Carry Over, Carry On

Once the winter weather moderates, one of the first things on my mind is planting containers for the new season. In the spring, I can work the soil in a container long before an in ground garden is ready for my feet, or my shovel. That spring container will celebrate that early chilly season, until the advent of summer weather asks for a change. Though this client’s spring plantings ordinarily thrive until the end of June, a spate of very hot weather in May moved the date for a summer planting forward several weeks. During the course of planting their pots, I am thinking about those container plants that can survive the change of the seasons. Those plants that can be carried over.

The cordyline pictured above is a fairly new variety with a beautiful variegation.  I bought it as a 4″ pot. Not so impressive in that little pot. I recall it had five long leaves. No one shopping for plants at Detroit Garden Works that spring season spoke for it. At the end of the season, I could not bring myself to pitch it out. My grower overwinters plants from the shop and my good clients as a courtesy. I know the work of this is a lot of trouble for him, so I hope the materials he custom grows for us and the container plants we buy from him non stop in the spring season helps to balance out his willingness to hold over plants for us. Many of those plants are large old topiary plants belonging to clients – eugenias, boxwoods, jasmine, scented geranium standards, ferns and the like. Not a 4″ cordyline. But he was good natured about it. A number of little but beautiful cordylines spent the winter with him, in an unheated greenhouse that rarely dipped below 40 degrees.  In the spring, I scooped up that spiky plant, and planted it in a container at home. How I loved the the olive green, cream and brown variegation. I wintered it over again, in a much more robust state, and planted it at home in a container for a second season. By this spring, that cordyline had a substantial presence. It was ready for a placement in a container garden of a client. An under planting of pansies was all it needed.

This summer planting of that mature specialty cordyline under planted with frosted curls grass delights me. A simple but visually strong planting, this. It looked terrific in the early spring, under planted with pansies. There was no need to dig it out of this box, and cast it aside.  It will represent the summer in much the same beautiful way as it celebrated the spring. Surely this cordyline will sail through the fall. We are so fortunate that we have a grower who permits us to park plants with him in an unheated space over the winter. It is a rare grower who caters to an end user clientele who will winter over container plants. The cost of heating a glass house over the winter in our zone is prohibitive. It makes sense that most specialty tropical plants that are better than a year old are grown in parts of the US that do not experience temperatures below freezing. Many of the large tropical plants we see available are grown in Florida.

This spring planting here featured a centerpiece of fresh cut pussy willow and fan willow. In a circle all around that centerpiece, a number of gallon pots of lavender. The low stone planter was stuffed with white osteospermum. Rob buys in lots of large lavender plants early in the spring. They are remarkably cold tolerant, and their good size right from the start makes an impact in spring pots.

The lavender was just coming in to its own when it came time to plant for summer. The cut twig spring centerpiece was replaced with a white mandevillea. Summer for this container-done. Both mandevillea and lavender like conditions on the dry side, so the summer container design melds the old plants with the new. The osteospermum did get replaced with a quartet of blue foliaged escheverias, the color of which echoes the color of the lavender stems and foliage.

This pair of planter boxes repeated the same lavender, and a pair of rosemary standards in the back row. The front row is filled with classic early Michigan spring container plants – pansies, violas, sweet alyssum and annual white phlox intensia.

Once the spring plants were removed, it was obvious to see that the lavender and rosemary were thriving. The initial investment in those plants is offset by the fact that they will perform in these boxes another two seasons.  Should you garden in a warm climate, carrying over plants from season to season or year to year is probably a given.  But Michigan is noted for having four distinct seasons with widely varying conditions. These rosemarys would have to be wintered in a cool indoor space for the winter. The lavender is usually successful over the winter in the ground, provided they have perfect drainage.

We planted the front row of these boxes with variegated licorice, and a second crop of 4″ petunias. The petunia plants are small, but they are rooted to the bottom of the pot. They are at a perfect stage to transplant. The top growth will come later.

The petunias and licorice like the same conditions as the established rosemarys and lavender, so the watering will be a simple one size fits all.

Not every spring pot has plants that can be carried over.  We do use preserved eucalyptus, fresh cut spring branches and in this case, metal picks that look like Queen Anne’s lace, in the interest of variety. Spring is the toughest season to plant in our zone. Not so many plants can tolerate the cold, and most of them that do are of small stature.

Once this pot was cleaned out, the top 10″ of soil is replaced with fresh soil. If there is a suspicion that the cypress bark mulch in the bottom half of the container has deteriorated and is no longer draining well, we empty the entire pot, and start fresh. For pots that are tall, or for plantings that require fast drainage, we may use large gravel rather than an organic material in the bottom. It is a good idea to use drainage material that can be carried over in giant pots that are difficult or time consuming to empty. Essential to maintaining the exit of water from the pot is a layer of landscape fabric between the soil and the drainage material. Soil that works its way down into the drainage layer will eventually interfere with the drainage.

The figs and petunias will summer well in this pot. These are Chicago figs, meaning they are hardy as far north as Chicago. We will winter over good looking specimens at the end of the summer.  If a client has a protected and well drained spot for them, they can spend the winter outdoors.

To follow are more pictures of the switch to summer.

Yes, this spike has been wintered over several times.  Having large material available for large pots means the resulting planting is proportional to the size of the pot.  The bay plants in the foreground pot have a new collar of scented geraniums which will grow wide.

spring container planted in mid April

summer planting with a Persian lime and diamond frost euphorbia

The spring planting in this area features a Limelight hydrangea on standard under planted with lavender.

That pot will go on through the fall unchanged. Note that the hydrangea in this pot will get more water than the surrounding lavender.  Selective watering in containers such as this one can make a huge difference in the outcome.

spring window box featuring lemon cypress

same box for summer. Eventually, the lemon cypress planted on either side of the bar in the box will grow together, and read as one.

spring planting

white angelonia and variegated licorice – ready for summer.

 

 

 

 

A Little Sizzle, Please

I  2015 (11)The last two weeks, and the next two weeks, are what I affectionately refer to as hell month. I am designing containers and shopping just about non stop. My crews grab hold of the rope. I print pictures and add notes-scribbled very early in the morning. They scoop it all up, and make it happen-day after day.  We all plant containers for clients this time of year-lots of them. We plant close to 60 projects-all of them different.  My grower delivers plants to jobs for me. His willingness to do this makes big installations possible. He greatly obliges by custom growing lots of annual plants for me.  I am interested in those plants that endure, and perform. And plants that are unusual and interesting. Though all of us are incredibly tired at the end of the day, we have work that has tangible results. Good looking containers, and clients who appreciate them.

I  2015 (20)This client likes lots of color, and more color. I try to put together color combinations that sparkle. Years of planting containers means I am able to imagine what the finished arrangement will look like in the coming months. So I focus primarily on the color relationships, as the eventual size of the plants is a future I can imagine. I can shop an entire greenhouse in no time, and pick plants for one or several jobs. This is not a skill. It is all about experience. I take special interest in this planting, as this is a landscape, garden, and container client with whom I have had a steady relationship for 25 years.

I  2015 (35)Her landscape is the best that I have ever seen it. This is a great pleasure for me, seeing a design grow in.  Trees and shrubs take time to take hold.  Then they need time to grow. This year, her landscape is maturing, and growing. This has taken 15 years. Her summer containers, a gesture for just one summer season, is set off by that landscape.  The relationship of the landscape and gardens to the containers is a lively relationship. She is a very lively client. I plant her containers with that in mind.

I  2015 (12)I do pick a palette of plants for this project that relate to one another-in color, size, and growth habit. Some plants and colors hop from one container to another.  Some colors are thematic.  Some colors are unexpected. The selection of the plants for a collection of containers is all about rhythm, color, mass, texture-  and strong relationships in all of these areas.

I  2015 (29)I do like pink and orange together. Just the right pink, and just the right orange,  is electric.  These French made orangery boxes  have a centerpiece of orange punch cannas – they will grow up and out once we get a little heat. Some color relationships can be subtle.  But in the event that strong color is a primary consideration, I like to use plants whose flowers are large.  Orange geraniums are brash and big headed.  Giant pink petunias are just that-giant, and intensely pink.  All of the plants in these boxes require similar light and water, so the care will be easy.

I  2015 (33) The best part of container plantings is that you have the option to choose the color, shape, mass and texture for just one year.  That one year of pink and orange might make you long for white flowers the following season. The commitment to any scheme lasts but for one season. This is so freeing, and empowering. Anything scheme I might try, I only have to live with for 4 months. The nature of containers should encourage any gardener to experiment. The willingness to flirt with failure can result in a sultry and season long love affair.

I  2015 (23)Strong color asks for strong and sure placement.  The visual relationships you establish from one plant to another will strengthen your container design. The growing relationships from one plant to another is just as important.  A container, grown out , should have a beautiful and graceful shape.These lime green Persian Queen geraniums have a luscious chartreuse color.  The hot pink flowers are like frosting on a cake-yummy. They will get large, and drapy. These Hypnotica lavender dahlias are highly disease resistant, and heavy in bloom.  The pink mandevillea vines have a habit of growth that is loose and lush. The vista petunias will soften the entire mix.

I  2015 (13)Today’s project was an eyeful about the relationships of one color to another. Some gardeners value the color green, or textures of green, or color from foliage, but this client likes flowers.  So flowers she gets.

I  2015 (22)pink and orange, with an intervening phormium.

I  2015 (15)The color is to come.  The lantana topiary is red and orange.

I  2015 (50)Yellow lantana standard and peach pink cascading ivy geraniums.  This container is in full hot south sun.

I  2015 (42)Pink orange and purple.  Th orange is a Caliente orange geraniums.  It amuses me whenever I hear that geraniums are so pedestrian and ordinary.  Their colors are brilliant, their habit is great.  With enough sun and food they perform tirelessly. Geraniums are the little black dress of the seasonal plant/container fashion world.  Orange geraniums are stunning-I would not do without them.

I  2015 (39)What a great day we had today, planting pots. In another month, there will be much more to talk about.

 

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 Dogs At Chase Tower

Chase-Tower.jpg

We were back downtown for our third installation for the Bedrock Realty Company in Detroit.  Today’s venue-the Chase Tower.  The loggia in front of the building has lots of great seating in bright colors, and enormous low white polystyrene planters loaded with King Kong Coleus.   Bedrock Designer Kelly Deines from Rossetti Architects had the idea that these containers needed  an imaginative element that would turn up the heat a little.  Animate the space.  As in, what about a moss dog sculpture for each pot?

Bedrock.jpgEven though I couldn’t quite picture it, I was intrigued.  Once the dogs were delivered to us, Buck devised and built stands for all of them.  They had to be rock solid in the pots.

Chase-Tower-dogs.jpgWe carefully dug up all of the existing plants, and laid them on a tarp.  We had enough buckets that we could sort the good dirt from the sandy drainage material.  The thick 2′ diameter steel plate would rest just above the base of the pot.

setting-the-dogs.jpgOnce the dog was level, and positioned properly, we refilled the pots.

filling-the-pots.jpgI did try to pick dogs that had either a lot of attitude, or a sense of movement.

dog-and-coleus.jpg

We replanted the coleus, and added a few more here and there..  The Wasabi coleus front and center made the planting a little more like a party.

replanted-pot.jpgI was thoroughly smitten with the result.  People walking by were either smiling, or snapping pictures.  The pots had a center of interest which made them suddenly seem more personal, and personable.

the-clean-up.jpgThey made me smile too.  Great job Kelly Deines.  And thank you Bedrock for making us a part of something this positively fun.

moss-dogs.jpg

chase-tower-moss-dog

the-finish.jpg

Chase-Tower.jpg

planted-chairs.jpgThese polystyrene chair planters have new hairdos.  Luckily, there were 5′ diameter drain holes in the bottom, so we could stuff the bases with bricks. This giant loggia was transformed by the addition of the dogs, and the planting of the chairs.  What fun!