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.



  1. To die for gorgeous. I love the contrast of the vivid color and curves against the formal green garden.

  2. Your container designs are really fabulous, Deborah! And I love the shapes, sizes and colors of all the containers. No wonder you are so busy at this time of year. Thanks for the insights and inspiration!

  3. So beautiful! I thought a lot about you when I was doing my annual containers this year! I did some totally new things and (at least attempted to) mixed warm and cool tones like you do so well. I am especially glad to see you mix pink and red! I did a lot of that this year. In my window boxes I mixed red, white, and pink geraniums with pink petunias, blue verbena, blue laurentia, and yellow lantana right in the middle. Hopefully it’ll work. I think there’s a chance my neighbors will think I developed a drug problem over the long winter when everything grows into full bloom. But I wanted max color! If they end up looking good, I will send you photos. If they don’t, I’ll just get my mums early. As I was looking at real French country gardens, there seemed to be such a mix of outrageous color that reads so happy and lighthearted. That’s what I was going for.

  4. Erica McKoane says

    Deborah, I think the fact that in our Midwest area we are color starved come spring makes it all the more rewarding creating spots of color around our homes and yard. I love the large urn of one color begonia; you know that creeping Jenny is going to break free soon and give it an extra elegance! Love it all!! Thanks for continued inspiration!!

  5. What fun to see and read about!! Each of your posts is a wonderful gift. I am moving into a new house and have not had time to create any pots. Thanks to you Deborah, on this glorious summer day, I’m going to leave those unpacked boxes and head to my favorite nursery today. Thank you for your continuing inspiration!

  6. debra phillips says

    pink and orange are a huge favorite here, ala lily pulitzer, alas, many clients do not share that love. yours are stunning!
    are you keeping the mandevilla on the wooden supports from the nursery deborah? we destroy far too much in the removal process

    love to hear you call this time “hell month” as i have always concurred! here in zone 5 we are finished, finally!

  7. Mama had a term for the first few containers in this post: “They Clash Beautifully!”

  8. Over the top, Love it !

  9. Deborah,
    I smiled when I saw this post,the colors and combinations of the plants. You kept me sane thru last year’s winter. Thanks

  10. Jill Banfield says

    I love seeing your posts. Your wisdom and knowledge are so exciting. You are coming to my house on July 8 and I can’t wait! I’ve just figured out what is wrong with one of my pots from reading this post.

    Thanks Deborah!

  11. Ruth Wolery says

    You amaze me with your beautiful landscaping and plantings.

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