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.








At A Glance: Plants And Planters

steel planter

shade container plantings

vintage French wine barrel

Italian terra cotta pot and plinth

ridged concrete pot

lantana on standard

Italian terrra cotta

ribbed concrete bowl planter

limestone urn

limestone urn

terra cotta basketweave box

wollemi pine

terra cotta long tom

terra cotta planters

steel boxes

terra cotta planters

terra cotta boxes


Peak Season


The containers on my deck have grown like crazy in the past month-we are  approaching peak season.  The weather has been perfect; most days have been sunny.  Even so,  we have had night temperatures lately in the 60’s.  There are signs of summer’s end, as much as there are signs of summer’s peak. Though I could easily do with this weather a few more months, September 1st is just 2 weeks away.  Once labor day comes, our summer is in decline.  The nights are colder; it seems like less heat and energy comes from the sun.     Annual plants grow and bloom with one end in mind; they need to set seed, before they are done in by frost.  This is an exhausting task. All the while my container plants are putting on size and blooming great, there are signs of stress.  The mildew I have struggled to avoid on my dahlias-it has claimed a few stalks.  The fancy leaved geraniums pictured above are so rootbound I have to soak them every day.  The Japanese beetles have discovered my canna flowers.  The coleus despises the cooler night temperatures.        

The mildew seems to be spreading to my petunias, for heavens sake.  And the aphids on my licorice-this is a first for me.  Do all of my containers grow to perfection-not even close.  Just close enough to provide me with a lot of pleasure, looking after and at them.  There are a few things I do to make the best of the last leg of the summer.  I do feed my pots with liquid fertilizer regularly.  Geraniums like lots of feed-ferns, not so much.  Each one of my containers has a lot of plants in them, or plants that have grown large. I soak my pots with water, and then soak them with feed.  Liquid feed is like a shot of B-12; I avoid the next watering as long as I can, so the plants benefit before a watering washes it all away.  I am sure to flush my pots through between waterings, to prevent a build up of salts that can become toxic.   

  Most of my containers have grown skirts by now.  When I water, I lift the plants up so I can see the soil.  I water the surface of the soil-not the plant leaves.  There is no sense encouraging mildew to spread. I soak them thoroughly, and then let them get quite dry. The rectangles on my north wall only get water twice a week.  Overwatering begonias in hot weather is asking for rot.  Caladiums will hang their heads when they need water.  I snap off the old leaves out that get too tall, and threaten to engulf my chartreuse Janet Craig dracaenas. 

Growing plants in containers is a live and learn proposition.  As in-this rainbow coleus is a very big grower.  This means there are big sections of stalks between sets of leaves.  This makes it tough to get a good shape from the plant in a container.  These Italian terra cotta urns look like they have top hats-funny, this.  This variety would make a great hedge in the ground.

I know Milo is pretty handsome, but the message here is about keeping things clean.  I remove dead or diseased foliage.  I sometimes thin plants to improve air circulation. And I pick up what falls on the ground.  I leave no debris.  What I would gladly let decompose in my garden I don’t think is good for my containers.  My big Norway maple is raining disease ridden leaves; I pick them up, and throw they away.  Fungus can live over the winter.  Sometimes clean gardening practices is your only defence.      

My terrace is my version of a kitchen garden.   Buck cooks here, and I look after the pots.  My small bi-level deck has 14 containers.  It is a rare evening that there is not something to putter over-I like this.  I only get into trouble when I let them go too long.  Consistent attention is much better than an occasional look.  Hauling the containers here from the basement, filling them with soil, and planting-that’s real work. The work now is not that tough, and at some time during the process I plain start to feel better.  

The jumble pot of petunias and trailing verbena has been great, and still looks great-even on the inside.  I have been very careful to pick up the plant mass hanging over the edge, and deal directly with the soil.  I have kept this on the very dry side-a strategy that seems to be working.     

I only had one shot left on my camera before the battery died the other morning.  The pink light at dawn-wow. My little garden is anything but perfect, but at moments like this, I am very glad to have it.