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.


  1. Joyce Rosselli says

    Very enjoyable article and lovely photos.

  2. I always admire your work! Could you tell me what grass (lime green) you used in the Contemporary design with the coleus?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Vicky, I took a bunch of green and yellow cordylines and planted them up root ball to root ball.Then I wintered them over. What you are seeing is the second year’s growth for them. best, Deborah

  3. Shirley Stephens says

    These container plantings are breath-takingly beautiful!

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says

    A lot of inspiration here. I love the datura with the white surrounding plants. My only large planter left to fill is an orange color. Hmmmmm

  5. Absolutely beautiful and informative as always. Thank you for sharing these photos and tips.

  6. Scot Shutters says

    What is the green foliage in the container with the Persian Purple Shield? Its beautiful!

  7. I need to stop posting. All I ever do is frantically open the email, and gasp with the splendor of what you put together with your crew. Then I raced back to leave a comment saying how stunning everything is that you do. I’m being repetitious. But this is the best blog I’ve ever joined.

  8. What is the grassy plant in with the coleus?

  9. Sue lindstrom says

    Your containers are huge! Beautiful! Do you take these pics once they’re in the pots for a while? The mandevillas are gi-normous!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Sue, we have 3 sizes of mandevilleas available-clients choose what size they want. But this picture was taken towards the end of the summer last year-probably in August. all the best, Deborah

  10. jean mcdaniel says

    I stumbled onto your web siite by accident several years ago and have been an avid follower ever since. I am planning a trip to your area ( I live in Virginia ) and can’t wait to stop by the shop!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jean, we will be happy to have you. Be sure to let us know you are visiting from Virginia! best regards, Deborah

  11. Wonderful work! I am especially jealous of the mandevillea planters which you and your team put together each year. In the past, I have not found nursery-potted mandevillea on anything but brown painted trellises. In this case, would you stake bamboo poles around this trellis in the spring, training the vine around the bamboo as the season progresses? What diameter bamboo poles do you typically use?

  12. I’ve got 2 large ceramic planters filled with creeping Jenny. I added Persian shield and the new purple petunia with lime edges called Picasso in purple.

  13. Whenever I see an exceptionally beautiful planter while walking my dog in Hamilton, Ontario I think to myself and say that planter has been Silverized. Your gardening work is incredible!

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