Green And White

green and white (9)Green and white in a container garden can be spectacular. I have more than a few clients who request this cool and collected color palette. Summer in the mid west can be cruelly hot. A white garden always looks cool and crisp; white shrugs off the heat. White flowers read well from a distance, and are startlingly beautiful at dusk. When they are well grown, white flowers are stunning.  Among my favorites?  White hardy hibiscus, Visions in White astilbe, white anemones of any genus, white daffodils, white roses, need I go on?  Green is what gives a garden or landscape a living context. Living green is vastly different than green paint. Light endows green and white in a garden with as much visual energy as serenity. Odd, that. This client has a decidedly contemporary point of view, and a big love of white. I try to give that white to her with both reliable and unusual plants. The diminutive white and purple streptocarpus, the big leaved white caladiums and the white streaked watermelon pepperomia set the stage for this very shady set of boxes.

green and white (13)Birds nest ferns and variegated licorice provide the supporting cast. The white New Guinea impatiens are the most astrikingly white of the group, and they are thriving here.So happy to see them tolerating such a low light level.  This is the shadiest of my green and white containers for this client. I deliberately split up the white plants, to establish a lively rhythm.

green and white (8)The window boxes in front-I have no need to trick them out. A contemporary expression asks for simple.  White New Guinea impatiens in all of the boxes-perfect. Once they have a little time, and some more heat, they will thrive.

green and white (11)The rosemary standards were part of the spring planting.  There is no need to replace them.  The are growing.  I under planted them with scotch moss, just to give the trunks a little space. I have my fingers crosses that the water the moss wants will not be too much for the rosemary. Every container planting has its drama. The key will be thoughtful watering. The XXL dahlia series is the best medium height dahlias it has ever been my pleasure to grow. The stems are sturdy.  They are disease resistant.  They flower heavily early on. They are oh so showy.  White petunias in the front-ordinary as can be.  But paired with showy oregano, the relationship is a little more complicated and interesting.  green and white (14)My crew fusses that I post pictures during a planting.  They would rather I take pictures at the end, when everything is thoroughly watered and cleaned up.  I like the pictures with the dirt. I cannot really explain this, but I learned from my Mom that good friable soil that is loaded with organic material and drains well is clean. The dirt inside my socks and under my nails this time of year is a comfort.  It means all is right with my world.

green and white gardenThose dahlias laid out in a block awaiting planting are so incredibly beautiful. Showy white plants have their place in pots.  An ordinary container cannot hold enough Queen Anne’s Lace to make a statement.  Those airy blooming relatives of the common carrot belong in a field. Selecting white flowers for containers?  Try white dwarf cosmos or cleome, white angelonia, white New Guinea impatiens, Lanai white trailing verbena.  white geraniums-if you must. White zinnias, both dwarf and tall are great in containers. As a centerpiece, white mandevillea cannot be beat. Vinca vine-as ordinary as red geraniums. But skillfully used, it is a beautiful white accent in a container. We have on occasion wound it upwards on a plant climber.

green and white (6)This rosemary topiary did not ask for much fuss.  A collar of white petunias is enough.

green and white (2)I planted a tall cylindrical pot in deep shade with one of my favorite green plants-pepperomia. Trailing down the sides, the garden variety vinca vine, and a white variegated tradescantia. Once this grows out and up, it will do justice to this gorgeous contemporary Atelier Verkant container.

green and white (3)The mix of classical and contemporary containers here is striking.  A green and white planting is a great way to focus on the mix of container shapes and materials. In a month, the relationships the plants forge from one pot to the other will be much clearer.

green and white (10)This pot features a rosemary topiary surrounded by a giant collar of lavender.  I am quite sure that given some time, each of these elements will grow in to each other in an interesting proportion.  I do not mind the lavender in this green and white color scheme. A green and white rule is better when that rule is broken.

green and white (12)Should I ever plant a spike or a phormium in a container, Lucio ties up that cascading centerpiece, so he can plant all around it.  This is a picture not so much about design, but about how my crew and I work together. All of them to the last have a gift for planting and growing plants. This is his signature, which I greatly respect.


green and white (5)Every plant has a face. That face needs to be forward.  Every center plant needs to be perfectly placed in the middle. Every center plant needs to be oriented to the primary view. Some center plants need to be planted at the back of the container, depending on their placement. Some plants need to be pitched over the edges of a container. Others need to be planted vertically.  This is not so much about color, texture or mass as it is about planting technique. My crew never rushes a planting.  Watching them plant from a plan is the best part of my good life.

green and white (4)I am very pleased about this day’s work.

green and white (1)

green and white (16)Green and white. Pure delight.



Monday Opinion: Labor Day

Labor Day 2015 (9)More than once have I had reason to expect that the warm and sunny momentum established by my summer season would blast by Labor Day in a hot fit of defiance.  Given that the forecast for today is 90 degrees, might Mother Nature forget that today is Labor Day?   Every year I hope nature will be distracted by some warm September weather, and fail to note that the season is due to change.  Have my hopes of a summer that streams on for 4 months instead of 3 ever been fulfilled?  No. This bout of hot weather aside, there are signs that the summer season is slowing.

Labor Day 2015 (2)We’ve had a few cool and foggy mornings. The sun is lower in the sky. The morning light is coming on later, and the evening darkness earlier.The seeds on my dogwoods are ripe and red; the leaves have a considerable red tinge to them.  The hardy hibiscus have more seedpods developing than flowers. The Rozanne geraniums look the best they have all season – typical. The lily of the valley leaves  are singed with their usual end of summer fungus. The Limelight hydrangea flowers are showing some pink. The flowers on the hyssop have gone gray; the plants are dropping their lower leaves.

Labor Day 2015 (3)Some of the plants in my containers have moved past the thriving stage to the tired place. They have that pale foliage color that speaks to exhaustion. Some plants have gone limp from a summer’s worth of exertion growing. A week ago I cut back all of my nicotiana, and fed them. They have been lackluster all summer; I am hoping for a fall flush. The dahlias have not been happy this summer either. I am not sure if I will get a decent bloom before the mildew takes them down. My other containers are so root bound they need soaking, not just watering. The laurentia around the fountain grew too tall in the heat, turned yellow, and flopped over. I took them out.  The fountain is turning green with algae, right on time, in time, for Labor Day.

DSC_3264But there are plenty of containers which are right at what I call that “super nova” stage. Like a star that glows prior to imploding, they are at their most beautiful best – right now.  They are as glowingly good as they ever will be. All of the plants have grown out, and matured.  Each container has an overall shape-like it or not. Some plants have engulfed their containers.  Rob’s container of Russian sage, lamb’s ear and several thyme varieties-any ideas about what the container looks like? Me neither. This planting, right now, is at its most glorious best. Our window boxes stuffed with silver foliaged plants are looking just about as good.

angel-wing-begonias.jpgThese angel wing begonias are bowed over from the weight of all of their flowers. They have been beautiful all summer, but now they are at that very big and beautiful stage that foretells summer’s end.

wasabi coleusBut no summer container plant can come close to that Labor Day super nova size like coleus. The range of colors and leaf types is astonishing. Their willingness to grow is unparalleled. I enjoy growing them, partly as it is possible to shape them by pinching. I find this entertaining. If you think I am a dull girl, you are probably right.  This coleus Wasabi was grown from 3 4″ pots. Given a benevolent September, it will reach the ground. This pot I have not touched.  All the joy in it has been watching it grow.

DSC_3388These chocolate coleus feature a brown and cream cordyline that is almost invisible now. Were you standing directly over them, you would see that I had pinched out the top to reveal the cordyline.

Labor Day 2015 (18)This modestly sized Italian terra cotta rectangle is home to a hedge sized coleus.  We pinched the bottom out, to give the impatiens some breathing room, and some light. Labor Day 2015 (19)chocolate coleus, Kingwood Red coleus, and pink polka dot plant

Labor Day 2015 (17)This pot with an orange and green phormium at the center, pink polka dot plant and heuchera bears no relation to coleus, except that it has been thriving in the same vein all summer.

Labor Day 2015 (6)coleus peaking.  the petticoat below-maidenhair fern.

Labor Day 2015 (20)coleus Amora, coleus Alligator, and a subtle dash of pink polka dot

Labor Day 2015 (12)a coleus “Tilt a Whirl” standard, under planted with hens and chicks.  The accompanying lemon cypress grown on from a 6″ pot-looking good.

DSC_2215So what am I thinking about this Labor Day? That Labor Day usually signals the start of the end of my summer gardening season, of course.  But more importantly, that a working American gardener named Rob has gone the distance every day, day after day, since the middle of May to bring all of these container plantings along to this moment. If you live nearby, and haven’t seen them in person, they are well worth the trip. As for you, Rob, have a happy and well deserved Labor Day.

Out Planting Today

container plantingsI did my first summer container planting today.  The fact that it was Memorial Day is appropriate. Michigan is not reliably frost free until the end of May. Just last week we had temps in the 30’s on 2 nights-this is typical. I hung back from planting until now. Seasonal plants, which are invariably tropical plants, hate cold soil, and just above freezing air temperatures. A too early planting can set them back for weeks, if not longer. The caladiums under planting these old tree ferns cannot take any cold whatsoever. I hope the nights will be kind to them. The tree fern on the right had to be cut back to the trunk, following an infestation of mealy bugs this winter. The mealy bugs went in the trash with the leaves.  It will leaf out again in no time.

Audi 2015 (31)I have been planting containers for this client for the better part of 20 years.  She has 2 large decks connected by a deck/causeway, that are one story off the ground. They are like tree houses-for adults.  This is where they spend time outdoors in the summer. Three pots have nothing but basil.  2 pots, planted with yellow punch cannas, are under planted with thyme. Another pot features a cherry tomato,  chives, and more thyme.  The remainder of the pots, and the boxes are planted with flowers.

Audi 2015 (17)Every year we do the flowers differently. Last year, the colors were pastel, white, and silver.  This year, she asked for lots of color.The pot in the center back of this deck has carmine sonata cosmos.  The centers of these cosmos are yellow-thus the yellow boston daisies in the foreground. Cherry geraniums and magenta sunpatiens fill the 2 pots on the right.

Audi 2015 (28)The thought of geraniums may make you sleepy, but they come in an extraordinarily brilliant range of colors.  The big headed zonal geraniums are beautiful, but challenging for some to grow.  They like judicious watering, and lots of food.  I planted the deck boxes with an assortment of Caliente geraniums.  They are so easy to grow, and bloom profusely way into the fall, with not so specialized care.The outside row of plants includes two shades of ivy geraniums-they will cascade in partnership with vista fuchsia petunias. On the inside/house side, the geraniums are kept company with artist ageratum and gold marjoram.

Audi 2015 (14)This deck box is stuffed with zonal geraniums in cherry and red, heliotrope, hot pink gerbera daisies, gold marjoram and vista fuchsia petunias. The color and the textures are strong. This is a very tropical experience of the garden that banishes any thoughts of the Michigan winter. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to garden in a number of different ways, every season of the year. The container plantings can be changed up every year.  It is a pleasure to have one part of the garden that can be interpreted differently every season. A fresh look is almost always a good look.

Audi 2015 (19)This deck has a small seating area, in the center of the space. The pots describe the boundaries of the deck.  This deck can be seen from inside, via a series of sliding glass doors. It took the entire day for all of us to haul the mulch, soil and plants to this upper deck-down into the back yard via large stone slabs, and up onto the deck via a flight of wood steps-but the result is a garden in the sky.  All of the pots have the canopies of mature trees as a background.

Audi 2015 (15)Some years ago we had wood boxes made that hang off the railings of the deck.  This means the connector causeway is available for walking, and the boxes drain off the deck.  All the kids and grand kids have plenty of places and spaces to be. But there are summer flowers, everywhere.

Audi 2015 (16)A new raspberry, yellow and orange lantana standard is the centerpiece of the pot on the left. It is under planting with a hot coral pink mini cascade ivy geranium. My client tells me that ivy geraniums, and zonal geraniums are very popular in window boxes in Europe, as they are reputed to repel flies and mosquitoes. Really. They will have a chance to test this theory out this summer. The pot on the right?  yellow punch canna, thyme, and ever bearing strawberries.

Audi 2015 (3)A pair of beautiful lead square boxes have been planted with lots of different plants over the years.  This is a partial shade location.  The rose pink solenia begonias, wreathed in red solenia begonias, will thrive here.

Audi 2015 (9)The master bedroom deck is not large, but it is important.  My client opens her eyes to this deck every morning, via a floor to ceiling window.  This year, red mandevilleas are encircled by Persian Queen geraniums.  Scaevola interrupts the parade of the geraniums.  An orange punch canna in the center pot will be offset by an amazing selection of dark purple petunias with a white eye. This variety of petunia is incredibly fragrant-so great for a terrace off a bedroom.  At the far left, a Gartenmeister fuchsia is under planted with a tall hot pink angel wing begonia. This was a great day-beautiful weather, beautiful material, and treasured clients.

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?