A Color Scheme

I like to cart watch. During annual planting season, I am interested to see what plants people choose. I try to imagine what it is they are going for, as evidenced by the plants in their carts. Light and airy? Tropically intense? Textured? Moody? Exuberant? I could spot Rob’s cart in a greenhouse chock full of of them from four aisles away. There will be herbs, perennials, annuals that look like perennials, ferns, subtle colors, a touch of peach and pale limey white or pale yellow, grassy elements, self effacing shapes and unusual micro-textures. His cart will look much like a cross between a more measured version of road side weeds, and ingredients common to Mediterranean style cooking. If this sounds complicated, consider that I have been exposed to his work, and the evolution of his work, for decades. I know it when I see it. Some people shop plants with no rhyme or reason that I can determine. I am not a fan of no rhyme or reason, so I will skip over that.  Other gardeners shop plants with color as a primary organizing element-I would be one of those. Determining a color scheme for a collection of pots is one of the season’s great pleasures. I am embarrassed to say how much time I spend going over a color scheme for my pots at home, and the plants that can represent that.   We do on occasion get a request for a very specific color palette. In this case, a special event slated for August came with a request for pink and white flowers. Making that work is more difficult than you might imagine. There are many shades of pink, ranging from peachy pinks to blush and on to rose pink and carmine. Some pinks are dirty, and others ring clear as a bell. I am thinking of that classic medium pink petunias, “Cotton Candy”. The upshot is that there are many shades of pink to choose from. Take your pick. Shades of white are common in the house paint industry, but not so common in annual flowers. Porcelana roses, common in the cut flower trade, are quite creamy. Some white zinnias are creamy. White marigolds are decidedly on the yellow side. But most white seasonal annuals, from mandevillea, snapdragons, trailing verbena, supertunia white, New Guinea impatiens, and Boston daisies, are a fairly bright white. The variety will be driven by the shapes of the leaves and the growth habit of the plants, and various shades of pink. It certainly is easy enough to vary the volume of pink and white in a given container, but to plant a series of containers that stand out individually while guided by a restricted color scheme is an intriguing challenge.

No matter whether the planting project is big or small, I furnish my crew with a photo of the pot or area in question, and a planting scheme. Those sheets go in a waterproof envelope. That is their invention. A job site is known for equal parts of dirt, water, hands and boots. Those sheets provide some order and direction. A road map, as it were. There is no discussion of the shades of pink or the volume of white.  All of the design comes ahead of the planting. Years ago I used to accompany my crew to the job, and go over all of my design decisions in real time. To the last, my crew hated that. They made it known that I needed to make a call, and sign off –  so they can do their part, unimpeded by any hand wringing on my part. They want to go and fill pots with soil, grab the sheets, assemble the plants, plant, clean up and water. Do I have any empirical evidence that suggests that my second guessing myself resulted in better design? No.

I never go to a container installation anymore. I am unwanted, and my angst about the design is a huge bore.  Just ask my crews. So now I play my cards, mark up the sheets, hand them over, and stand pat. Of course I will not know whether my pink and white scheme will be beautiful, dynamic and enchanting for quite some time. The plants need to grow. But the pictures that come back to me via multiple cell phones during the installation and at the end of the day are a clue to the future. In my favor-it is hard to go wrong with plants. Those unloved plants can shine, given some inspired companionship. Rob is able to make marigolds look fresh and beautiful, despite their stiff plant habit and ball shaped flowers.

shrubby pink mandevillea and twister pink trailing verbena

planted container

shade container

kingwood coleus, pink and rose pink polka dot plant


variegated Algerian ivy topiary under planted with pink solenia begonias

This planting was beautifully executed. The ivy at the base of the topiary has been integrated in to the planting of begonias.

placing the plants

close to the finish

terrace planting


At day’s end, Birdie is watering. I have a theory that plants resent and are set back by the transplanting process. I think a good shower helps to wash some of that insult away.



  1. Always enjoy your posts!
    Question: the pink & white New Guinea(?) impatients – did you plant 50:50 white and pink, or looks like mostly white w a few pink?
    Looks great, wanted to know the appx ratio.
    Thank you

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear A, there is a white plant in between each of two shades of pink. A medium pink and a hot pink. best, Deborah

  2. Melissa A. says

    What a great post to read with my coffee! I love your containers and seeing these pretty inspiration photos! I went with pink and white this year too, but I have to pick my color scheme a bit differently…. I’m not good at picking flowers that go well together in containers, so I always look for some premade containers which I think are prettiest and then take my cues from them! This year I was able to find THREE (!) matching pink and white SHADE hanging baskets for my wraparound porch, planted with Ruckapulco Rose Double Impatiens, Diamond Frost Euphorbia, and pink polka dot plant! I couldn’t believe my luck! Then, found some matching sun containers with the Diamond frost, hot pink petunias, and a softer pink geranium (some sort of double flowering variety). I’m so thankful to have a great local garden center that partners with the best (and most creative) growers in the area!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Melissa, the diamond frost euphorbia in your first hanging basket is a full sun plant-not shade. But you’ll see how it does. The other plants will also appreciate more water than the diamond frost. I water ine very sparingly. best, Deborah

      • Melissa A. says

        Oh wow! I guess it got included because it says “sun to part shade” online (but it’s also in my full sun containers). I guess I’ll find out where it does best this year! Flowers are always an adventure! I will say, I remember a post you did a few years ago where a hot and dry summer was predicted so you planted zinnias. Well, I took that advice for a few places and containers that get a ton of hot sun and they did so well! I planted a bunch in full sun this year where my hose won’t reach!

  3. In addition to your beautiful planting designs…your writing is lovely and a joy to read.
    Thank you

  4. pam dixon says

    Your postings are always enjoyable but this one hit the mark! I am new to designing with color as a dahlia grower who was going for cut flowers, the last two years I have tried to make the beds more harmonious with companion plants. Lots of study of warm and cool colors and pleasing combinations. It’s lovely to think about and plan. Thank you for your help.

  5. Beautiful. What is going to climb in the sage green planters?

  6. Laurie Whelan says

    Thank you, your planters are awesome. A good shower goes a long way for us humans as well!

  7. Rob Beebe says

    It’s what goes on between bold statements that defines an horticultural artist. Nobody does that better than Deborah herself!

  8. Linda Riley says

    I want to come work for you guys. What a lovely and LOW stress job with a lot of pride on the side. The plantings and combinations you come up with are artsy and beautiful. I do try different combo plantings every year. This year my lettuce seeds were potted up with pink impatiens, the contrast is interesting and edible.
    Love all the pictures for all our challenging seasons here in the Great Lakes state. But there is no better place to be in the summer with all our greenery:)

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Linda, my crew makes it look effortless and stress-free, don’t they? best, Deborah

  9. Jennifer says

    Reading your posts, especially detailed ones like this about choices, methods and installation is pure joy to me. I read it on my phone and now will go to the computer so I can really see the photos. This makes me wonder, do you think you’ll do a Garden Cruise this summer? Fingers crossed ☝️

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jennifer, no garden cruise this year. We’ve done it 12 years. It won’t hurt a thing to take a breather. best to you, Deborah

  10. Silvia Weber says

    Dear Deborah, Very lovely. Amazing property. Hope they have good weather for their event in August. Your plantings will be drop dead gorgeous by then.
    BTW, I also look at people’s carts when annual shopping.
    Occasionally, I’m inspired.


    There are a lot of beautiful plants in isolated containers. How are they watered and who drags a hose around to them on a daily basis?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lanny, all the pots are hand watered. Every day until they establish, then every second or 3rd day depending on the weather. I have about 45 pots at home-I hand water mine too, after work. best, Deborah

  12. Dianne K. young says

    I would have never thought shades of pink could look so beautiful next to that huge mass of peachy brick. Your genius never fails to inspire. And your crew is amazing.

  13. lisa hansen says

    Hi Deborah,
    Wondering what the arc of tall green trees are that are behind Birdie in the last picture when she is watering the newly planted flowers? Everything is so beautiful here!

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