Planting The Pots

The mid nineteenth century cast iron horse watering troughs Rob found in northern England last September have a new and happy home; my clients really like them.   It seemed fitting to me to fill them with water again.  But this time, no horses.  A collection of papyrus and white calla lilies in the gravel filled water flooded trough-this will be a good look, once the plants orient to the sun.  Papyrus (marketed now as King Tut grass, and mini-Tuts) stems break with the least disturbance. But water plants recover faster from damage than soil grown plants.  When they are happy with the water temperature and sun exposure, they grow vigorously. 

This pool terrace is large.  The 27 containers I placed on the limestone do not seem like too many.  Groupings of 5’s and 3’s improve the visual impact.  My clients favor a clean simple and modern look; the pool furniture makes that statement loud and clear.  I took my cue from their expressed interests, and their choices in furnishings.

Four top grafted willows on standard in tall Belgian teak boxes are the stars of the far view.  The wild and wooly silvery foliage atop a barely two inch caliper trunk-very beautiful in these tall contemporary boxes.  The head of the tree is vastly overscaled for the v-shaped box.  I cannot really articulate why I so like the proportion of the tree to its boxy home-it just looks really good to me.  The planting in the giant steel box looks underscaled, yes.  But once those silvery cardoons get to growing, the scale will be perfect.  The white Gallery dahlias lined up like soldiers in a rectangular volcanic slab trough represent white in a strong way.

A pool terrace of this scale needs something going on in the airspace.  The topiary willows are doing a fine job of that.  A single large French terra cotta vase from Ravel, to the right in this picture,  is planted with 8  gallon size mandevillea vines.  A grouping of twelve foot tall natural bamboo poles will provide an aerial home for those vines.  A hot pool terrace will set them to climbing.  The poles are a visual element that occupies and defines the airspace while plants get to growing.  A terrace of this size needs a big idea about the borders, and a bigger idea about ceilings. Comfortable spaces embrace company.  Exciting spaces make explicit reference to size and sky.   

Five containers clustered in a pool terrace corner male a statement about relationships.  A rectangle planted solid with lavender will contrast in form with a spiky agave.  A tall rectangle stuffed with white gallery dahlias and silver dichondra will be a great foil to a large volcanic trough planted solidly with double white datura.  The French terra cotta pot from Ravel-I planted it solidly with Whispers petunias.  The purple accents enliven this grey/green and white planting scheme.    

This pair of steel boxes viewed from the side-a little visual trickery is involved..  The foreground square tall box is planted solid with some blue succulent whose name I have never learned.  The tall volcanic stone slab box is largely occupied by a geranium-no kidding.  Some scented geraniums can grow to astonishing size.  It will only look larger,  better, and loaded with white flowers in 6 weeks. The right hand box is a rectangle-the long view is not available here.  I like a view that tricks the eye.  

Give horizontal view, it is clear what seemed to be a square tall box is in fact a rectangle.  In this rectangle, I planted four hyacinth bean vines.  The four absolutely vertical natural bamboo poles will provide plenty of support to these annual ornamental vines.  The placement of the 8 foot tall vine supports-a contemporary gesture.  

Contermporary container plantings call for lots of one thing, and little in the way of mitigating circumstances. Be simple, be direct, be subtle, be strong, be confident.  None of these containers call for traditional or formulaic plantings. Pick a plant, and plant lots.    

Three times today we had heavy and steady rains.  We kept planting.  A last minute addition-a Ravel pot from France painted white.  This afternoon, we delivered the white French pot, and stuffed it full of rosemary trimmed into spheres.

We finished our plantings at 4pm this afternoon-during the third hard rain of the day. I am not complaining-I am a gardener, so I relish whatever the weather brings. I looked over every square inch of my territory before I left.  A  client with an event at 7:30 pm- we helped them to be ready.


  1. I would have to say that was calling it close! And am impressed you planted in the rain. The storms here were not tiny.

    Deborah- it seems like you actually wait until after Memorial Day to plant. Just this year or every year?

    We began the second week of May this year…


    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Ann, I do not start planting until the night temps are more or less 50 degrees or better. I may have started around May 22 this year. We hae about 60 plantings this year-I still have 14 to go. Of those, only one is a big job-meaning all 10 of us for at least an entire day. Deborah

  2. Great pics! I think a modern aesthetic in the garden would be the hardest to work with (it is not my style, but intriguing). I appreciate the tips! I love how you used the papyrus with the calla lilies. They look really striking paired together! I bought some papyrus this year and am looking forward to seeing how it grows.

  3. Nice. Love the design of that pool. ‘Zero edge’ is fascinating to the eye.

  4. I have really enjoyed watching these planters come to life. Love your arrangements and choices! Beautiful!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Scott-many thanks. The hard part is to come-getting the water right. And the maintenance. I’ll be coaching. Deborah

  5. Richard K says

    Another object lesson by Deborah Silver.

    Each of your posts generally has a gem (sometimes it is hidden) of knowledge that provides keen insight into your designing mind.

    From past posts, I learned about using “real” soil in containers, about the importance of matching the site with its container (and vice versa) and of course, planting for each of the seasons. Today’s post was a treasure trove of content. It taught me about contemporary design, how choosing a planting scheme can involve color, texture, shape or height or any possible combination thereof (although any such scheme must be carefully edited and controlled), and most of all, it taught me about how height and form of container plantings can contribute greatly to defining a space.

    The transforming of the space from the previous day by the use of container plantings is nothing short of remarkable. Even though the furniture and the outlying landscape contribute greatly to the overall effect, it is the use of height and form provided by your container plantings that changes the pool and its deck into an inviting room. The day before, that massive limestone pool deck was harsh and uninviting. By introducing the willows, hyacinth bean vine and mandevillas in the manner in which you did, grounds that massive space and makes it a desirable place to be. Your edited color scheme carried out through the use of many different types of plants, further softens the contemporary edges.

    I don’t think that I have paid much attention to the airspace occupied by my containers in the past … however, you can be sure that I will pay attention in the future. I enjoy looking through your eyes … it is making me a better gardener.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Richard K, so many thanks for the time and thought it took to post this response. You get it all. Best regards, Deborah

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