The Deck Pots

June 25 2014 (1)Every year I think I will be able to finish planting annual containers for clients before the beginning of July.  Beginning of July? I do have clients who plant their pots for spring-they have no need of a summer planting until late June.  There are some clients who call the first week of June for pots.  It is late June until I can get to them.  I am hoping to finish all of my private clients this week, leaving a summer commercial installation for next week.  The container plantings I hope to have done by the 4th of July.   Given our cold and off putting spring, It is still taking all the time I have and then some to do the work I have booked. But no matter the work load, I make time to plant my pots at home.

June 25 2014 (3)I do plant lots of containers at home.  Coming home to planted pots is a good thing indeed.  Part of my end of the day routine is to tend to the watering  and maintenance of my pots. Just an hour ago I finished planting the last pot.  Given that I am planting into warm soil, that last pot should show signs of growth in just a few days. Looking at them and after them is relaxing for me.

June 25 2014 (4)I do plant my pots differently every year.  That is part of the challenge, and the anticipation of the summer season.  My trees are in the same place, doing the same thing, every year.  My perennials and roses and groundcover-I do not move these plants around, or change them regularly. Though I may waffle away the early spring planning for my containers, by the time that June comes, I have to commit.  I like that deadline.

June 25 2014 (5)I like that pressure. Too big a time frame gives me too much room to fret.  A short time frame encourages me to make decisions, and plant.  I am pleased with this year’s deck plantings.  Certain things influence my decisions. I have a 1930’s home with Arts and Crafts details that features a brick cladding that is a mix of yellow, cream, and pink.  White looks too chilly here. Silver foliage, as in gray, looks good here.  I will admit that after the consideration of scale and mass, I am very drawn to a discussion of color. Pink and orange, and all the versions thereof, may not interest you.  But those colors suit both me and my space.

June 25 2014 (11)I went on occasion far afield from a pink and orange scheme. The Persian Shield in my Italian terra cotta squares faced down with variegated pepperomia and variegated tradescantia seemed appropriate to the color of the brick, and the color of the Italian terra cotta pots.  I had no problem introducing some dark purple to my scheme.June 25 2014 (7)The pennisetum whose name I cannot remember,  and the orange coleus works with the color and the design of this pot.  I did entertain many other plantings for these terra cotta urns.  Pictured above-my decision. No one else has to be pleased about this decision but me.  That is half the fun of it.  I like this messy head of hair in contrast to the formal and classical style of the urn.  Once the coleus gets to growing, the look will change.

June 25 2014 (8)My terra cotta pots from Mital have  loads of detail.  I try to plant them with an eye to that detail. I try even harder to not to over think it.  I am a big fan of graceful. All the plants in this pot are quite ordinary-petunias, geraniums, lime licorice.  The terra cotta nicotiana is new to me-I like that brick orange color.

June 25 2014 (6)Pink and orange-I will admit my choices for my containers this summer were much about lively color.  The nicotiana “Blue Ice” is an interesting color variation I had not seen before.  I have planted this oval pot all green, with green nicotiana, for many years.  This year is different.

June 25 2014 (10)As for what I have planted in my deck pots this year, I like the relationships generated by color.  Not quite so obvious are my sun issues.  This space does not sit due east.  It sits southeast.  This particular spot gets incredibly hot and sunny for about 6 hours a day.  The brick, once it gets really hot, radiates more heat.  I have to pick plants that are happy in this environment.

June 24 2014 (42)This pot full of orchid pink new guinea impatiens looks swell.  Like the geraniums in the previous picture, this impatiens likes the heat, and a good amount of sun.  The pot is large enough that I am able to keep the soil at the proper moisture level.  Dry New Guineas will flop over dramatically.

June 25 2014 (9)The 1930’s English snake pot is a prized pot.  It does not need all that much in the way of dressing up.  The creme brulee heuchera leaves are big and simple, and compliment the shape of the pot. I can see over it into the garden beyond. The pot has a setting.

June 25 2014 (2)At the bottom of the stairs off the deck, one of the first boxes that my company Branch ever produced. I love this box every bit as much as my Italian terra cotta pots.  The color scheme is a mix of yellow, orange and brown. There is a lot going on, texture and color wise, as the pot sits in front of a big section of brick.

I would share anything I could about my process for planting containers with any gardener.  Why wouldn’t I?  That said, I did not think much about my process until the pots were done.  My container design has everything to do with the place- the architecture of that place.  Color.  Scale and proportion. Rhythm.  Texture, mass and line.  And of course, the maintenance. What can I plant that will be a pleasure to maintain?


The Pots At Home

scotch-moss.jpgThe last 2 weeks have been wicked busy.  Several extensive landscape projects swung into high gear, at the same time I began planting containers and annual gardens.  There are but 10 of us that produce all of the work. We have done 67 annual and container gardens, with 6 more to go. One landscape project-a brand new house that needed everything from start to finish. The other project-a new pool and pool house needing a landscape.  Needless to say, I have not done much at home.  The bed around the fountain got replanted with scotch moss.  I did get a few of the deck planters planted, so I wouldn’t have to celebrate my birthday looking at pots of dirt.

surfinia-sky-blue-petunias.jpgI have always liked the color purple in the landscape, but I have never made it the focus of my containers.  Last year’s silver and brown containers were my most favorite ever, but I hate to repeat a scheme.  The entire fun of planting annual containers is that you get to chose something new.  Since I already have Princeton Gold maples, Sum and Substance hosta, and now the lime green moss, I thought yellow might be a good companion to the purple.

purple-and-yellow.jpgThere are plenty of purple and yellow annual and tropical plants.  Scaevola and dark purple angelface angelonia are both on the blue purple side.  Yellow thunbergia, is a vine sporting sunny lemon yellow flowers.  The contrast of colors is lively and cheery.  I also like the look of these colors with my yellow brick.  The blue from the sky and the green from the landscape are important colors in any garden scheme.  The sky occupies a lot of square footage overhead.  But the color of a home will influence the look of any color you put next to it.


But I was interested in something else besides color.  I have always been a proponent of growing plants that are willing and able to grow.  Some plants are not that demanding.  Some plants deliver lots of satisfaction without asking for much in return.  It is easy to become besotted with Vista petunias, as they grow and bloom profusely.  But this year, I thought I would try to grow some plants that would challenge my ability to grow things.  The lime scotch moss-it is hard to grow in larger areas.  Yellow petunias are not that easy either, although this Proven Winner’s variety “citrus” promises be be a better than usualy grower.

bicolor-angelonia.jpgButterfly marguerites are willing growers, but they require regular dead heading to stay beautiful.  They also seem to need more attention to the water than other annual plants.  If I comer home at the end of a very hot day, it is the marguerites that are wilted.  Angelonia performs well, as long as it gets heat.  The best looking angelonia I have seen in the past week have been in the greenhouse.  Our early summer weather has been especially cool.

lavender-and-pale-yellow.jpgLime licorice will not tolerate too much water. The felted leaves say that loud and clear.  The leaves will bleach, if the plant is grown in too much sun. It will wilt with too little water.  Finding just the right spot for licorice is a challenge.  Growing it with another trailer sometimes provides it with just enough cover to make it thrive.


Million bells are trailing plants with loads of charm.  This new variety of super bells is called “Miss Lilac”. The color is very interesting.  Growing million bells can also be interesting.  They rot easily, and develop yellow stems and leaves.  I recommend watering in the am only, and fertilizing with miracid.  Million bells do not thrive when the Ph is too alkaline.  Petunias don’t mind the miracid treatment either.  The color of this million bells is delicate-we’ll see if it is tough enough to withstand my care.

variegated-foliage.jpgPurple annual plants for shade are few and far between, so I am trying torenia this year for the first time.  It is so true that the only way to learn how to grow plants is to grow them.  If I have questions about the cultivation of a plant, I like to ask a grower.  This is one of the best reasons to shop for plants at your local farmer’s markets.  The people who are there helping you select plants are growers.

variegated-boxwood.jpgThere are lots of ways to get yellow in a garden that don’t involve flowers.  The millet Jester is an excellent grass whose color is an intense lime yellow. The centerpiece of this container is a variegated boxwood.  The edges of the leaves are a creamy white.

coleus-Wasabi.jpgThe fairly new coleus cultivar called Wasabi is a very strong grower in either sun or shade.  In sun, the plant is butter yellow.  In shade, a yellow green.

annual-planting.jpgIn the center of these pots, I have planted cup and saucer vines.  The dark purple/green foliage sends out delicate purple tendrils which will attach themselves to the poles.  This is one of the few annual climbers that does not require a lot of support.  Once it gets going, it grows fast, and big.

Cobea scandens
The flowers open pale green; they will turn lavender, and finally mature to a dark purple color. I have grown cobaea scandens on a wall, but I have never tried it in a pot.  We’ll see how it works out.

begonia.jpgEvery year I swear I am not going to grow any big flowered begonias.  But in spite of the fact that they are big and gaudy, I just can’t resist them.  The obverse of the leaves have a purple cast.  This non-stop yellow begonia is a deliciously intense sunny yellow.  I planted some.  There are pots that are not planted yet.  But I am beginning to feel like I will in fact get them all planted.  The process of the planting comes at a very busy time of year, but is a time I truly enjoy.  Next up, the growing.

The Natural Order Of Things


I had a client in the store a few days ago, needing some help with planting a pair of containers.  She told me she needed a thriller, some fillers, and some spillers for her pots.  ???  I was at sea.   This sounded like some popular container composition slang; I asked for an explanation.  The explanation was as follows.   A tall center of interest plant, with some slightly shorter supporting cast plants, and trailing plants to spill over the edges of the pots.  Voila-a perfectly designed and beautiful pot.  Formulas-I instinctively have an aversion to them.  The pot pictured above looks like a mess with no discernible design, but give it a few weeks.  The “spiller” plants are planted in the center.  The “filler” plants are planted on on the edge.  I abide by the natural order of things when I need to.  The seasons change-I get behind that.  The west sun is merciless, unlike the life giving east sun.  The natural order of things apply to natural phenomena.  All else-whatever idea you have, try it out.  Be confident enough to try things out of order.    

This may be my most favorite container planting of this season. A purple spike may bring the thriller status to mind-I had another idea.  What happens when I plant the thriller plant, in multiples,  in the spiller slot?  We’ll see how this planting matures-but I like the idea that I have dwarf and luminous white and green caladiums in the thriller spot.  The button ferns-they defy categorization.  They do not spill-they are drapy. I promise to take another picture in 6 weeks or so.    

Last year I planted white mandevillea vines in the front of the shop.  No stakes, no trellis.   I let them grow as they would-my thriller became a spiller.   They were beautiful. How they looked encouraged me to be free of an outline about the natural order of things.  Gardens that I see that are free-free from popular sentiment, free from formulas, free from preconcieved notions-are they not so beautiful?  I pin my climbing roses to the wall, and I stake my mandevillea.  I give my clematis a trellis on which to climb.   I follow the rules-mostly.  But there are those times when a preconceived order of things may not be the most interesting solution.