Out Planting Today

container plantingsI did my first summer container planting today.  The fact that it was Memorial Day is appropriate. Michigan is not reliably frost free until the end of May. Just last week we had temps in the 30’s on 2 nights-this is typical. I hung back from planting until now. Seasonal plants, which are invariably tropical plants, hate cold soil, and just above freezing air temperatures. A too early planting can set them back for weeks, if not longer. The caladiums under planting these old tree ferns cannot take any cold whatsoever. I hope the nights will be kind to them. The tree fern on the right had to be cut back to the trunk, following an infestation of mealy bugs this winter. The mealy bugs went in the trash with the leaves.  It will leaf out again in no time.

Audi 2015 (31)I have been planting containers for this client for the better part of 20 years.  She has 2 large decks connected by a deck/causeway, that are one story off the ground. They are like tree houses-for adults.  This is where they spend time outdoors in the summer. Three pots have nothing but basil.  2 pots, planted with yellow punch cannas, are under planted with thyme. Another pot features a cherry tomato,  chives, and more thyme.  The remainder of the pots, and the boxes are planted with flowers.

Audi 2015 (17)Every year we do the flowers differently. Last year, the colors were pastel, white, and silver.  This year, she asked for lots of color.The pot in the center back of this deck has carmine sonata cosmos.  The centers of these cosmos are yellow-thus the yellow boston daisies in the foreground. Cherry geraniums and magenta sunpatiens fill the 2 pots on the right.

Audi 2015 (28)The thought of geraniums may make you sleepy, but they come in an extraordinarily brilliant range of colors.  The big headed zonal geraniums are beautiful, but challenging for some to grow.  They like judicious watering, and lots of food.  I planted the deck boxes with an assortment of Caliente geraniums.  They are so easy to grow, and bloom profusely way into the fall, with not so specialized care.The outside row of plants includes two shades of ivy geraniums-they will cascade in partnership with vista fuchsia petunias. On the inside/house side, the geraniums are kept company with artist ageratum and gold marjoram.

Audi 2015 (14)This deck box is stuffed with zonal geraniums in cherry and red, heliotrope, hot pink gerbera daisies, gold marjoram and vista fuchsia petunias. The color and the textures are strong. This is a very tropical experience of the garden that banishes any thoughts of the Michigan winter. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to garden in a number of different ways, every season of the year. The container plantings can be changed up every year.  It is a pleasure to have one part of the garden that can be interpreted differently every season. A fresh look is almost always a good look.

Audi 2015 (19)This deck has a small seating area, in the center of the space. The pots describe the boundaries of the deck.  This deck can be seen from inside, via a series of sliding glass doors. It took the entire day for all of us to haul the mulch, soil and plants to this upper deck-down into the back yard via large stone slabs, and up onto the deck via a flight of wood steps-but the result is a garden in the sky.  All of the pots have the canopies of mature trees as a background.

Audi 2015 (15)Some years ago we had wood boxes made that hang off the railings of the deck.  This means the connector causeway is available for walking, and the boxes drain off the deck.  All the kids and grand kids have plenty of places and spaces to be. But there are summer flowers, everywhere.

Audi 2015 (16)A new raspberry, yellow and orange lantana standard is the centerpiece of the pot on the left. It is under planting with a hot coral pink mini cascade ivy geranium. My client tells me that ivy geraniums, and zonal geraniums are very popular in window boxes in Europe, as they are reputed to repel flies and mosquitoes. Really. They will have a chance to test this theory out this summer. The pot on the right?  yellow punch canna, thyme, and ever bearing strawberries.

Audi 2015 (3)A pair of beautiful lead square boxes have been planted with lots of different plants over the years.  This is a partial shade location.  The rose pink solenia begonias, wreathed in red solenia begonias, will thrive here.

Audi 2015 (9)The master bedroom deck is not large, but it is important.  My client opens her eyes to this deck every morning, via a floor to ceiling window.  This year, red mandevilleas are encircled by Persian Queen geraniums.  Scaevola interrupts the parade of the geraniums.  An orange punch canna in the center pot will be offset by an amazing selection of dark purple petunias with a white eye. This variety of petunia is incredibly fragrant-so great for a terrace off a bedroom.  At the far left, a Gartenmeister fuchsia is under planted with a tall hot pink angel wing begonia. This was a great day-beautiful weather, beautiful material, and treasured clients.


  1. Joyce B in Atlanta says

    Very beautiful, and I’m sure fulfilling work for you and the crew. Because our deck has an underdeck ceiling, I don’t like to spill dirt on the deck. I also can’t lug heavy pots around. I’ve found that spreading a heavy roof tarp on the deck allows me to make giant messes with no worries of stains and spills – and no broken back carrying heavy pots!! Would love to see pictures of the mature pots later in summer. So glad you were able to sink your arms into the soil and enjoy being part of creation. It must feel so good! Happy Summer – finally!!

  2. debra phillips says

    i adore your plantings and this did not disappoint. cannot wait to see more

  3. Genevieve says

    I rarely comment, but I’ve read EVERY SINGLE one of your posts over the years. I’m just now planting my own summer pots (minus the herb pots, which I got done last month)…but because of work, I’m afraid, not the time of year. Amazingly, the pansies are still going like gangbusters, which keeps everything from looking sad.

    Anyhow, I have a love/hate relationship with decks. When you have a walkout basement, they’re the only way to connect to the outdoors from the upper floors. BUT THE RAILINGS! I hate deck railings with a deep passion. I’m going to the most minimal wire system that I can find to get away from all the RAILINGS. Even so, I find that a deck without containers feels almost blasted. I love how planters on decks and porches connect them to the landscape. It makes them also feel like a place you want to be.

  4. katie near chicago says

    So interested in this post! I have several customers who crave the hot tropical colors after our cold white winter. Have you had good flowering from the ivy leaf geraniums? They seem to stop flowering in the heat of summer. But I love them, and already have purchased several for myself just to try, try again.

    We’re also beginning our summer annual plantings this week. We had touches of frost just a few days ago.

    Looking forward to more great inspiration!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Katy, the mini cascade ivy geraniums bloom profusely-all summer long and in to the fall. best, Deborah

      • katie near chicago says

        Thanks! That’s what I’ll look for!

        • Genevieve says

          I live in a hotter climate, and mine do well in part sun with the expensive, water-retaining potting soil in BIG planters. I’m not a good girl about watering more than 1-2x per week, so I only do big planters…probably not unlike most of your clients.

  5. I love the color, too! I forget about using Geraniums in pots because of all the new stuff coming out all the time, but they always flower, are great for here on Cape Cod, and the colors really pop! I tried Cannas last year in large pots, in full sun, but they did not fair well for me. They kept getting some kind of fungal disease that I could not get rid of. Apparently, the disease came in on them at the nursery, but I will try them again.
    Love all your work! Beautiful, creative, fun!

  6. I imagine that in a few years I’ll give up my beloved suburban garden and move to San Francisco. And if that imagining is real, I’m going insist on a large deck and a container garden. I’ve been wondering how I could make that something to look forward to, and now I see a glimpse. Thank you.

  7. Can you tell us the variety of petunias you used that are purple/white eye and so fragrant?

  8. Beautiful, colorful planters Deborah. Welcome summer!

  9. Mary casey says

    Looks great! So fresh. Just wondering how much you have to “edit” the pots during summer…..do you change many things out as the summer progresses?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mary, the only year that needed editing was when the racoons took up residence-3 of them were determined to rip out all of the plants. Pots do need regular maintenance and grooming, though. This client does most of that herself. best, Deborah

Leave a Comment