Choosing Containers

Strictly speaking any object that can hold soil and permit water to drain away constitutes a container. The choices are infinite, really. A container planting that considers the size, shape and style of the container as an essential part of the overall effect is especially beautiful to my eye. A choice of container represents a gardener’s point of view as much as the plants they choose. If a cottage garden, and the notion of farm to table enchants you, then a collection of vintage pails, washtubs and crates planted up with flowers and herbs will help to make that point of view visually stronger. If the architecture of your home is clean, crisp and contemporary, then pots of that ilk will look right at home.

If a whiff of history is your idea of a great fragrance, then antique or reproduction antique pots will serve your point of view well. If a planting that flows over the edges of a pot all the way to the ground represents your style and and sense of beauty, then go for simple containers that afford plenty of planting square footage for your sprawling plants. This is all by way of saying that taking the time and effort to find containers that strongly appeal to your aesthetic and style of gardening is time well spent. An enthusiasm for your containers is infectious. It will not only inspire your design and choice of plants, but it will be an insistent call to keep your plantings healthy and growing.

Choose containers that are suited to their placement. Pots on the front porch need to be proportional to the size of the porch an entry way. Front porch pots and plantings that compliment the architecture and can be seen from the sidewalk are welcoming. Pots on an outdoor dining terrace should be scaled such that the plantings are near eye level to seated guests. Containers that screen an untoward view get a leg up from some extra height and width. A container on an outdoor dining table should be low enough to encourage conversation back and forth. A container set in the landscape needs to have sufficient size and interest to stand out, and command attention. A great pot can provide a little pomp and circumstance to an awkward garden transition.

I recommend containers with substantial planting area. A decent amount of dirt space means an idea about color, texture, mass and contrast can be thoroughly explored. This is not to say that a tall oval glazed pot with room only for one 8″ pot can’t carry the day. It can. It is the gardener that has to choose the pot that best represents the style they wish to convey. I like lots of room, so I can put together a collection of seasonal plants that have enough room to grow up together, interact, and shine. Big containers mean a big soil mass. Large pots make it easier to maintain a sufficient moisture level throughout the heat of the summer. A pot that will forgive you if you are late taking up the hose is a pot worth having. Small pots that need water several times a day would not work for me. I work long days, and coming home to a container whose plants are flopped over from lack of water makes my stomach churn. Water stressed plants stress me. Big pots?  Bring them on.

Knowing the gardener in you through and through should inform your choice of pots. A beautiful pot is a sculpture that invites the addition of plants to complete its beauty. Or not. A beautiful pot, sitting empty in a landscape, can be breathtaking. Great pots can be addressed by a gardener any number of ways. But no matter the planting or the not planting, that pot is an ornament for the garden that should be a treasure.

A collection of great pots can be had all at once, or assembled over a period of time. Some great pots are inherited, or come from a county flea market. Others have been stowed away in a shed, unused, for years. Still others can be repurposed from a kitchen or barn. The pots pictured above are made from recycled tires.

Recycled containers, especially those made from galvanized metal, are a favorite of Rob’s. They are a great addition to a cottage style garden. They look equally at home in a more contemporary setting. The steel in these vintage containers is much thicker and more weather resistant than sheet metal containers being manufactured now. Will these eventually show signs of the galvanized layer wearing thin?  Probably. But considering that these are already in excess of 40 years old, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Vintage and reproduction pots can have just as much charm as antique ones-especially if they have been outdoors long enough to have acquired a patina of lichens or moss.  The lichens on the rim of this vintage pot will spring back into action, as soon as they are exposed to weather.

Weathering is an inevitable consequence of being outdoors. Any surface which absorbs water can provide a foothold for colonies of small plants. For those gardeners who like a clean look, choose pots with a surface that resist the weather. Glazed or enameled pots do not absorb water from the outside. They can easily be cleaned with soap and water. Pots that do not absorb water do not breathe.  This means water only evaporates from the surface of the soil that is exposed at the top. This is a good choice of container for the gardener who has a long list of responsibilities besides watering every day. I helped such a gardener pick pots some years ago. She fills a collection of waterproof containers every year with waterlilies, lotus and floater plants.

The right pots? You’ll know when you see them, and can’t forget about them.

The Summer Container Plantings

The demand for landscape design and installation has been one after the other this spring.  I am sure you can tell, given how few and far between my posts have been of late. Our persistently chilly weather has given way to some gardening friendly weather. Suddenly, the summer container planting season is here, and my board is chock full of projects that will need doing beautifully, and with dispatch. The summer plantings begin later in May, and finish up in late June.  Late June? The spring plantings are just beginning to come in to their own now. Clients with spring plantings are not in a rush to plant seasonal tropicals. Given that tropical plants dislike cold temperatures, and hate cold soil, a spring planting can stave off that urge to plant summer containers too early.
Of special interest to me is the unique role played by containers in the landscape. No news here,should you be familiar with Detroit Garden Works. For 23 years now, the shop has been a premier source for great ornament for the garden.  I am happy to say that our reputation in recent years has become a a national phenomenon. Jackie deals with clients all over the country, and manages a steady stream of shipments going out. The shop website is good, and easy to navigate. Jenny keeps it fresh and lively.

Of course the lion’s share of our focus is on containers of every conceivable period and style. Vintage dolly tubs and new locust wood casks belted with galvanized steel rub elbows with a select collection of European and American antique urns. Of course the choice of a container is a significant factor in container planting. It is as much an important part of the container arrangement as the plants. That empty container represents the opportunity to throw a party in celebration of summer. The limited square footage imposed by the edges of a container means the design idea has to be simple. And it has to be visually strong.The plants need to be companionable, or at least tolerant of one another. Container plantings at war with nature make me uneasy. Given the almost limitless number of plants that can thrive in a container, it would take several gardening lifetimes to even make a dent in all of the possibilities.

A container planting matures in but a few months. What a pleasure to be able to watch that process. Mercifully, it all comes to an end with a hard frost. One can abandon a scheme that disappointed. Or explore a new idea come the new season. A collection of containers is a visual diary of what is on a gardener’s mind at that moment. A landscape and garden involves a long term commitment. There is strategy and planning involved. Decisions that are made one year are not so easy to change years later. An old tree that succumbs to an illness or bugs can make for chaos in the garden below. Growing a landscape on can feel like a full time job. The blooming of the double bloodroot, dogwoods, lilacs and peonies are ephemeral, but the gardener gets to enjoy them year after year, barring a disaster. A collection of containers set within that landscape keeps the garden dialogue fresh and interesting.

Containers do not need to be large to be good. I still like this planting, 10 years after the fact. I like the color of the gold marjoram complements the color of the glaze. The lavender star trailing verbena is a lively contrast to the yellow petunias.  The overall shape is relaxed, and proportional to the container.  Small containers ask for small growing plants.

Hot sunny places are the perfect location for seasonal plants. The profuse bloom on these petunias and mandevillea speaks to those conditions. Seasonal tropical plants are a way to have flowers every day all season long. The plastic liner in this wicker basket helps to keep the wicker from deteriorating from constant exposure to moisture. And that plastic means a basket this size will not require watering every day in the heat of the summer.

Double white petunias are leggy, and those legs are not so attractive. Pairing them with euphorbia Diamond Frost disguises that unfortunate trait, and holds up those heavy double flower heads. The datura  provides a contrasting texture both in leaf and flower.

This wooden trough features a large collection of different plants, all arranged in a very informal way.  Insouciant in feeling, this.

Any container planting can be endowed with a contemporary feeling-the design plays a major role in that.

Lush and lavish by summer’s end speaks to months of consistent maintenance. For those whose life means picking up a hose comes last, an irrigation contractor can install watering lines that can buy you some time. If the need for low maintenance is a deterrent to planting, many tropical plants don’t need dead heading, staking or frequent water. A clear understanding of what kind of gardener you are can inform the plant selection process. The big idea is to enjoy the process as much as the results.

 

I planted trees, shrubs and perennials in my own pots last year. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed that. What will I do this year? I do not have a clue, yet.

The Summer Containers

By no means have I had a chance to go back and look at all of the container projects we planted in late May and June, but I have had a chance to see a few.  The season so far has been very friendly to the tropical plants. I am referring to the heat, of course.  Any gardener that has been able to keep up with the daunting task of watering their containers properly has been rewarded with an astonishing display of lush growth and lavish flowering. Proper watering is not constant watering. It means watering ahead of that moment when the plants stress from lack of water. A consistent and measured watering hand makes for great looking summer containers.People ask me what my protocol and procedure is for watering all the time. My best advice is to never assume a plant needs water. Assess whether it needs water first. The roots of plants that get too much water will rot, and will not be able to absorb water no matter how much is available. Keeping plants on the slightly moist side encourages root growth. That said, every plant has preferences about what level of moisture they require.  Planting containers with plants of a similar inclination makes a watering routine easier. The box pictured above is watered by hand. The boxwood and hosta had substantial root balls before they were planted into the container. Add a bright shade location to the mix, and you have a container that does not require a daily drenching to prosper.

The mandevillea this year are blooming profusely. They love the heat. In Michigan, they thrive in full sun.They also like just the right combination of regular water and good drainage. A mandevillea sporting yellow leaves is either getting too much, or too little water. You will not be able to figure out which until you try more or less water, and see if the trouble stops. This container is mechanically watered via a dedicated container zone on the irrigation system. Figuring out how often to water, and for how many minutes each time is a trial and error process. It is simple to tell by looking at these plants that the amount of water they are getting is just right.

The window boxes pictured above and below also have a mechanical watering system, but I happen to know my client does not rely on it.  His irrigation buys him some time, if he is busy and can’t get to the watering immediately. He checks them routinely.The exposure here is easterly, so the boxes are shaded from the sun in the afternoon. All these plants like the heat, and a reliable source of water.

The ability to look after plants does not come standard issue. It takes patience, observation, and experience to figure out what way works for both the gardener and their garden. Fortunately, a lot of ways work. Plants can be incredibly forgiving of mistakes, but over the course of a summer season, their water needs are not negotiable. It doesn’t hurt to site pots and pick plants with some thought to how they will be maintained. I am pleased with how our summer plantings are getting along.

My pots at home are doing fine. Karen, David and Marzela give me a hand with the watering on occasion. I have 43 containers. 20 boxes and pots in the front now have their own automatic watering zone. The two pots by the front door are hand watered – that much I can do. The remaining pots are all watered by hand. They were all soaked on Friday. Today’s a day I will need to check to see if they need water, or restraint.

2018 Garden Cruise Tomorrow

I have seen every landscape and garden that will be on our tour tomorrow which benefits the Greening of Detroit. They are all very different, and all very strong. To follow are 19 good reasons why the this 11th Garden Cruise is worth taking.  The 20th, and most important reason, is that all of the proceeds from the tickets sold are turned over as a donation to The Greening of Detroit.  We strongly support the work they do in our city. We still have tickets available; call 248  335  8089.   Rob opens Detroit Garden Works at 8am tomorrow, for anyone who wants to decide in the morning they would like to tour.

I will be home in my own garden all day tomorrow-please stop by and say hello.