Leaves Other Than Green

Just like you, I understand that the green color of leaves has everything to do with the presence of chlorophyll.  There are those dark green leaves.  There are those lime green leaves.  I want to say the amount of chlorophyll governs the appearance of that green, but I may be making that up.  Some plants have leaves with color other than green.  This Florida Sweetheart caladium-the leaves are shockingly pink.  A clear pink.  The color possibilities that this plant enables in a shady spot are many. 

white caladiums

I am both surprised and not surprised that I do not see more gardeners using them for seasonal color.  I do have clients that insist they want flowers, not colorful leaves.  I have no answer to that-it is a matter of taste.  But from a design perspective, caladiums provide an opportunity for a big splash of color that is constant throughout the summer season.  I suspect another reason why I do not see them much is that they require a lot of heat to grow well.  This means that gardeners in my zone who plant in mid or late May may not see caladiums available for sale.  My grower’s caladiums are just getting good-this third week of June.   

green and white caladiums
Caladiums are incredibly tolerant of shade.  If impatiens or wax begonias make you want to yawn, caladiums are refreshingly different, and quite splashy.  4 plants in one of my deck boxes last summer were the size of a small shrub by summer’s end.  A 4th of July trip to see a friend in Kalamazoo last year included a trip to a greenhouse.  I bought a suburban load of caladiums, most of which were varieties I had never seen.  I did persuade my grower to try some this year-they are just now coming into their own.
 white caladiums

Any client who tells me they need white flowers, as opposed to the color white might tempt me to call school into session.  White is white-no matter whether than color is represented by wax begonias, non stop begonias, angelonia, cosmos, cleome, dahlias, -or white leaved caladiums.  Amazingly, I saw 4 giant planters full of this all white caladium-in full sun, on a city plaza.  There was not so much as a single scorch mark.  I have not had the nerve to try this at home, as many plants lacking chlorophyll will burn if exposed to too much direct light.  


I realize that almost all of the seasonal plants that are available for me to plant are tropical, as in native to tropical locales.  But some remind me of of their exotic origins more than others.  I have clients for whom I plant bananas, alocasias and calocasias, though I would not want them in my own garden.  They seem so blatantly out of place in my Michigan garden.  But caladiums are more subtly splashly, given their smaller mature size.   


 They have a cool, watery, and juicy look.  As they thrive in the heat, they always look fresh.  If they get too dry, they protest dramatically by falling over.  I like plants that do not make a mystery of what it is they need to be happy.

pink and green caladiums

Caladium leaves are medium to large, and beautifully shaped.  It seems to me that so many more cultivars are available now than what used to be.  But should caladiums simply not appeal to you, there are other seasonal plants with colorful leaves from which to choose.

polka dot plant

The polka dot plants-there are those green and white cultivars.  There is a pale pink, and a hot pink.  The plants are fairly short-they may grow to 12 or 15 inches tall.  They respond well to pinching.

coleus Freckles

There are many varieties of coleus.  I am especially fond of those whose leaves feature bright and clear color.

green coleus

This subtly colored olive and dark carmine variety whose name I do not know is what I cal a chamaeleon plant.  Its coloration changes in appearance depending on its neighbor. 

coleus and caladiums

coleus chocolate mint

Coleus Chocolate mint is aptly named.  It is great looking with just about every other color.

multicolored coleus.jpg

This multi colored variety I hear tell wants full sun.  When I run into a plant that I am not familiar with, I like to try it at the shop or at home before I plant it for someone else. 

We’ll see how it works out-bullseye geraniums, and this fingerling coleus.

A Day In The Life

planting annual containers

I am still out with my crew planting the flowers non-stop.  It will be close to 80 projects, once all is said and done.  The work of getting ready to plant is grueling-the design, shopping, loading, unloading, emptying out old soil and adding fresh.  A good many of these jobs take upwards of 5000 pounds of soil.  Every plant that gets planted is placed by me.  I may make a change in a design, faced with the actual plants and the actual containers.  A plan is a guide.  So extra plants get taken along, should they need to be called into service.

This planting is 40 minutes away from me, in a remote location down a dirt road, on a small lake.  I did the landscape for this new house probably 8 years ago.  The annual planting is not a particularly large or elaborate one.  What make the job such a pleasure is a chance to spend some time in a landscape that is getting some age on it.

The perennial gardens are fairly wild.  Only the strongest plantshave prevailed-the soil is very sandy, the care is casual, and the wildlife is active.  My client is a business owner who loves the garden, but in a different way.  He likes that some plants have grown together, that other plants have receded. He likes that very casual cottage look. A large deer population keepsd his evergreens skirted up-especially in winters where the snowcover is deep.

I find its overgrown and unfussed over appearance very relaxing and serene.  It has evolved into a landscape that is more wild than not.  I find it has that rural French look that Rob photographs over and over again when he is abroad.

We plant lots of verbena bonariensis and cosmos in the areas where wild daisies have colonized.  We don’t touch the climbing roses, climbing hydrangeas, clematis or Boston ivy. 

shrub roses

A steep slope in the back is planted with grasses and shrub roses.  The path to the rear large is a large and simple swath of field grass.  By this I mean the grass has violets, clover, and all manner of other short growing green plants that do not mind a mower.

The stone staircase pictured on the right is the only safe way to get to the lake, although I can imagine sledding down this hill in the winter.  The landscape at the lake is what nature put there to begin with.  This is one of the quietest places I have ever been.  That alone makes this planting trip a pleasure.


Most of the pots we plant are fiber pots, which we replace yearly.  In a month, the pots will not be visible, for the planting.  Flowers will cascade over the balcony.


This 19th century coadestone pot made by Doulton (now the Royal Doulton china company in England) became the centerpiece of this fountain.  It is lined with a waterproof plastic container, into which we place a collection of water plants.

Boston ivy

The changes of grade are a challenge for moving plants and soil around, but they offer beautiful views of the lake. It will be a while before these pots look like much.  But this is a job which is a pleasure to plant. To be here is a lot more than work.  It is an experience I look forward to every year. 





Almost done.




Contemporary Container Plantings

mirror in the garden

I do have clients whose taste in furnishings, art, architecture, design, and landscape is thoroughly contemporary.   Thoroughly contemporary? What that means exactly is subject to endless discussion and interpretation.  But I find as long as I devote the lion’s share of my attention to form, shape, mass, volume, color and texture in a simple, even austere way, I will be well on my way with a contemporary landscape.  Contemporary container plantings?  I don’t know exactly what I mean by this, but they are much more about the abstract elements of design, and only lastly about the plants.         

contemporary concrete planter

This very simple vintage concrete contemporary bowl is placed so it intersects with the boxwood.  This gesture is much more about creating a certain emotional tension between a living plant and an object.  This gesture has an edge.  The choice of container and the placement are critical to a planting with a contemporary feeling. 

contemporary container planting

I planted it with cirrus dusty miller, and succulents all of the same color, but with very different textures.  The planting is in a spiral pattern-definitely out of the round of the container.  The planting features the dirt – the empty space – as much as it does the plants.

 contemporary gardens

This pair of tire planters are planted with flowers of very different size and habit.  The red leaved America canna was underplanted with red threadleaf alternanthera.  The Caliente geraniums are the same series of plants, with the same growth habit, in a mix of dark red and bright orange.

contemporary container plantingA A long curved bed is planted with red cordyline-spikes.  In traditional plantings, a spike might be the centerpiece of a pot.  Here they are planted in rows, like crops.  A dark pennisetum of similar color but different texture is planted in the same pattern.  To finish, black red sweet potato vine.  The monochromatic color scheme is dramatic, but austere.   The planting is more about the shape of the bed, and an unexpected mass of color, than it is about the individual plants.   

An utterly simple concrete bowl is planted a larger version of that red cordyline.  Each plant was deliberately planted straight up and down.  Had the outer plants been turned out to the side, the result would have been vaguely reminiscent of a topiary sphere-a very traditional shape in the garden.  The interior is planted with black sweet potato.  I’ll see how that grows, and what it does.  I might intervene, and shape that vine, or I might never touch it. 

elegant feather

These tall simple concrete pots encircled by snakes make quite a statement, planting or no.  I filled them with elegant feather grass.  This plant will grow straight up and skyward.  That long look is a compliment to the shape of the pot.  The relationship of the container to the planting is especially important in contemporary plantings.   

millet "Flashlights"

This mid century modern fiberglass and concrete container is home to a mass planting of the millet “Flashlights”.  Its vertical habit will not obscure the interesting shape of the container. 

dark foliaged heuchera

The dark leaved heucheras are moody.  This ruffly variety has a deep purple obverse.  Those curly leaves make the subtle vertical lines of the pot much more visually important.  This cylinder is not really round. It is a subtle approximation of round. It is comprised of many straight sections joined together-so say all of those curly leaves.   


These succulents on stalks have an exotic, and otherworldly appearance.  Baby versions of the same plant carpet the bottom of a very detailed black cast iron planter I would guess is the work of Carl Milles when he was at Cranbrook. 

contemporary garden containers

This concrete container with a roller coaster edge gets a lime planting-angelina, gold marjoram, and some tropical succulent whose name I do not know.  I imagine it will have a very lively texture once it is grown in.

red foliaged plants

The red cordylines and threadleaf alternantera have an entirely different appearance in a sunny location.  Will I keep the alts trimmed?  I can’t tell yet. 

planting contemporary containers

This is a container planting of a different sort-as it should be.  Any garden should reflect the taste and sensibility of the governing gardener.  That is the best part of a garden-you get to be the guv, and you get to be surprised by what nature has in store for your efforts.  I will be interested to see what the future holds for this planting.












Green And Graceful

planting annual containers

My work life from 4:30 am until 6 pm every day this time of year is all about planting the containers and annual flowers.  Lots of them, for lots of clients.  The 90 degree weather we had a few weeks ago has eveything believing that the summer season is already half over.  The weather is perfect and warm-where are you??  The saving grace of this very short, pressure packed, and intense season is the opportunity to get up close and focus on container plants.  This year, I have taken a big fancy to the euphorbia cultivar known as Diamond Frost.  This utterly drought resistant and casually airy white blooming annual plant makes all of the more glaringly stiff growing annual plants look better.  More graceful.   

planting summer containers

This client likes green above all.  All of the forms and textures of green.  White is good.  This year, the plantings have moved away from obviously tropical plants like agave.  The look is softer, more ferny. The Belgian boxes set around the fountain began with 3-D silver osteospermum-planted all around a centerpiece of cardoons.  I know cardoons border on that strikingly architectural look, but the daisies will help tone that down.  Frilly white petunias,  scotch moss and variegated licorice completed the planting in these boxes.  To loosen up the entire planting-each box got 4 diamond frost euphorbias.     

planting containers

A terrace can easily represent a garden.  A gardener’s point of view.  In this terrace garden, woven wirework furniture, antique stone and vintage English faux bois pots, green painted Belgian boxes and a striking 19th century American cast iron fountain have green company of the most sublte sort. The Diamond Frost euphorbia will add a little froth to the mix. 

green plants in containers
This landscape is formal, and restrained.  Though the architecture of the house is strongly reminiscent of 19th century Nantucket, my client has no problem interpreting the landscape to suit her own tastes.  This garden is about a person, not about a building.   I greatly admire her love of green plants.  I am sure that someday I will tire of all the color, and plant a green scheme at home.  Just like hers. 

window boxes

The plantings in the pool garden has a bit more color.  The color of the water in a pool asks for a little stronger color from the flowers, unless the pool interior is black.  There are no succulents in these window boxes this year.  Just subtly colored petunias, the enchanted euphorbia, white variegated thyme and lavender, bicolor angelonia, silver dichondra, and purple variegated sage.  Soft, airy, loose.

germander on standard

I have wintered her topiary plants for better than 10 years now.  This means some of them are casting considerable shade.  This year, a wild European ginger covers the soil in the shade of this old silver germander topiary.  The mass of the ginger and its silver variegation makes a lovely contrast to the fine textured germander. 

trailing plectranthus

The bed under this dogwood is planted thickly with green and white variegated spreading plectranthus.  It fits in so comfortably with the whitewashed brick, the white garden furniture, and the single pink roses.   This plectranthus can soften the toughest spot-consider it. The leaves are large, and fuzzy.  Though its stems are quite strong, it has an informal habit.  Though I primarily use it in containers, it makes an unusual, and unusually beautful annual bedding plant.  

bay trees on standard

This double ball bay topiary is 15 years old.  The Belgian box has been finished in marine varnish.  This is a lakeside home that gets all manner of bad weather off the lake.  All of the painted and stained wood surfaces facing the lake get yearly attention. The age and the look of of this topiary is timeless.  There is no need, nor is there any room, to underplant.        

plant texturesll
This is a planting that requires lots of old topiaries brought out of storage.  Many of the container planting has to do with what covers the soil.What did I underplant this old gardenia topiary with?  White polka dot plant, that will be sheared flat.  The left hand container is planted with white dwarf casmos and cleome, and edged all around with dward papyrus.    

annual planting

The playhouse garden is planted with white New Guinea Impatiens, and perfume white nicotiana.  I like height –  I like a mix of plants in an annual beds, unless it is a very contemporary planting.

isotoma fluvialitis

An old and overgrown boxwood hedge was removed from the terrace last year.  A larger pool suround fabricated in steel was installed and painted.  My favorite part of this garden?  The picture frame of isotoma fluvialitis that breaks up a very large expanse of terrace.  It was in full bloom the day I went to plant-a perfect moment. 

Venus dogwood
Last Summer we added a group of Venus dogwoods to this boxwood enclosed rose garden.  In a few years, those white flowering trees will make a spectacular something of this old and beautiful circle of boxwood.  This is a garden that is viewed from far away; it needed some trees.    The bed outside the boxwood was planted with cirrus dusty miller, and white Russian petunias. This planting day was a very good day indeed.  The Diamond Frost euphorbia will make themselves right at home here.