Garden Design Details: Container Planting

For me, it’s the end of container season.  I only plant them for a few clients. Planter design is not a core service of my landscape design practice because I find them to take as much time to prepare for and execute as any other planting design. In reality, that’s what a container is, a planting design executed in a very small, seasonal space. I do have clients who specifically ask me to design their containers and I say yes, but I just don’t overtly offer to do it.

Turquoise Anduze pot


Turquoise pots and entry

Nobody ever taught me the rules of containers so I approach them in the same way I would any design. I lean towards structure planted with abandon in my garden design and my container plantings reflect that for the most part. Since the space and number of plants I can use is so limited, I am a ruthless editor.  I don’t personally love planters filled with lots of different kinds of plants. I think it makes a stronger visual statement to limit them in the same way I would any other design. The container above has four varieties in it, the one below three. In a really big planter I may use as many as five, repeated throughout the design.

Barn pots

My approach is the same as for any design–first decide on the primary structure and then build down from there. In a garden that may be a tree, a pergola, or a sculpture, in a pot, it’s the same–there has to be something anchoring it all.

Variagated willow and blue pot

When I shop for container plants,  I shop for all of  them at once, collecting special plants from a wide variety of sources. The process takes several days. If a specific request was made, such as the variegated willow standards in the pots above I will seek them out. Each season I limit the color palette which aids in later editing. This year my palette included chartreuse, deep green, salmon/apricot, white/grey and a very saturated purple.

Atelier Verkaint pots on seatwall

Most of the time I use the client’s own containers, but over the past few years I’ve been specifying them in larger designs so I know they will work within the context of the larger landscape that I have designed. Planters to scale and the right style for the larger context are details that make or break a project.

Garden Color Inspiration: Green

It might seem counterintuitive to add more green to a garden, but lately to my landscape designer’s eyes, green looks like it should, fresh and new.  (Go ahead, groan at that word use!) Two years ago, a version of green was the color of the year, but it was largely ignored by outdoor designers–perhaps we think we have the corner on green with our plant palettes.

Via Veranda

These greens aren’t the citrus based hues that have been screaming at us for several seasons as both accents and plants, but the deeper and more complex matte greens of the forest floor and canopy.

via Acanthus and Acorn

Green has been showing up in interior magazines and blogs and on the runway for a while now.

Via Apartment Therapy

Via Andrea Pompilo

Green has long been used on fence panels and trelliage, but it can also color furniture and accessories.

Green box planter

Via Jardins du Roi Soleil

It can be new looking and  surprising choice in a landscape adding a layer of complexity to the already existing organic greens that are there.

Some greens to play with… Green palette Left to right Farrow and Ball/Calke Green, Ralph Lauren/Campbell Green, Benjamin Moore/Amazon Moss and Sherwin-Williams/Shamrock.  All of these can be mixed as an exterior stain or paint.

Garden Trends in the Mall

Mall stores like Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel have made major investments in outdoor furniture and accessories, so I went to the mall to see what was new. Catalogs just don’t do it for me, I can’t see and touch the quality.

The only one of the three that had anything interesting was Crate & Barrel.  On trend as far as lifestyle and color, their selection made the neutrals at Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn seem dreary and tired. The pieces are very fairly priced for the level of quality. Here’s what I liked.

Vertical Pots Crate and Barrel

Colorful ceramic pots with iron hangers. Brightly hued ceramic bird houses.

Ceramic Birdhouses

From more of a merchandising perspective, bold pops of color combined with black and white.

Pops of colorAn entire gardening section with well designed tools and accessories.   I was disturbed though to find plant labels very similar to ones I had seen on Etsy. Not sure if the knock-off was intentional or not as it was a simple graphic idea.

Garden Tools and Potting Bench

My favorite piece of furniture this season is the classically inspired cast aluminum Union dining chair that comes in a matte charcoal finish or red!

Neutral color palette

union-red-dining-arm-chair-with-sunbrella-red-ribbon-cushionI can’t wait for things to warm up and get some pops of color outside!

Ornamental cabbages

Garden Color Inspiration: Violet, Plum, and Aubergine

I’ve been collecting images for this post for a while.  I wrote about pink a while ago and people either loved it or hated it.  There’s been quite a bit of chatter about what’s going to be the color of the year this year, and there are rumblings of pink or purple being the front runners.  Shades of purple and violet can be arresting in a garden. Unlike the pink post, this one includes plants.

Ornamental cabbagesFall container planting in shades of violet designed by Bruce Bailey from Heavy Petal Nursery.

image via Marie Claire

An aubergine stucco wall makes a dramatic backdrop for both brown and green.  This deep red-violet is probably the most restful of the purple family.

Purple mulch

image via Floradora

Although I’m not a fan of dyed mulch, this violet and pink path makes a bold statement, especially combined with apricots and oranges.  Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to this color family this time of year.  Violet, plum, aubergine and just about any shade of purple is a fantastic counterpoint to the oranges and yellows of fall foliage.  They are complimentary on the color wheel so they can also be quite garish.

Purple knot garden

image via Pinterest via John Glover

An analogous color story of violet and red-violet spins the traditional knot garden idea into something completely different.  Violet, plum, aubergine or just plain old purple can be serene or quite nutty depending on the circumstance it’s used in.  Below are three examples.  The first is transitional and calming, the second contemporary and frenetic, the third eclectic and welcoming.  Whichever, it’s a bold color choice, not for everyone, but in the right place…well all things have a place, don’t they?

image via HGTV

image via HGTV

Moroccan style purple entry

image via Marie Claire

Garden Color Inspiration: White

I’ve written about neutral gardens and those inspired by the Belgian Beige movement and right now I’m into white. Maybe I’m attracted to it for external reasons-because summer is almost at an end and knowing the bit about white only being worn between Memorial and Labor Days.  There are warm nights still and white still intrigues me…it’s also an excellent partner with green. There is a lot written about white gardens from a planting perspective, but not much about the rest. This is about the rest.

We know that white  can make a dark space seem lighter.  It can also add drama to an otherwise lackluster space.  Washable materials make this color easy to use outside, fading isn’t an issue obviously.

Image via Architectural Digest 

Simple and geometric this patio is surrounded by green and is restful and stylish.  In fashion, winter is also a time for ‘Winter Whites’, but it would be a simple thing to switch this fabric seasonally if white appears too summery outside.

Image via Trouvais

White can be simple and rustic, and is an easy partner with other neutrals.  It can work in just about any style of garden.  Beyond the classic white fence, white can be carried through in accessories of all kinds on just about any style of patio or deck.

Just like any other color, there are many variations of white.  Sample of colors as well as what will be adjacent them are important and especially before choosing a white.  White will reflect what’s around it and even the original hue can be pink or blue based yet look like a stark white unless it is  placed in context. 

I’ll be back on the flip side of Labor Day…wearing white of course!



Pink in the courtyard

Color: In the Pink

I’ve seen rumblings of an unexpected garden color trend.  We love pink flowers in our beds and borders, but not so much in other areas.  Maybe it’s just too gender charged, maybe it’s just too unexpected, but for whatever reason it we don’t use it.  For those in the know, like Steven Elton of Brown Jordan, who I heard speak in Chicago two weeks ago, pink garden accessories and furniture was an emerging trend in the European markets.  Actually, if you follow trend forecasting, pink has been bandied about for a few years.  So I decided to explore the possibilities…in the pink!

Pink in the courtyard

Pink walls in bold graphic stripes make a dreary courtyard pop with unexpected color.  The pink is picked up in the table settings.

Pink stripes poolside

The reintroduction of Schiaparelli to the market next season makes a stylish case for pink.

Schiaparelli's Shocking Pink

Her famous ‘Shocking Pink’ may seem that way in the garden, but it’s really not.  It can be dreamy and restful also.

Pink balcony

 Or it can make a big energetic and contemporary statement.

Some pinks to try painting a fence or garden wall.  Left to right:  Farrow and Ball/Cinder Rose No. 246Behr/Fuschia Kiss 100B-6, and Benjamin Moore/Hot Lips 2077-30.

Pink color swatch for outdoor stains

Here’s a corresponding Pinterest In the Pink inspiration board that just makes me happy!

Design Inspiration: Black and White Stripes

I’ve become slightly obsessed with black and white stripes.  The bold and graphic quality combined with what can be a vibrating optical illusion is energetic and brash…two things that I always like anyway.  The really interesting thing about stripey black and white is that it’s occurring simultaneously as a trend across disciplines. I’ve never used them in a design specifically, but would love to.

So here’s to stripes! (There are many more ideas here,,,)

image via Greige: Interior Design Ideas

 image via House of Hydrangeas

photo via Que Bueno es  Vivir!! 

via Traditional Home




Turquoise and Pink

Retro Vibe: Aqua and Red(s)

Sometimes I see color combos that just stick in my mind.  Lately that’s been turquoise and red(s) that I want to try in my side garden when it’s newly renovated this spring.

Turquoise and Pink

image via  Cellar_Door_Films  

I’m not sure whether this will translate into plantings or some other features yet. Turquoise combined with red or red-orange or deep pink seems retro and new simultaneously to me depending on the context.

image via Obvious State

I don’t know quite how I’m going to interpret this yet, but I’m thinking about it and of course I’ve started a Pinterest board to explore the idea further!

 image via  Design Seeds


Gilded Garden

Trend Watch: The Gilded Garden

Opulence isn’t a dirty word.  After years of frugal garden and DIY design options ie. the pallet craze and other recycled madness, many (including me) are ready for a sense of luxury.  Small and large, these indulgences give hope to dreams and aspirations inside and out.  An emerging trend points in that direction for outdoor details and can be realized by those who prefer  DIY options as well as those who don’t.

Gilded Garden

The Gilded Garden is about gold surface treatments.  Aged with the patina of use and slightly rustic, its roots are in other design disciplines, notably architecture, fashion and furniture.

Gilded Garden Inspiration 2Natural elements take on a completely different look when gilding is applied.  They are jewelry for the table or garden.  This can be done with paint, gold leaf, or other products such as Rub and Buff which are readily available online and in craft stores with easy to follow instructions.Gilded Garden Pots

Pots and other vessels are the easiest thing to give the Midas touch.  Fences, statuary and other garden accessories become more than supporting players when given a bit of gilding. The difference in this look is its restraint.  Even when a large element is a glittering focal point, the Gilded Garden has accents of gold that delight, rather than taking it over the top.

Gilded Garden Inspiration 3

If you are looking for some more inspiration, try my Pinterest board, Gilt Complex.  I’ll see you after the holidays. Enjoy them with friends and family!

Image Credits (top to bottom/left to right) Givenchy –Trek Earth
Neiman Marcus –
Martha Stewart Weddings-
Abbey & Morton/
Ellen Johnston, APLD-
Design Sponge/
VXLA via Flickr-Red Online-Ethnically Chic




Here Comes the Sun…Yellow is Everywhere

Here comes some bright and sunny punch for gardens.  Yellow.  I started reporting seeing it on the Leaf FB page earlier in the spring, and now I see the idea developing into a full blown color trend.

So here we go…

Designer Michael Tavano used yellow in a big way in this small New York City courtyard designed for the Elle Decor Modern Life Concept House.

A yellow garden wall at the Elle Decor Showhouse

A yellow fountain makes a bold statement in a private Santa Monica courtyard.

garden courtyard
Sunny or grey, yellow punches up the color story

As part of an urban garden/art installation in France…

urban gardens
Yellow helps punctuate the Garden of Cracks…

At the Hampton Court Flower show this year…Designer Mike Harvey showed another yellow garden wall.

garden yellow
Hampton Court garden with a yellow wall

In the French design magazine Cote Maison Sud, there was an entire layout of yellow for outside…

Yellow goes outside
More yellow ideas for outside


Garden Color Inspiration: Black

A few years ago, when Paul Bonine’s book Black Plants was released everyone went gaga over the drama of black foliage and flowers, it’s taken a while for everything else to catch up.

Black Plants

Black has long been part of the garden via ironwork, but now I’m seeing, in my real and virtual travels black walls, accessories, and all other uses outside.  If navy blue was surfacing as a trend earlier this year, black certainly is now.  Here are the ideas.

Small patio wall and black chairs
image via The Guardian

Black decking and walls for a contemporary home.

Black decking and walls
Image via Design Milk.

A similar theme in a more rustic setting.

Black house wall as a patio foil
Image via femina

Black planters…the green just pops!

Black planters
Image via the author

Black cushions draw focus to the otherwise neutral space.

Black cushions
Image via la bisuiterie

Monochrome Inspiration

I’m inspired by monochrome gardens? Yes, I am.  These gardens with their washed out almost colorless spaces are really appealing to me.  Maybe it’s my current mood, or the abundance of summer color outside, or a knee jerk reaction to the cacophony of brights and layered patterns I see everywhere, but I’m totally inspired by these quiet images of gardens and patios.

via The New Victorian Ruralist
image via Pinterest


via Veranda
via Unique by Design

A pair of orange planters…

Ever since Tangerine Tango was named 2012 color of the year, orange is just everywhere.  I figure it’s okay to add to that conversation…from a retro perspective.  Aren’t these fiberglass Danish 60s planters cool?

Nana Ditzel planters from the 60s

Alas, they’re in London.  They’re at Sigmar and they’re outrageously expensive.  I think I could make something similar with a little ingenuity and some orange auto body paint.

Note:  My designer blogger friends at Garden Designers Roundtable are posting on first impressions today if you’d like to take a look–all of their posts will be up by noon ET.

Print and Pattern Choices: Mansion in May

I’m trying to nail down some of the details for the show house garden and I’ve narrowed my print/pattern choices down to what I think I want to use. I’ve also experimented with some combinations. These are the details that can make a project sing or fall flat. They always make me nervous.

Initial choices...some editing will be done

Color is important, as is scale and texture just like in a garden bed. Design is design is design…it all follows the same principles. The overall look is this…

The floor will be navy blue...

I’ve been collecting outdoor fabric and trim swatches on Pinterest to make this process easier…I also have a Mansion in May board there to keep track of things.

Garden Color Inspiration: Navy Blue

It’s winter and so I’m thinking a lot about color.  Lately blue, specifically navy blue, looks fresh to me.  I’m thinking about how to incorporate it into a garden scheme–with paint and accessories since there are no true navy blue plants that I know about.  Not as the classic blue and white or blue and yellow but as a focal point or background in its own right.

I’ve had a tough time finding straight navy, more often there are multiple shades of blue–but no navy.

A table of navy though

Maybe my thinking is ahead of the curve…but not according to Elle Decor who sites navy as the newest interior neutral.  Notice how the green pops with navy as a background in the image below.

Navy blue as a background

A navy blue exterior house paint from Porter’s Paints.  Imagine that as a background for foundation planting.

There are navy blue mosaic sidewalks in Lisbon.  Ideas for patios, fountains and walkways…

Outside blue makes a strong statement, but it is seldom navy.  From one of my favorite fashion blogs, The Sartorialist, are blues including navy.  In an urban environment they just pop visually.

Blues looks fresh

Other than the cement color above, here are three navy blues to try as paint or stain.

Three Navy Blue colors to try

From left to right:  Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy HC-154,  Farrow and Ball’s Drawing Room Blue No. 253 and Sherwin Williams Naval SW6244.

Photo credits top to bottom:  TheTimes-Union, Pink Wallpaper, Porter’s Paints, Flickr, The Satorialist, the author

Black and Tan–a dramatic winter palette

During the summer months, the busy corner where these grasses are on the street side of the fence is nothing special.  In midwinter, however, they made me stop, look and shoot some photos.  This bold color palette would be just as dramatic if there was snow…which there isn’t.

Charcoal fence with tan grasses

There are several colors that would be great for a dark fence like this and could make a combo just as dramatic.  Midwinter is the perfect time for some drama in the garden!

Texture and color is what makes this work

Not all greys and blacks are created equal.  Here are three dark hues that can mimic the fence color but not necessarily read as black or grey–although they are.  All are from my local paint stores, so they’re not exotic or super expensive.  Left to right: the closest to a true black is Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black SW6258, Blacktop 2135-10 from Benjamin Moore has green undertones, and another from Sherwin Williams is Bohemian Black SW6988 that has a decidedly plum cast and would be a strong design statement as a fence stain.

Any of these would make a wonderful background for a variety of plantings and would read as a color in winter and up drama quotient when we need it most.

Color Inspiration: Mansion in May Designer Show House

I’ve been working on the Mansion in May designer showhouse concept.  I’ve titled the space The Voyager’s Lounge.  I have to have sketches in color done in about two weeks so in advance of that I developed the preliminary color story.

The terrace before photos...brown and in need of some love

Since the raw space is so many shades of brown I decided to keep the color dusky rather than slathering on the brights.

Bleached desert hues

I’ll be meeting with several collaborators on-site tomorrow morning so more about that as we progress!

Tuesday’s Find…turquoise planters

This garden find is more about the color than the actual pieces.  I’ve written about this shade of Robin’s Egg Blue before.  It can be contemporary or vintage looking depending on the context.  It plays well with other colors without being secondary.  So these pots aren’t really the thing this week…their color is.

The blue's the thing...

The pots themselves are available from Inner Gardens in Los Angeles.

Garden Design Details: Painted Wood

Some inspiration to cure the January blahs.  With it so drab in the garden outside, I crave some color.  Paint is often the least expensive way to change any space and that includes those outside.  Creative and bold use of color can alter a garden’s design. It can transform a utilitary object into a focal point. It can make a background player a star.  It can lift the view up to the sky or keep it firmly focused on the ground.

There are many opportunities to add color with paint and wood is the easiest.  More often it is stained white or green or left to weather it fades into the background.  When painted it becomes something else entirely.

Mint green shutters

A fantastic combination of house color, mint green shutters and plantings.  Test colors out by painting samples first.

Tangerine bench with light blue pots

Tangerine Tango is the 2012 color of the year…combine it with the palest blue and it becomes a sophisticated garden statement.

Potting Bench (easy DIY too!)

A really easy DIY potting bench from Anna White Homemaker, a blogger from Alaska is painted a clear bright red.  It certainly doesn’t look like a $40. project does it?

Black Garden Fence and Trellis

What might be just another garden fence becomes a dramatic feature when painted black.

Doors and windows

Fearless, bold and bright color on a garden shed.

Two shades of violet

Two tuteurs in a garden that is chock-a-block full of perennials give it structure, visual flow and height.   Their violet hues adds to the mix and contrast of color already in the garden.

Bright yellow trellis

When painted a bright, clear yellow.  Even the most humble trellis can become an equal companion to the plants it supports.

Lime green chairs with painted detail at Chanticleer

A citrus green twist on the classic Adirondack chair at Chanticleer.

Raised garden beds

Blue raised beds in a large kitchen garden project I completed two years ago.

As soon as the weather is warmer, grab a can of paint and color it up!

Photo credits:  Potting Bench, Black Fence, all others via the author.


In my Reader…Design Seeds

Just about now, in the middle of a very snowy and grey January I need a jolt of color.  For color trends and inspiration, Design Seeds is like no other.

Fast, furious and beautifully curated, Jessica Colaluca creates ranges of hues from a single source of inspiration and there are hundreds them.   These are not random pretty pictures with some matched colors–they reflect a keen eye for current design trends.   A forecasting veteran, Jessica has been keeping inspiration notebooks for years.  Her ideas are fluid and her influences are far ranging.  There’s also a companion FB page.  Love it…and I’ll let the inspiration speak for itself…all images courtesy of  Design Seeds.

Color inspiration can come from anywhere or anything…

A full range of hues is there for the discerning eye…most would only see the radish.

Moody and neutral palettes don’t have to be just grey or tan…

Classic blue and white with a twist…

Sun washed and bleached brights.  An exciting and unexpected garden design color scheme could grow from any of these palettes…that’s why they’re seeds.

2010 Top 5 Posts–Yours!

I’ve never done a “top”  list before.  I was interested in what everyone was here was reading so I took a look at the numbers.  As a landscape designer I’m interested in trends–self generated as well as user generated. The list below is a nod to the best of list tradition–not mine–yours.  Click each the first few words of each description to go to that post.

An exploration of India’s potential influence on garden styles.  The Raj ruled this post.

5 things that influenced me as a landscape designer in 2010.

Ideas on color in garden design…no I wasn’t talking to myself.

Thoughts and ideas about sustainability in garden and landscape design.

A love song to the amazing architecture in Buffalo.

Fall as Spring Garden Inspiration

This fall has been particularly inspiring for its color.  It’s been a while since I did a post on color and this one is going to be a little bit different.  I want to try and use the fall foliage of a single plant as inspiration for an early spring garden.  Rather than a single hue, I’m going for a mood and a range of color. I specified this plant for a client’s garden.  When I visited last week, the foliage just made me stop in my tracks.  What’s more is that I have this plant in my garden and as of today it is still green!

Rather than the deep oranges, vibrant yellows and clarets we expect from fall foliage, this smokebush – Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’ has muted tones that are just by their juxtaposition electric.

Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit'

Here’s a possible palette.  It’s a little bit narrow, but very, very sophisticated.  The colors are complex and lend themselves to both plantings and accessories.  At this point there’s no clear front runner although you could make one color dominant.  So let’s go shopping via the web!  All of the images – other than three I took on site – below are linked to their source (so just click them)  if you’d like to explore the idea on your own.

Autumn Smokebush

Here’s how to translate that into a garden…for the opposite season via accessories, plants and just about anything else you could want for a lovely outdoor space.

Fermob furniture

Above the peach/salmon color dominates via garden accessories and below a pale Margarhita green.  It would be easy to do this with any of the first three hues.

Classic wicker furniture

It takes discipline to pick one narrow range and let all others be supporting players in a garden design as our tendency is to fill gardens full of color, color, color.

Some other details that would work…

An obvious first choice would be from the wide range of Heuchera colors available.   Below is ‘Key Lime Pie’, but there are abundant choices.

Heuchera 'Key Lime Pie'

Hellebores - an early spring favorite

Bulbs are a great choice for the early spring garden and there’s still time to get some and plant them before the ground freezes.

Accent Daffodil via Colorblends

Viridiflora Tulip via Tulip World

The garden will need other details – that’s what the darker, more neutral browns are for…

Rustic gate from a private garden in NY

Rustic twig work is best done in early spring when saplings are green…so a rusticated fence or gate is a perfect early spring garden project.  If metal is more your style…salvage yards are full of reclaimed rusty fence sections…

Rusted salvage yard fencing

The possibilities for the color in one small random photo to inspire an entire garden are endless.  All it takes is a bit of imagination and some web shopping!