Bold And Beautiful

I cut this picture out of a magazine years ago-would that I could say I had designed this.  White washing tree trunks has its roots in agriculture.  Lime wash was used to prevent sunscald on ornamental and fruit trees.  Grape vines were frequently lime washed to discourage fungal problems and pests.  Kaolin, a type of clay used as a base for face powder, would be sprayed on the trunks and undersides of the leaves of fruit trees, though this has proved largely ineffective against insects and disease.  Agriculture aside, the painting of these tree trunks set in a pattern of boxwood is visually arresting-bold.      

I workede for a landscape designer in the 1980’s-Al Goldner.  He once told told me his one regret regarding his career was that he had not been bold enough. As in bold design.  Bold textures.  Bold color.  Bold curves.  Confident moves.  Bold thinking.  I remember this about him more than anything else-his committment to visually striking design. 

Boldly textured leaves make an emphatic statement.  The calocasia leaves holding forth over the skinny legs of this antique faux bois planter-the invention of my client.  She has an instinct for boldly textured and dramatic containers.  Black calocasia and phormium are plants perfectly capable of a bold visual delivery.  There is nothing subtle about them but for the color. This planting is about bold forms and relationships. 

Espaliered trees are a form of growing and pruning that I greatly admire.  What is so bold about these American hornbeams was the idea to bend the leader over at the pergola roof line.  I am sure this shape was established at a very early stage in the lives of these trees.  A bold vision of what would be many years later drove this planting.  By this time the trees probably have no need of the pergola for support and guidance.  One could imagine that the pergola could be removed, and the shape represented entirely by the trees. 

This garden calendar is bold all right.  The size is competely unexpected.  Ordinary plants in unexpectedly small or large sizes attract interest.  An overscaled element in a garden properly done can be a bold gesture. A single big idea makes a bigger impact than many little ideas clamouring for attention.        

 Amaranthus is bold in both form and color.  Small intimate spaces can suddenly acquire a romantic atmosphere with one rose in a small vase.  Big spaces may need bold gestures to create an atmosphere.  A single rose in a large room with many people will seem lukewarm and lackluster. A big part of making a bold statement in a landscape is getting the scale right.        

This green man medallion hand cast by Phillip Thomason on one of his modern coadestone boxes is a sculptural marvel.  Phillip Thomason may be is premier pot maker of the 21st century.  His works rarely come to market.  His commissions are many-get in the queue.  This hand made box could easily organize an entire landscape.  The face is boldly modelled; the features are distinct, even from a distance.   

This 1950 Dodge Coronet woodie is as bold as can be.  The shape, the abundance of chrome, the color,  size and the styling-all bold.  It looks big enough to hold enough to hold a decent sized event. Heavy and strong enough to protect its occupants. Automotive designers are not just concerned with safety and efficiency, but great style.  This vintage station wagon-a sculpture on wheels.   

This rare and massive cast iron tank would be a bold addition to a landscape.  It has battleship like proportions, but very graceful lines.  It would come with a very bold price-much more than the original price of the Dodge Coronet pictured above.  Luckily bold design has almost nothing to do with price.  Everyone has seen landscapes that look like they cost a lot of money and have little to show for it.  Will I buy the iron tank?  I am thinking about. 


It was a bold urban planner who made the decision to line this street not far from me with London planes.  What a welcome relief they are from the standard Norway or silver maples. They seem incredibly healthy, given that these giant trees  are constrained on both sides by cement.  The maples in my neighborhood all show signs of stress from girdling roots, not to mention the sidewalk sections that are lifted off grade by their roots.  I would not have thought London planes would make great street trees, but this bold move seems to be working. 


There are plenty of choices, should bold flowers appeal to you.  Dahlias-the showgirls of the flower world.  In that same vein, add in hardy hibiscus, delphiniums, bearded iris, giant alliums and oriental lilies. Bold flowers planted as hedges-very bold.  Someday I will have an opportunity to plant a long thick hedge of hardy hibiscus.      



Topiary evergreens have bold shapes. This simple planting in a lead box, set in a paving arrangement scaled to celebrate that box may not be moving or romantic, but it certainly is handsome.

This pair of white glazed French pots make a spectacularly bold and elegantly formal statement. All of those cut delphiniums in one place took my breath away.  There was no need for any other flowers. 

 dolly tubs

All of these vintage dolly tubs lined up on a terrace with i gallon size chartreuse dawn redwoods, or tomatoes, or dwarf horsetails  in them-every bit as bold as as that embarassment of riches in delphinium.  Bold is as bold does.


  1. Deborah, your first photo makes me think of “The Painted Forest” here in Chicago — see Bold!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Priscilla, thanks for this link-wow! Very bold indeed. Seeing things like this turns me and all I have ever known and been accustomed to up side down. Good medicine, this. Provocative, oh yes. Thanks, Deborah

  2. Oh good! I’m a longtime reader who has learned so much from your essays.

    Maybe someday you’ll write about artificial elements in a garden. My eyes were opened a few years ago by this article about Michael Onesko’s garden: . One photo showed a closeup of a weeping conifer in the garden he made as a memorial to his sister, including the rhinestones he glued to the branches, like tears. I would never have thought that glued-on anything would be appropriate in a garden, but it was lovely and stuck with me.

    What will stick with me from this post — the amaranth! Stunning.

  3. Woodie, hot dahlia and a cast iron trough… Best post ever.

  4. I should be more bold also. In most ways. This also made me think of one of your older posts- when you painted grass white to make winding walkways for a party. At the time it was a “wow” moment for me, I had never seen anything like it. When I just revisited that post ( from 9-21-09), it still has that enduring effect for me. Bold is memorable. Thank you.

  5. London Plane trees were the standard street trees around here at the beginning of the 20th century. They are big and bold(although I like the American Sycamore as bigger and bolder), but when they get old they tend to hollow and drop large branches onto the street and unsuspecting cars parked at parking meters!

    • Deborah Silver says

      These trees looked great-from the outside! The maples in my neighborhood worry me. They have been neglected.

  6. I live on a short street with typical 1990’s builder-quality houses. Narrow planting beds jammed up against house, rubble under the soil; you know the score. But: sycamores were planted around 2000 and now they are gorgeous. They are giant and gorgeous and make the too-big houses on too-small lots look less silly and they transform the street with their dappled shade. I forgive you builder. Thank you, Deborah for your writings; I’ve learned a lot from you.

  7. Dear Deborah, I have just spent the last hour engrossed reading your beautiful and extremely informative blog! I stumbled upon it through a pin on Pinterest…your knowledge and expertise in the fine art of gardening is very impressive and that you so generously share all your wonderful insight even more so! It has made my afternoon on the coach recuperating from a hospital visit so much more acceptable….thank you so much…I have bookmarked your blog and will be a regular visitor..N.

  8. Paul Harvey says

    Deborah. Did you buy the massive iron trough ?
    I’d like to buy one just like that right now.
    Let me know if you can help please

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Paul, this trough was sold a long time ago-sorry. I will post what we get in this spring-we are expecting several containers in about a month. best, Deborah

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