41 Pots

We have a few clients with large numbers of containers to plant. We were scheduled to switch over the summer season to the fall for one of those clients. We removed all of the summer plantings, potted up the topiary plants that would be stored until next season, and replanted for fall.  41 pots and boxes. The entire day prior David and I collaborated on fall centerpieces for this client. I design, and he constructs them in such a way that makes his arrangements better than the sum total of the materials. Hew goes way beyond the materials, in his own way. This is a way of saying that he is gifted.  We talk it over in a language I suspect few could understand. Our fall centerpieces have a loosely intended overall shape that he puts together one bunch, and one layer at a time. I decide what plants go with those centerpieces, to a point. A drawing on paper is a vastly different scenario than the on site reality.   David decided to add the variegated carex you see in the boxes above. That gesture introduced a graceful and less formal element to the mix of mums and cabbage. The texture of the small grass is a striking contrast to the large broad leaves of the cabbage. That grass now plays a major role in the composition.

I encourage my crew to participate in the design process. If and when they do, they take ownership of the project. And that is what makes a project good. I make a concerted effort to teach them as much as I can about planting and arranging. Every one of them to the last has been listening.  At the end of the prep day, they all loaded plants and soil. They had all that they needed from me. The installation was their day. This morning, in the heat of the final load up, I told Karen: “You got this. Send me pictures at the end of the day.” To follow are those pictures.  I could not be more pleased about the work they did.

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A collection of pots makes it possible to develop an idea in a more complete way. This planting makes much of texture and mass. All the color is measured. There are rare days when I wish I had one pot to plant and tend instead of 38, but when I see them all grown in, the ongoing pleasure of it all is significant. I am certain everyone who participated in this project was swept up in and enjoyed the process of bringing it to life. How so? They told me so.

At A Glance: A Collection of Fall Pots

To follow is an embarrassing number of pictures of fall pots from previous seasons. For those of you who have seen some of these before, I hope seeing them a second time is warranted.  I actually like to look at all the fall container pictures as I am about to start the current crop of pots. It is much easier to spot what could be done better in a photograph, than looking at it in person. I cannot really explain why that is. Maybe putting a camera between me and the work enables me to step back. I hope you enjoy them.

We started the plantings in earnest today. Looking forward to the season.

Decoration

What is decoration? The dictionary says it is something that is added to something else to make it more attractive. As awkward as this might sound, I think this sums it up rather well. It is indeed a certain special and personal something added to an ordinary something. Others say it is the act of adorning, embellishing or honoring. A one word description of decoration might be ornamentation. All manner of living creatures decorate their home, nest or self with the idea of attracting a potential mate. From the most simple to the most sophisticated level, people decorate. Many decorate their homes for specific holidays. Bakers decorate cakes based on an expression for special occasion. Some people hang bunting in celebration of the 4th of July. Some fashion houses embroider over a selected fabric, for beauty’s sake. Those of us who wear glasses welcome the opportunity to wear a beautiful pair of glasses. Everyone decorates the place where they live to make is more personal and pleasing. That decoration may take the form of paint, furniture, flooring, art, hardware, rugs-the list of decorative elements from which to choose is long. Anyone who wishes to decorate has not only hundreds of years of precedence, but also an astonishing range of choices.

Where am I going with this? Gardeners plant trees, shrubs and perennials. They dig beds, and plant. We all plant for different reasons.  Some need a place to sit in the shade. Others like to grow vegetables. Some plant in a way friendly to their kids, or their age. Others favor a landscape that is friendly to company. But no doubt a good bit of planting that gardeners do has to do with an expression of beauty. Decorating a container with plants is a satisfying way to celebrate the season.

The meaning of beauty is far too wide a topic for me to address. I find it tough to write about what constitutes beauty, as everyone’s opinion is different. Maybe the best part of beauty is the process by which people create it.  Most gardeners have an idea of what constitutes beauty in the garden, and they plant towards that. Gardens of great age are gardens that have evolved, as nothing in a garden ever stands still.  Any planting needs to be appropriate to the location and the existing conditions. That is a given. But what lies beyond the given?

A beautiful celebration of the fall season is enchanting. Anyone who chooses to plant their containers for fall have months of beauty ahead of them. The opportunity for creating beauty exists in all of our gardening seasons. Planting containers for fall comes just in time to let go of the waning summer plants.

I am a big fan of the ornamental cabbage and kale for fall containers. They tolerate the late summer and early fall heat, and they endure the coming of the cold. Cool weather initiates a brilliant coloration in the leaves. The kale pictured above will eventually sport leaves of turquoise, purple and cerise pink.  I have had ornamental cabbage and kale looking great in to January. Our crop this year is exceptional.

Container plantings are quite unlike garden and landscape installations. They express the beauty of the moment.

cabbage “Rosebud”

cabbage, kale and broomcorn

Redbor kale

welcome to fall.

Planting The Summer Pots

The day I go home to plant my pots for summer is a happy day indeed. I like planting my containers at home. But more importantly, it means that all of my client’s pots are done. Being last in line has its advantages. There is time to mull over a scheme. Having scouted and purchased plants for a number of projects, I take stock of what plants are out there that look interesting. Rob buys plants for the greenhouse at the shop. I shop my own shop too. A trip to pick up some trees for a landscape project may net an especially good looking specimen of an ornamental grass. When buying perennials for a garden, the future of that plant is primary. When buying perennials for containers, a handsome and well grown specimen makes that container planting look all the better. And there is time to think over the pots from last year. Surprisingly, the perennials, shrubs and trees in last year’s pots proved to be one of my favorite plantings ever. The plants grew much more than I thought they would. And the green color scheme proved to be a relaxing and refreshing change from flowers. I was inclined to try a new version of that idea.

We did plant containers well into July this year.  Part of that is routine.  Many of my clients have us plant spring pots.  In a good year, they are good into July. This year, very cold and rainy weather suited those spring pots just fine. But for those awaiting their first container planting of the season, the cold and the rain was very tough to take. Clients were not the only unhappy people. Growers had to run their heat longer than they wanted to. The gray skies meant none of the seasonal plants were growing much. The daily relentless rain kept people away.

The tropical plants we did put into containers in late May had a tough time of it. Most of them are native to hot climates. They have a strong distaste for cold soil. Some were puny to begin with.  Not that we lost any plants. But they sat there, and didn’t grow. Unhappy plants takes with wind out of a summer container planting. The pots we planted in June were better. The pots we planted later in June took off growing almost immediately.  My plants?  I had been collected them over the course of 6 weeks.  They sat in the shop greenhouse, under Karen and Chelsea’s watchful eye. On a 60 degree day, that greenhouse would be 80 degrees inside. The tropical plants were flourishing in that environment.

These pots were planted July 7. The plants had put on a tremendous amount of growth, not being planted in my pots. They were not root bound either. The cool May and June kept the root growth slow, and by the time the warm weather finally got here, they were ready to put on a substantial amount of top growth. Especially grateful for the time in a warm greenhouse were the caladiums. They sit and sulk until the weather truly warms up. Planted out in cool soil, they may even lose ground. The variegated scented geranium column pictured above spent the winter in a greenhouse. Brought to the shop, and placed outdoors, it blew over and out of its pot a number of times.  Once placed in our greenhouse, it began to grow. The tarantula shaped succulent in the bottom of the olive jar was purchased for a client who liked the hairy beast. I knew we would be left with the rest of them. I like finding homes for left over plants.  It is a challenge to make them work. And I am exposed to plants I would otherwise have passed by.

Did I like having empty containers until July? It was not half bad. Planting pots non stop for clients in the busiest part of our season did not make me long to come home to more container fussing and watering. It is not a time of year to relax in the garden and putter. It is a time to wash my hands and face, and unwind. I walk right by these containers with barely a glance, and sit in the shade next to my fountain pool. I have no scientific evidence to prove the following, but I feel annual plants that go in later in the spring and early summer can prosper into October.

There are some issues to address with a late planting.  These Kimberly ferns can take a good deal of sun providing they get enough water, but they have been grown in the shady part of the greenhouse.  I will cover these with floating row cover for a week or so. This will give them time to adjust to a drastic uptick in the amount and quality of light.

Some annual plants, notably petunias, can get leggy if left in a small container too long. Combining upright white with trailing white petunias helps to mitigate the look of those legs.

This umbrella pine spent the summer in this very pot last summer. That means stashing it somewhere for the winter, as this plant is not really hardy in my zone. It spent the winter inside my my landscape building without heat or light, and seemed to tolerate this treatment just fine. It is possible to take perennials and shrubs out of containers in the fall, plant them in the ground, and mulch them well. In ground planting in Deptember will allow a little time for new roots to form. What kills plants that go in the ground late is the ground heaving in the spring.  As frost comes out of the ground, that heaving action can literally pitch plants up and out of the ground.

Zinnias become very root bound in 4″ pots.  They are big growing plants, and they grow fast. Though they are difficult to handle once they get tall, it is amazing how readily they will root into a container and keep on growing. Other summer annuals are not so obliging in this regard. If it is a plant that you must have, a little judicious pruning of the top might encourage new growth. If the roots have grown around and around in a circle, some untangling or ripping could be beneficial. But plants do have a shelf life. Whenever I shop for plants, I will gently knock the plant out of its pot to see if there is a good root system. Plants that have been repeatedly over watered can have compromised root systems.  Rotted roots means a plant cannot absorb any water, no matter how much is available.

Let the summer begin.