Loud And Clear

Airy and wispy container plantings are not for everyone.  Furthermore, there are some places that they simply don’t work.  These planter boxes sit on the wall enclosing a parking lot of a restaurant only a median away from a busy four-lane road.  The speed limit is 45mph; the noise is deafening.  In the 2.5 seconds it takes to zip past this wall, there is an impression that will register with even the most garden-deaf driver.  The combination of colors is ebullient, enthusiastic, splashy-friendly.  The boxes are overflowing; the plants all look healthy.  My client takes great care of them-just like she takes care of her restaurant. That message is loud and clear.              

These large Belgian boxes are visual stoppers at the corner of this terrace.  They ask for a robust planting.  Plants with large leaves and substantial size go a long way to capture the eye.  Bananas, calocasias, alocasias, cannas, farfugium, tibouchina grandiflora-there is a long list of tropicals that can easily handle holding down the fort. Vigorously growing plants in bright colors will chime in.  The smaller planting of a lemon tree, and a pastel mix of petunias, though robust,  would be lost without the big backup.       

A solidly robust planting has much to do with the choice of plants.  The three plants comprising this pot have grown together in a shape that is dense and low overall. Just try to get by it without looking.  Chartreuse makes every other color pop all the more; creeping jenny is a vigorous perennial that loves some shade, and will grow in a bog. There is nothing subtle or airy about this planting-this is by design.   

I can say the same for this pot.  It has grown so vigorously that the pot is no longer part of the composition.  Black and red; red and green-these color combinations are dramatic.  The contrast with the off white wicker furniture is all the more dramatic.  This modern furniture is very chunky and overscaled. These two chairs have some planted company that is even larger, and more chunky. The topknot comprised of a dwarf yellow variegated dracaena and a coleus-that look is in no way planned.  Just natural.  

Gartenmeister fuchsia is an upright variety that handles hot weather like a pro. It can grow to a substantial size, and can easily be wintered over.  However, the dark foliage and small tubular dark orange flowers are rather subdued.  A tutu of lime green coleus turns up the heat.  The red geraniums,magenta petunias and lime licorice don’t hurt. This fuchsia is naturally very airy growing; its woody shoots grow every which way. The colues masks all of those wild hairs; these plants grew together densely in a cone shape.  

Big growing plants are accompanied by lot of leaves.  The leaves of the trailing verbena and petunias are barely visible in this picture, but there is no mistaking the coleus and dahlia leaves.  My office is dark, given this window box planting.  Any container design warrants some study.  Do I need this planting to block an untoward view?  Do I want a container to stand out, or integrate into the large landscape? Right now is a very good time to be looking over your container designs; I take notes.    

A very large terra cotta pot with a purple chocolate glaze is home to this monochromatic planting. Black calocasia, a purple black leaved coleus, and moses in the cradle, makes a sizeable statement about volume and texture.  Calocasia ia a very obliging tropical, in that it will grow as big as the container into which it is planted.  This planting is the better part of 8 feet tall.  This discussion of texture anf form-loud and clear.

Cannas and zinnias-they both are big growing and leafy.  A skirt of trailing geraniums and lime licorice add lots of color at the base.  A neighbor standing behind this pot on the sidewalk would not be seen.  Sometimes a blocky and solid planting can organize a space-in this case, it presides over a densely growing square of boxwood.  Solid, dense and visually clear-this is how I would describe this spot in the landscape.

Large leaved caladiums depend on their size and shape to make a statement.  I like how lush a well grown plant looks.  I am leaning towards planting a lot of them next year.  Loud and clear is much about vigor.  I would much rather work to keep a growing fool of a plant in line, than every day have to convince a prima donna of a plant to choose life.  This is a personal preference. Even the subtle and wispy growing plants that I favor are strong growers.  

But back to loud and clear.  On that list of plants that can deliver that for you-big growers, dense growers, robust growers, large leaved plants, large growing plants, brilliantly colored flowers.  Brilliantly colored leaves; leaves with great shape and texture.    It is up to you to put them all together in a way that enchants your eye.


  1. Wow, just wow. How on earth do you get those complex plantings to keep their shape? I loooove plush, full, container groupings but mine become misshapen SO quickly. Also, the monochromatic black planting is beyond stunning.

  2. Oh my!

    That’s all I can say: Oh my!!

  3. LOVE all of these and now I’m inspired!!!!

  4. I am a sucker for the black & purple monochromatic planting as well…and what in the $%&%^& is “Moses in the Cradle”? Love it !

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michael-ok, I will post about black foliage. But in the meantime, Moses in the Cradle is a purple variegated version of Wandering Jew. Some say it is a tradescantia pallida purpurea. I have forgotten the other nomenclature. It toleratures just about any conditions-including cold, and trails beautifully. Deborah

  5. Brilliant !!

  6. Can you please share how to plant a 3 tiered effect like the one using the fuschia
    & coleous….you make it look so easy ! Thanks

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Donna, the first trick is to buy an upright growing fuchsia-in this case, Gartenmeister. I bought this upright fuchsia already grown in a topiary form-meaning it had been trained to have a single woody stem, with a topknot of branches. It was probably 30″ tall when I bought it. You can get the same effect buying an upright fuchsia that is grown in a wire cage. You can grow your own fuchsia topiary-it just takes an entire season to get it tall-then it must be wintered over indoors. Once I plant the topiary fuchsia, I plant 3 lime coleus in 4″ pots close to the rootball of the fuschsia. The third and outermost layer are the trailers-this could be mini petunias, lime licorice, or creeping jenny. Your pot has to be big enough to handle a central plant, and 2 other circles of plants. Tiered plantings have to be planned with the tallest in the middle, the medium growers all around, and the trailwrs on the edge. Hope this helps, Deborah

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