

Limelight hydrangea on standard, fig, and eugenia topiary

The far left pot has a 1 gallon size black and blue salvia which is under planted with a dwarf nicotiana. The topiaries (not yet pruned for the season) include a eugenia, a pair of white lantana, an old rosemary, and at the last, a scented geranium on standard.

The terra cotta long tom is planted with mixed sonata cosmos. The topiary underplantings are simple.

The long window box

planting day

sky planting

limestone planter on top of a wall

When we get to this corner of the pool yard, I know we are just about ready to wrap it up. How fortunate to have a project like this to plant.

 

 

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At A Glance: Good And Green

lemon cypress and scotch moss

tree ferns, caladiums, and bird’s nest fernspepperomia Jayde, variegated boxwood, lemon cypress

white mandevilleas

wasabi coleus and variegated licorice

white topiary fuchsia and Victorian parlor ferns

window box with lavender, angelonia, silver dichondra, and so on

green and white caladiums

eugenia topiaries underplanted with cirrus dusty miller and silver dichondra

rosemary topiary, fig, white petunias, cherry tomato

lemon

white geraniums, white angelonia, variegated licorice and mini silver petunias

herbs and strawberries

all green, gray and white.

 

 

 

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Sizing Up The Situation

We are a good week or so into our container planting season. The location of the planters or the light and available water drives the selection of the plants. Sizing up the situation is key to successful container plantings. This pair of planters are tall and wide, as they needed to be,  placed in front of substantial stone pillars. Their narrow depth is friendly to the fact that they are placed on a walkway. It is easy to see why my clients selected them. What plants did they ask for? These triple ball eugenia topiaries came in a 1 gallon pot. They would fit. Their shape addresses the formality of the entrance, and they add some much needed height and scale set against the mass of stone. Eugenias are also very tolerant of the shade cast by the north side of the house. There were at least 3 good reasons to plant them. When designing and choosing plants for containers, spend some time assessing your conditions.      The interior of this front porch has a very high roof overhead. Add a northern exposure to the roof overhead means the shade here is serious shade. The porch is massive, and overscaled. Lots of stone and iron flank a pair of dark wood doors. This location asks for very shade tolerant plants with bold texture and good size that would soften and complement the architecture.  The leaves of the lime dracaena “Janet Craig” will burn with the slightest exposure to sun. But in a place like this, they will thrive. The chartreuse leaves brighten the shade. They are striking in an architectural way.

The purple and white flowering streptocarpus is a relative to African violets, and likewise thrives in low light. Given its diminutive size, it is most effective in a mass, as a supporting cast member in a container. The bird’s nest ferns are tropical, meaning they are not hardy in my zone. They offer big and strong mass, shape, and texture to a container planting, while asking for little in the way of light. The black tubes on the porch steps are irrigation lines which will provide water to the containers.  No rain falls here given the roof, so all watering must be done mechanically, or by hand. We run the tubes through the bottom and out the top when we plant the pots as a courtesy to the irrigation contractor. Last but not least is the selection of the containers.  They are of simple shape and smooth texture, which contrasts to the visual complexity of the stone, iron, and glass.  The dark color echoes the dark wood doors, and visually defers to the plants.

This deeply shaded and constantly wet spot was the perfect place for a large scale container. Everything that ever got planted in this ground promptly drowned.  The caladiums and ferns tolerate the the shade, and their striking texture and color help to keep all eyes off the soggy dirt. I have on occasion planted sanseverias in the dirt. They never looked entirely happy, nor did they grow, but they lived. A container is a great idea for a place where nothing else wants to grow. Consider containers for those stubbornly bare spots. A soil and drainage structure above ground can circumvent poor conditions.

This painted brick chimney features a very interesting brick applique, quite unlike any I have ever seen. It thus asks for an arrangement of containers and plants that will not obstruct a view of that feature. The green and white under plantings emphasize that white brick. The triple ball Green Mountain boxwood topiaries can be planted in the ground for the winter, and will only get better with age. I would guess that these boxwood topiaries would would be fine in these lead pots for a number of years.  The white mandevillea will loosen up the look a little, although I will advise my client to clip every once in a while.

This contemporary landscape is dominated by a long and tall corten steel wall. Both the steel and the stone will absorb a lot of heat.  The mid century modern pots are mid sized at the top, and small sized at the bottom. This situation calls for drought resistant plants. As for style, the wild and rangy rosemarys are good against the geometry established by the wall, bench, and terrace. The wide growing small felted leaves of the variegated licorice, and the cloud of tiny blooms from the euphorbia at the bottom will soften the look, without obscuring the shape of the planters.

A container all on its own, well away from a porch or wall, asks for some volume and mass. Once this Limelight hydrangea topiary grows out and blooms, this 24″ by 24″ container will have a living tall and wide presence.  The petunias, white phlox and variegated licorice will provide a wide and soft cushion below, in contrast to those big coarse hydrangea leaves. As the container is 30″ tall, there is room for the roots of a shrub to go deeper than the typical annual plant. The grass, ground cover, gravel, and stone are all on the same level-the ground plane. A tall container and a statuesque central and defining plant that represents the landscape on an entirely different level is particularly effective. Formal landscapes ask for equally formal container plantings.

This client owns a pair of particularly fine and detailed bronze urns. The recent planting was designed to never obstruct or impinge on the view of the urns. The white mandevillea will grow up, and provide some green company to the porch columns. The white sunpatiens will flush out, and grow wide.

This small front porch does have a roof, but it does face south. This tall pot has a very small planting area.  A tree form fuchsia with long and graceful arms readily fits in the small space. The petunias and licorice will not thrive to the extent they do in full sun-but in this situation, restrained growth will be good.

This delicate wire planter on legs is also placed on a covered porch, facing east. The pink caladiums will flush out, as will the button ferns. This will soften the blocky look of the walls and floor. The container is light enough to be taken out for some overhead light once in a while. The creeping jenny will cascade. A little judicious pruning will help keep that jenny narrow.

These large Italian terra cotta pots occupy a partly shady corner on a terrace that occupies most of the floor space. Small beds permitted the planting of Boston ivy, and climbing roses, but containers provide an opportunity to really warm up the space. The fuchsias will bloom all summer in this protected location, as will the sunpatiens. These containers were planted on May 9 for an event on May 12. There would be no time for growing.  So we planted gallon pots and baskets rather than 4″ pots. This is an equally good strategy if you need to plant seasonal containers late. Many greenhouse 2 or 3 crops a season, or an edited selection of annual plants in 6″ or 8″ pots. A new terrace, a birthday gift of a pot, a new house, an engagement party-there are plenty of good reasons to plant late.

In the meantime, all of the containers we planted for spring look terrific right now. These plants are thriving in our cool weather. I like to plant seasonally. By this I mean the best place for heat loving annuals right now in my zone is a greenhouse. Deciding when to plant is an important decision.  I will do most of my container plantings in the next 3 weeks.

Rob placed this basket full of white gerbera daisies next to this antique stone cistern. I think he did a great job of sizing up this situation.

 

 

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