Archives for May 2010

My Friday, This Mid May

I apologize for my morning’s post rife with spelling errors-but it is a sign of my times.    I have just now edited that post-go back, should you have a mind to.  Mid May-there are not enough hours in the day to sort out and properly respond to everything how I would like. I have lots of marbles on the table-all of them threatening to fall off, lest I scoop them up.  I am scooping, as fast as I can.

Delphine Gitterman, the shining star of that most fabulous French garden blog Paradis Express, has linked to me twice in the past week-do you read her?  If not, sign up.  Her images, her point of view-will change your  gardening life.  Interested in the visual?   Her point of view is like nothing I have ever entertained.  I could not be more pleased that she follows my work.  She draws images from every visual discipline that interests her; should you miss two days, you are pages behind.  I read her every day-enough said. 

This greatly benign spring, the heavy rain, the warm temperatures-enjoy the rush, as I am.  I am caught up in the best spring rush it has ever been my privilege to participate in.    Rushing to catch up,  are you?  Me, too.

A Bit More Box Talk

The east side of my shop is heavily shaded by a row of 15 year old lindens.  The shop landscape is mostly about displaying our collection, and pots we plant.  Given that the lindens are the only in ground element, there is plenty of additional visual interest.  The window boxes light up that heavy shade, especially if I concentrate on pale colors.  The lime and white in this box put plants at eye level, and out of the way of foot traffic.  These iron boxes have galvanized steel liners that I paint whenever the mood strikes me, and however that mood strikes me.   The color of the box is an important part of its appearance. I like the chance to change. 

Spring plantings do not have the heft of the summer-the season is short and sweet.  Some plants definitely show better up off the ground-lobelia is a case in point.  The plant and its flowers are diminuitive and delicate; they need a seat up front and center.  Ornamental kale grows large, but its effect is lacy.  I like this type of planting up off the ground. 

Summer for me is all about sumptuous-no matter what style of planting appeals. An austere and edited can be sumptuous-just think about it. This year, the liners of the boxes got a rustic, dribbled and worn paint surface that complimented the style of the planting I had in mind.    

Not all boxes need to be under a window; this row of boxes provides welcome screening for a second floor condominium terrace, set squarely on top of a rail wall.  In an instant, this terrace became private. The planting-a graceful meadow two stories up. The client has since gone the route of arborvitae in the boxes; they have lived in them for squite a few years now.   

This old French iron box also sits on a wall enclosing a terrace, and adds another level of planting that makes the space cozy.  The wall was built with an integral box, seen in the right side of this picture. A gardener can vary the levels of planting by choosing plants that vary in their mature height. Window and wall boxes, containers on stands-this is an equally effective way of transforming a collection of pots into a beautifully styled vignette. What do you need, in the way of up and down?  Ask this question before you giving any arrangement your blessing.  Just as soil can be amended, an arrangement in your garden can be changed, modified, unexpectedly effective-given your visual study. 

My boxes on stands make a strong statement on a large brick wall.  I could handle that wall differently to be sure-an iron panel, a series of shelves, trellises for the pots-I have options.  I chose the height of the stands to put the decoration of the pots at my eye level when I am sitting close by-I love my pots as much as the plants. The top half of this wall looms over me.  I have not forgotten this; whatever time it takes for me to figure a top to bottom solution, so be it.

A window box is a big, stolidly rectangular object.  When planting them, I make every effort of vary the height of the plants-in contrast to the rigidity of the box.  This spring planting undulates softly, pleasingly.  The Persian Queen geranium color gets acknowledged with a few bits of lime marjoram in the front.  The white phlox is loose and open, compared to the uniformly cheery violas.  The lettuce bookends bring a smile to my face.  The most important part-give the time it takes to really enjoy your gardening. 

When the outside of the shop was in its yellow and whitewash phase, I thought my brown, lime and lavender window box scheme looked good.  The lime green hops went on to almost cover the walls on either side of the box.  The wispy Victorian era single dahlias-so subtle you can hardly see them. I refrain from grading my window box planting-who needs to be graded?  I appreciate history, change-the record of a given season. This is enough to keep me gardening.  

OK, I will choose a new topic, until the next great box comes along.

A Hybrid Vehicle


Last year at this time I wrote a post about window boxes.  They are a hybrid vehicle; you have the control of the soil and water as you do with a container, with something of that generous square footage you get planting in the ground.  As I still like this description, I will revisit the idea. Window boxes have all the advantages of containers. Perfect drainage.  A height that is convenient to plant.  A soil mix of your own choosing.  They go on to make it possible to have flowers on the second story, or the roof, or on a balcony railing.  They are a fine way to put flowers in the foreground of your views from inside out. 

My shop has 7 giant window boxes-it is heavenly to choose the plants, plant, and watch them become a garden. I have sized them not only to hold lots of plants, but also to hold a sufficient soil mass to keep the moisture level even.  The bottom half of the box is drainage material; annuals are very shallow rooting.  Overpotting them can lead to troubles with fungus or rot.  This box was organized around the relationship of  blue green and red violet.  I will admit I shopped plenty of places to get just the right colors and lively textural contrast.   

These second story boxes permit lots of flowers where a large portion of the front of the house is driveway.  Neighborhood lots can be small, and houses large.  Flowers on the second story make a big splash from the street.  The boxes are fine company for the containers at ground level.  A good irrigation contractor can water your boxes automatically, and subtly.  It is no substitute for hand watering, but automatic irrigation can buy you a little time when you are late getting to the watering.  Proper watering is critical to success with annuals-no matter where you plant them.

I have clients with window boxes eight inches wide, and as deep.  Unless you plant succulents, it is impossible to keep water on boxes of such a small soil mass. To look right, window boxes need to be made specifically for the windows they feature-so the window and the box read as one visual idea.  I like boxes that go wide of the actual window. This makes it possible to plant tall plants, or climbers, as a frame for that window.  Undersized boxes have a way of making a window look oppressively top heavy.  Glass appears to be dark, or black from the outside, unless the interior lights are on.

Window boxes reinvented as railing boxes can provide lots of visual interest where the railing is part of a pass through, and not a seating area.  One year, I did these boxes in herbs, lavender, and a few pale flowers.

Another year they were alive with bright color; by the end of the summer, it was a hanging garden extravaganza. 

These window boxes actually sit on the ground. They add a great deal ofcarefully edited interest to the spare facade of this home.  The boxwood live in these boxes year round. The boxes are really steel rectangles-there is no need to have a bottom.  A  landscape that is quite modern in design can handle window boxes, properly done.

The low windows of the porch/sunroom asked for window boxes.  The flowers look great from inside.  Not obvious in this picture-the lot line is a scant 10 feet from the wall of the sunroom.  Window boxes can provide for a garden in tight spaces too small to plant in ground.

There is something so inviting and pleasing about a window box; I would not do without them.

What Comes With A Box

What is not to love that comes in a box?  A birthday present, a book, a new fleece, a pair of Hunter muck boots or new pair of pruners, a working washing machine, a flat of sweet woodriff from Bluestone; the box creates all kind of excitement about what is inside.  Anyone who knows me has heard me wax eloquent on the subject of the box. I like to make them, and I love to plant them up.  Big planting spaces permit plenty of garden expression. The giant Tuscan planter box pictured above was a summer home for a giant and unwieldy agave. In its plastic pot, it looked dangerous and standoffish. In the box, plenty gorgeous.  This box of generous proportions visually organizes my entire side yard garden.  Anything planted inside a box reads as a present to the garden. 

We make these Egren boxes. I named this box after Michael and Karen; they were the first to order them.  I designed them to solidly reflect the history of the classical orangery box, in a shape and configuration of my own.  The classic French made orangery boxes have steel corners, but they are made of wood, and painted.  The mild French climate supports this material-I was after a gorgeous box that would persist.  Egren boxes-my idea of a box for our climate. 

There are those landscapes that call for boxes.  These painted rectangles on the porch planted with boxwood are in support of four original Jardin du Soleil French orangery boxes placed at the four corners of the drivecourt.  That support is clean, and elegant. The trimmed boxwood in the generous boxes-a beautiful  and unexpected proportion. They separate the porch from the drive and walk. Box, boxed-a statement of very few words with big impact.  Should you be considering wood boxes, having a galvanized metal liner made to fit will confine the water in the soil to the soil.  Repeated soaking damages wood and paint.

These English iron boxes have galvanized steel liners that have been painted.  The large square of soil they hold make them perfect for topiary evergreen plantings.  Evergreens planted with their roots above ground-consider a box.  A big box. Well-grown healthy evergreens have big rootballs.  Undersizing the planter is asking for trouble.  Big boxes are a good home-a home that has room for future growth.  There will be some space for an underplanting.  Most painted finishes on metal will require maintenance sooner or later, unless that rusty looky suits you. 

A beautiful box can anchor a driveway, a terrace-or in this case, a terrace.  These brick piers were designed specifically to hold these gorgeous French boxes.  If you are looking at boxes for your garden, pay mind to those designs that get that box up off the ground plane. Boxes glued to the ground-dowdy. If I am placing boxes without feet, I try to set them on gravel; this makes the box look dressed up. Set up a bit, a box can be quite elegant. The air space at the bottom also permits water to drain away freely.    

A box can make a big statement about a change of grade.  On the ground plane, bluestone, thyme, and magnolias. These boxes deliver visual delight at a different level.  This makes for a space all the the more interesting.  When you design, look at all the levels at your disposal; these boxwood are pruned to the height of the stone table, reinforcing the statment being made about this plane.  This small courtyard, completely enclosed by the home, was designed primarily for the views from inside, not so much for utility.  Should you need a little punctuation, consider a box. A small square, a giant square, a rectangle of note. 

These English made concrete planters in the classical Italian style are not exactly boxy.  But for the purposes of this essay, they qualify.  These V-shaped squares would take any garden from the the sleepy to the sublime.   I so love their solid and understated shape and decoration-I could plant an entire garden in these squares.   No matter what I might engineer for my shop or my clients, I have a big love for classical Italian terra cotta.  Baked clay boxes figure prominently in my scheme of things.  Buck obligingly forged stands for my boxes.  Up off the ground given 17 inches or so, these boxes enchant whomever might be seated on the terrace. Choosing containers for a terrace has much to do with what you will see, seated.  These boxes have beautiful decoration on them. They are to my mind, a work of art.  I like to look at these boxes as much as the flowers. Elevating them on stands puts them within visual reach.       

A box may not immediately seem like an extraordinary garden feature.  That is a matter of placement; I will leave that to you to sort out.  For many years I had a pair of round Italian terra cotta pots in this spot.  They were beautiful, planted up-but the box makes much of the transition from the deck level to the ground.  It could be a box could do a similar thing for your garden.