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?


Planning The Pots



Reluctantly, I planted my first pots, this past Friday..  I was reluctant, as the overnight temperature was 46 degrees.  At 9am, just 52 degrees.  But this particular client spends most of the summer on the east coast.  She needs an early planting, so I am happy to oblige.  She knows there could be damage from cold-she is willing to risk it. She has every hope that when she gets back in late summer that her pots will still look good. What looks good early that goes on to look good late-that is a tall order.  I choose the plants that go in her pots carefully.  This means plants that can shake off the cold.  Plants that have staying power. And a great soil in which to plant.  No begonias or coleus or caladiums for her.  Good planning in the beginning makes for good results.  The big idea here-know your habits, your inclinations, your summer schedule, your availability to look after them-then plan to plant your pots accordingly.

summer planting

I am very concerned that whatever gets planted produces good results.  I am sure you are wondering why I am so interested in results-as if planting summer pots was a competition.  But there is a very real competition going on.  A love of the idea of a gardening life-lots of people favor this.  But then there is the reality.  The expense and trouble versus the effort and the result-every gardener has had that moment when they weigh the effort against the results.   A summer planting that falls down and fails is discouraging.  A successful planting encourages a gardener to keep going, and expand their relationship with the garden.  I like the idea that successful container plantings can encourage people to garden on.  Abject failure makes the time and money involved the most important issue.  I like the benefits of gardening to be the most important issue.

summer-planting.jpgGreat container plantings revolve around three issues.  First and foremost-who are you?  Are you a do it yourself gardener?  Do you work a job, or have kids? Are you a professional designer with clients who expect you to handle the summer season for them?  Are you a person that loves green best of all?  Do you have the time to individually and carefully water, or are you interested that your irrigation system do the watering work?  Are you all in?  Are you new to an interest in the garden?

summer annual planting

This why I favor advance planning.  I like to know how my clients see the garden.  This helps me to plan for them.  A planting that answers the needs of a specific gardener is the right planting.  If you are planting for yourself-ask the same questions.  Ask lots of questions of yourself-before you buy the first plant.   Answer them, as true as you can.  The second issue-where have you placed the containers?  At the front door under a porch roof?  On the pool deck?  In a shady bed?  Narrow your plant choices to those plants that will thrive in the conditions that you have. At my shop, the sun plants are in the sun, and the shade plants are in the shade-this makes choosing the right plants easy.  Most nurseries do the same that I do.  Most plants have care tags in the pots-read, before you leap. Plants are very specific about what they want, and if they don’t get it, they will languish.


Are you a good and faithful waterer? Do you relax, deadheading and grooming your pots?  Do you have little time to devote to the maintenance of your summer plantings?  Are you easy going about the relationships that develop in a container planting, or are you interested in being in charge start to finish?  Do you have pots big enough to handle a day without watering in the heat of the summer?  Do you have easy access to your window boxes?  Will you look after those pots as soon as your family has been looked after?  Are you up north in the heat of the summer?  This is the third issue-are you on top of the maintenance of summer annuals?



Detroit Garden Works-everyone who works for me is ready and willing to help you with a summer planting scheme. But no one knows your summer life better than you do.  Every gardener’s summer  is different.  I so value the diversity expressed by the gardening community. This said, tell your story.  Your story, and our story, in concert, might make for some really  beautiful summer containers.  This is a fancy way of saying that my group likes meeting people face to face.  I will repeat this, as it is so important.  Be willing to tell your story.  A story understood mean a plan with success in its future.

window box

The plants are growing fast-how I love how they look.  I am thinking non stop-what will I plant?    What will you plant for summer this year?


Some Like It Hot

I have been a fan of orange, and every related warm, hot and striking color, my entire gardening life.  A client who once remarked that orange was a color that symbolized hysteria-I am sorry to say she had no appreciation for for sheer exuberance.  Some of us-including me-like it hot.  As I have said before, I love annual gardening for the fact that I can plant differently every season.  

This combination of plants-Rob’s own.  Stellar-the syncopated beat of his color combination.  The idea of rhythm is very difficult to discuss in words-but so easy to photograph.  Hot and cool colors in graphic contrast will get attention from a long ways away.   Striking color contrast is but the first sentence from a  paragraph about what constitutes hot.  Looking to be blazing?  Think about orange, orange and hot pink and lime.  Think about any color, intensely represented.  

Hot pink and white zinnias, pink cotton candy petunias-these three plants can get a party going on.  I have been a fan of zinnias since was a kid. There is something boldly charming about their big flat faces.   Cannas, dahlias, bananas and other tropicals-all of these can bring loads of color to a planting.

Solenia orange begonia is a great performer.  Properly watered, they will bloom heavily the entire summer.  They have succulent juicy stems that will rot if they are overwatered.  If you put your finger in the dirt-and the dirt sticks, wait to water.  Lime green is represented in the pots, creeping jenny, and the irisine in the right hand pot.  Lime and orange is a combination guaranteed to wake you up.

Gartenmeister fuchsia grows vigorously enough to make a great show as a flowering topiary.  As it is a lax grower, it needs secure staking from the beginning.  The dark red threadleaf amaranthus and orange New Guineas finish the arrangement.  Though that orange dominates, the overall impact is as much about form as color. 

Bicolor angelonia and Persian Qeen geraniums make a lively a color statement.  I plant lots of pots for the shop-when I see a combination grow up to make a beautiful bouquest, I try to make a note of it.  These two plants just seem made for each other.  The angelonia loosens up that stiffly growing geranium.  The geranium provides mass and substance to that wispy growing angelonia.  Hot pink, purple and lime-delicious.  That little bit of white in the angelonia keeps all the other color reading loud and clear.

A gardener has no end of plants to choose from.  How to organize what to choose?  I recommend as a first step-ignore what is in bloom May 10.  Too many people restrict their exposure to plants by insisting on “color” right off the bat.  There are other flowering plants in this world besides impatiens, wax leaf begonias, and red geraniums.  Big growing annuals do not make any kind of show in mid May; it takes time for them to mature.  Increasingly I see growers producing big plants in large tubs early.  I buy them when I am planting a client late-the tubs enable me to catch them up. But the pleasure of large growing plants has much to do with the patience to grow them on. Though it is June 3, I have no idea what I will do in my own pots. Maybe some hot color-maybe not.   I have time to dream it up-an entire season is still out there,  ahead of me. 

 No small part of the fun of gardening is planning, putting it all together, and  watching it grow up to be something.

Black And White

Running crews is the perfect thing for my three month old titanium knee whatever apparatus.  As much as I am inclined to baby that thing, working demands that it be put to use-confidently.  This is not to say that the men on my crews do not cut me some slack-they do.  They get the plants to me; they make sure I get up and down, as needed.  But that knee is getting the workout it needs. This was a black and white day.  My morning installation-so many variations on black, chocolate, red and orange in the plants.  Seeing my palette of bananas, black oxalis, red irisine, lime selaginella and so on, my client asked if I were going traditonal on him.  Very very funny, this from him.  His planting-distinctly alternative.  Very much about spare, serene and modern design.  Much about visual challenges that hopefully represent his notions gardening.      

This quietly gorgeous Francesca del Re tapered pot got a green and black calocasia front and center.  The black red spikes-an unexpectedly tall underplanting. Lime selaginella energizes the entire discussion going on between that large leaved and curving voice, and the spiky and dark second fiddles-good music. 

The centerpiece of these pots-bananas.  Banana plants-they grow  proportional to the pots/soil mass they are planted in.  In ground, 14 feet. In these pots-6-8 feet.  Green and brown leaved, with red violet midribs-a concert with a great opening, and and a dramatic finish.  All of the other plants in this pot will be in celebration of the bananas.  

Lime and black is a dramatic combination.  That said, be sure to back up the black with a lime element that will showcase the subtleties of the black foliage. Consider the eventual size of each plant-growing up and growing out will tell everything about your understanding of maturity.   This lime dracaena will grown faster, and outdistance these black red spikes.  The green/black/red stemmed pepperomias are a transitional element.  The lime creeping jenny to trail- exquisitely lime. Contrasting colors is not enough.  Mass, texture, rhythm-consider these elements as well. 

My box trucks-I haul soil, bark, tools, stakes-whatever.  All over.  My shop is located in an industrial park far off the beaten path.  This makes us a secret of sorts, and we certainly are all about being dirty.  Whenever I see this truck, it makes me laugh.  We like dirty-that dirty work makes a good garden possible.  

The box truck is home to all the tools of the trade-and then some.  The translucent roof makes it possible for me to see what is up there. The American companies that made this truck available to me-many thanks.  This roof-a dream come true for any designer looking at color.  Or for any crew person looking for a roll of bark wire.

My afternoon was all about a client who loves white.  She has no use for anything that even remotely resembles black, although her taste runs to clean lined and modern too. I am happy to oblige. When planngs are done in a single color, the visual emphasis changes.  Form, mass, texture and line become the important issue.   A black morning and a white afternoon made for an exciting day. 

White dahlias, white trailing verbena, white annual phlox and variegated licorice-a very strong statement in white and green.  But not nearly as strong a statement as this steel break formed pot.  48 inches in diameter, there is room to plant plenty.  It would  be equally happy to be planted with loads of a single plant.  I am reluctant to plant one variety only-one never knows what the summer weather will be.  I  would rather replace a few things, than the entire planting. 

No matter the black or the white, the design issues are all the same. This airy euphorbia gets plenty of emphasis from the contrasting green and white large leaved plectranthus.  The relationship of these two plants enchants me.  The best part of my job is being party to lots of gardens, with very different points of view.  I have all kinds of music going on; I could not want for much more.