Archives for May 2011

Styling A Container


What do I mean by this-styling a container?  I could take 5 plants, and plant them in 5 identical containers in such a way that the end results would feature 5 different looks.  The style of planting you like informs how you arrange and choose numbers of plants in a container. 

Let’s pick 5 plants.  Verbena bonariensis-a very tall verbena with small knobby flowers that are emphatically lavender.  Nicotiana alata lime-a rangy and tall flowering tobacco whose flowers are the most divine shade of green.  A Gallery – meaning fairly short-  dahlia in a peachy orange.  Heliotrope “Marine”-a short growing, dark purple flowered and very fragrant heliotrope.  Plant number 5-lime licorice. This felted leaf foliage plant known as Helicrysum has a horizontal and spiky habit of growth .  You’ll have to bear with the pictures that do not match the text-I have never planted a container with these five plants.  My main idea is to speak to the idea of style.

Suppose you have a very formal and symmetrical, very classically inspired home.  Given that you like that formal house, you might style you containers in a very formal manner.Verbena bonariensis is formal in the sense that it grows straight up in a V shape, and never goes over in a bad wind.  Want to contain it, and feature it as a centerpiece in a formally styled pots? 

Gather up all of the arms once they grow tall, and tie them with a raffia bow.  That bow should be symmetrical, mind you. The above picture features datura-and not verbena, but the idea is the same.  This datura has had all of the lower leaves removed-it has a more topiary, rather than shrubby look.  Each arm is staked, to further give it an upright appearance.  For our imaginary container, plant the lime nicotiana all around this centerpiece of verbena.  As nicotiana tends to grown grow wild, scoop up those branchas at a lower level than the verbena, and discreetly stake and tie them just below the flower stalks.  Keep the lower leaves removed. Alternate the peach dahlias and heliotrope.  You may need two heliotrope for every dahlia-so the volumes are equal.  Lime licorice all around the edge of the pot will provide a uniform petticoat upon which the rest of the composition will rest.  Trim off any branch which dips below the horizon.

Regularly pinch any wild branches to produce a uniform thicket of licorice-trim to an end that resembles a tutu.  Every plant has a habit of growth. If you want your containers to have a little attitude, you must supply that yourself. This is to say that you are somewhat in charge of how things grow. Even this container of zinnias and petunias can be trimmed into a more formal shape without any loss of bloom.  If this is your style of planting, a little maintenance will go a long way.

If lush and profuse in the English style is your idea of a great look, I would pack your container with the verbena,  nicotiana, and dahlias mixed-but I would switch to a tall lax growing dahlia that you discreetly support with a tuteur.  The rod steel plant climber is this pot has competely disappeared from view.  Stake as little as possible.  Keep every asymetrically growing unexpected leaf that you can.  The lime licorice, if it is happy, will weave itself in and out of every other plant you have in a natural way.   The heliotrope will have to get leggy and rangy to keep up, and it may finally disappear in the jungle of other plants.  How an English-style cottage garden planting changes over the course of the season is part of its charm.  The big idea here-plant big plants, and enjoy how they relate to one another with a minimum of interference.  Bug-chewed leaves are welcome here.

If a container planting which is more architectural is your style, you need to ditch both the verbena and the nicotiana.  Neither one of them are particularly architectural plants-they are wispy, and move in the breeze.  Opt instead for a centerpiece plant with bold leaves and habit of growth, and key everything else to enhance that idea.  The peach dahlias would color compliment this dward striped-leaf canna pictured above in much the same way that the heuchera does.  The toffee colored grass is an unusual color, and sets off the canna leaves in a dramatic way.  There are only 3 plants here, instead of five-modern and contemporary style plantings ask for a restricted palette.

If very loose and meadow like is a style you appreciate, take all five plants, and plant them randomly, but in very different numbers.  10 verbena, three lime nicotiana, one dahlia, and equal numbers of heliotrope and lime licorice mixed will result in a random and casual, road-side weed like planting.  This planting with dwarf cleome, juncus white angelonia, euphorbia and petunias features a little bit of everything in a wispy way.  All of the leaves are small; all of the flowers are small and subtle. Euphorbia diamond frost does a great job of obscuring foliage, and imparting an airy and natural look to any container.  Were I to plant in this style, I would choose the euphorbia over the heliotrope. 

 Small containers can have just as much style as big ones.  I particularly like this table top pot-yellow potunias, lavender star verbena, and gold marjoram.  It has a great natural shape, interesting color, and relaxed styling, does it not?

Bright And Beautiful

I could be visually persuaded to like just about anything in terms of color.  I like white with anything.   All white is beautiful too.  I like pale and delicate.  I like moody. I like unexpected as much as I like subtle. I like green and more green.  I like sassy bright..   I have no pressure to edit my color choices; I have no two clients who would have the color part of their container and annual plantings the same.  How I love this.  One of the best parts of my job is the chance I get to explore lots of color relationships. This arrangement I did for a client in all sorts of shades of pink and red reflects their taste in color-I would call this vivid.      

If I am looking for vivid color, I have some favorite places to go.  Zinnias, dahlias, geraniums, petunias, solenia begonias, lantana, mandevillea-all of them represent brilliantly.  I am sure there is some science relating to the vivid colors of tropical plants.  But I am more interested in how color makes me feel.  Some color combinations electrify me-other color combinations leave me cold.  This has nothing to do with the particular color in question.  It has to do with how I respond to it. Everyone responds to color in a very personal and emotional way.  I often ask clients to give me 5 words that describe their favorite colors.  As always, figuring out what visually excites you is key to an annual planting that will come round to satisfy you.    

For those gardeners that have trouble editing, I have a few suggestions.  Think in terms of three colors, not one.  Should you like red, lime green will help that red look fiery. Red, hot pink and lime green is a color combination that really sizzles.  White added to this mix will make it look fresh.  The red nicotiana repeats the geranium red; this helps the color to read from a distance.  The lime and white keep the arrangement lively.  

I took this picture on a very hot and sunny July day.  The white in these containers and in the ground keeps everything fresh looking, without detracting from the overall impression of vivid color.Whita adds volume and visual punch.  Black sweet potato vine with this vista fuchsia petunia would have another effect altogether.     

All of the colors in this mix harmonize.  Imagine what a little white, and a little lime green would do here.  Every step has its own terra cotta pot.  Care has to be taken in choosing plants that will be happy all season long in a relatively small container.  Geramiums, trailing verbena, and mini-petunias do well in an enviroment like this.  Gold marjoram and gold oregano can provide a splash of lime green in small pots. 

This planting has been in no longer than a month.  All of the plants will soon burgeon over the edges; the Park Princess dahlias will bloom profusely, as will the pink mandevillea.  In the early stages, green is a predominant color in containers, as it should be.  Given a choice, I would plant before an annual is in full bloom; green plants seem to take hold and grow faster than plants in flower.   

Our annual plantings peak sometime in August, although many containers thrive well into the fall.  No matter what our summer turns out to be, there will be a noticeable change come labor day.  September is the beginning of a new season.  June, July and August-our summer months.  One year my containers lingered-I finally took them apart late in October as I was tired of taking care of them.  

Bright annual color can soften and warm up a cool terrace surface. This year, I am trying a cooler color scheme-three shades of lavender and purple-with a little pale yellow and white.  If you want to test a mix, pinch a few flowers and put them together.  Looking for a color that bridges purple and white, try a bicolor plant.  Bicolor angelonia, petunias, dahlias-there are lots of plants that are two colors in one.  million bells is one of my favorites.  It is a very strong grower, and the pink/white/lavender flowers make for good bridges in a color scheme. 

Bright color is entertaining; this makes it is a natural choice for those places where you want to entertain. Some quiet places in my garden-I would not so much want this much visual activity.  A bench a secluded spot in a shade garden might as for another scheme.    

The colors of the Solenia series of begonias-smashing.  I would consider mixing the pink, the rose pink, and the apricot.  Or maybe the orange, the apricot, and white. There are lots of choices for bright and beautiful.

The Greening Of Detroit


I sit on the board of the Greening of Detroit, although I never attend the commissioner’s meetings.  Meetings are not my long suit. I am much better in some other capacity.  My main contribution-I sponsor a garden tour every July to benefit the Greening.  Every dollar we take in from the sale of tickets goes to benefit their programs.  Sometimes I teach classes at the Eastern market. I help however I can. 

But back to the Greening-they have been planting trees, sponsoring urban farms, and teaching people how to grow in Detroit for the past 21 years.  They have been committed to the improvement of my city for a very long time.  Each and every one of them-friendly, engaging and focused.  I admire, and stand behind their misson, and their record.   Last week-a fund raiser dinner.  Every year Monica manages to persuade me to do the flowers-in early May, for Pete’s sake.  I protest, and then I do what I should do-help them.    This year- 26 fiber pots stuffed with pansies-each with their own banner.  Plant it, Detroit.

Dark And Dramatic

What makes dark leaved plants so irresistable?  Their relative rarity attracts the eye in an instant.  Of all of the thousands of green leaved plants in my garden, I have no plants with “other than green” leaves.  Were I to plant a red-leaved plant there, it would attract attention.  A red-leaved Japanese maple stands out from the crowd by virtue of its color alone-never mind that it is a tree with many virtues.  Red leaves can create excitement in a visually sleepy place; the color is unexpected.  Though I would not be inclined to indroduce red leaved plants into my landscape, I like them in containers.  These old red leaved spikes provide a dramatic accent to this grouping of pots.  The choice of lime licorice as an underplanting reflects my general rule-if I use dark leaved plants in a container, I stay away from green leaved companion plants.      

Once I make the decision to feature a plant with dark foliage, the supporting cast plants need be friendly to that color.  Lime licorice verges on yellow; inky fingers coleus has a deep purple ground, with just a hint of bright green on the edges.  Medium green and medium red make mud together.  I like sharp, crisp, delicate and dramtic color-no mud.  Big black foliage needs more black foliage to make a dramatic color statement.  The rim of bright green on this Inky Fingers coleus describes its small texture-it brings all of the color to life.  Medium green foliage in this container-thud.    

This red/black foliaged hibiscus is a very strong grower.  It can easily attain 6 feet in a single season.  The red and lime bicolor coleus and lime licorice light up that dark color from below.  I have thought on occasion to pair it with the big ruffly leaved farfugium; the contrast in texture would be great.  The red and green color combination I am reluctant to try.  Want an other than green foliaged scheme?  Follow through with every move you make.

I did make an exception in this case.  The strap leaved New Zealand flax, or phormium, is black leaved; perhaps there is a hint of brown.  The large, bright flower heads of the peach geraniums attract the eye; its great leaves fade away into the distance.  The violet petunias are so covered with blooms that the green foliage is scarcely visible.  This planting is dark and dramatic.

This large and black leaved canna is a boldly sensational plant.  It has great stature, texture, and mass-there is no missing it.  The red violet and lime yellow coleus Arizona Sunset repeats that dark foliage color in a different hue, and leavens it with lime.  The delicate and pale lavender petunias are a sharp contrast-all of that lavender brings out the purple in the canna leaves.  The flowers have all but obliterated any view of its green foliage.  

This centers of these canna leaves appear green when the sun shines through them. This made it fine for me to plant an olive green coleus with a red violet obverse next to it.  The red thread leaved alternanthera appears to darken as it matures-a large mass of red leaves traps light, rather than reflecting it.  The pink petunias and creeping jenny define the lower edge of the alternanthera mass.  Very dark foliage benefits from some lighter company-any other color than medium green, please.

Malabar spinach has very dark green leaves which are red violet on the reverse side.  The stems and knobby flowers are also dark red violet.  Though I love how it climbs to great heights in just one season, I also value that dark foliage.  Persian Shield and black sweet potato vine mirror that color quite well.  This pot was dark up 12 feet into the sky, and just as dark, down to the ground.  This made me think a big button of green-foliaged Red Sun zinnias would work.  

The very dark purple oxalis triangularis is one of my favorite plants.  That rich dark red violet leaf-so beautiful.  I especially like it with Solenia orange begonia.  Very little of the green leaves of the begonia are visible-this is a study in orange and dark red violet.  The varigated licorice is not your garden variety green-it looks as fresh as the description mint green suggests. The big idea here-should you choose to include dark foliaged plants in your landscape, garden, or containers, pay even more attention to the color you put with them.