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.

Boxwood and terracotta at Detroit Garden Works

Garden Shop: Detroit Garden Works

One of the great garden shops in the United States is in Detroit. Yes. that much maligned and blight filled city has an big upside. Part of that upside is Detroit Garden Works. I’ve wanted to visit for years, and had the chance when I was in Detroit with APLD last week.

Boxwood and terracotta at Detroit Garden Works

Carefully chosen new, vintage and antique products from all over the world are merchandised in a way that makes each one seem precious and necessary.

Inside display at Detroit Garden Works

Classic in its outlook, Detroit Garden Works is the brainchild of landscape designer Deborah Silver who originally started the shop eighteen years ago because she couldn’t source what she wanted locally. Map in hand, the store’s manager and buyer Rob Yedinak, drives through Europe annually to handpick new and vintage offerings.

Entry Gates and containers at Detroit Garden Works

 There is a wide array of accessories and furniture to really suit any garden style even though the shop has a traditional feel. Terra cotta, steel, stone and concrete predominate and the shop is also local showcase for Branch Studios work.  There is a small area for plants, and there are espalier, planted containers, window boxes and boxwood throughout.

Furniture and Pots at Detroit Garden WorksTopiary Forms at Detroit Garden Works

With the onslaught of big box stores and garden centers with little imagination beyond piling on the plants and pots, shops like this one stand out.  Some will gripe about high prices, but you get what you pay for and if you value great design and beautifully made objects this shop is a must.

Steel fiddlehead garden spikes

I bought something which is rare for me.  Handmade steel fiddleheads were totally affordable and a grouping of several in three different sizes of them are going in my new shade garden this fall.  They came beautifully packaged the day after I came home.  The high level of customer service and attention to detail isn’t lost on me either.

Heart shaped EspalierThis image pretty much sums up how much I liked the shop and it’s not the only reason to visit Detroit as you will see in future posts!

Online Garden Shop: Shop Boxhill

Shop Boxhill is a new online shopping site for all things outdoors.  I would be remiss if I didn’t note that it was created by my friend and fellow landscape designer Elizabeth Pryzgoda-Montgomery.  Shop Boxhill has a cool contemporary vibe with products in every price range from under $20 to over $3000.

I did a little virtual power shopping and here’s what I found–there are hundreds of other choices there, with more to come.

A super fun outdoor rug for $55.00.

outdoor rug

Steel Life’s Matchstick Planter, $159.00 comes in great colors and there are other planters to choose from as well.

Steel Life Planter

An insulated ‘cooler’ tote bag that is stylish and practical for $32.49.  Warm water on the job and in the truck will be a thing of the past with this.

Cooler tote bag

And just because I’m agave obsessed…this blue agave sculpture will allow me to have one that won’t wither and die in the winter.  It’s $270.

I probably won’t buy these, but with the damage from super storm Sandy making so many chunks of trunks available for free, these Knotty Stools have given me inspiration.  They’re $756.

Stump stools

And last but not least, because nobody in my traditional and conservative market carries these…a turqoise Concha chair for my newly renovated side garden when it’s done.  It’s $450.

On-line shopping just got a whole lot better.

Field Trip: Urban Jungle

When I went to Philadlephia last weekend, I made a side trip to Urban Jungle with fellow garden bloggers Robin Horton and Laura Matthews.

Urban Jungle's open garage door entry

Located in the Passyunk section of South Philly, the three year old organic garden center has embraced its creative neighborhood and its limited footprint.  The storefront features two vertical gardens that even in early March were beautiful in the winter foliage colors.

A display of fun containers art and books
Painted concrete floor
A recycled display table

Using the industrial street level space as for pots, accessories and books, the actual nursery is on the roof.

Rooftop nursery getting set up for spring

As someone used to large country gardens, one of things that struck me was that everything was on smaller scale…perfect for a city garden.  Go to Urban Jungle next time you’re in Philadelphia…it’s worth a visit.

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.

The not so lowly cinderblock

Part of the designer’s art is to understand the possibilities of materials.  Sometimes they can  elevate materials beyond their original intentions–a piece of wood becomes an incredible piece of furniture…some shiny chunks of minerals become a diamond brooch.

Cinder blocks or concrete masonry units (cmu) are one of the most frequently used building materials in gardens and elsewhere.  They are also usually covered up–often by veneered stone, stucco or paint.  Outside, sometimes they’re used by clever DIYers as planters–those can be quite artful as seen at the Philadelphia Flower Show several years ago.


Cut to the chase…in Chelsea Market in New York, this lowly behind the scenes player is made clean and modern and totally sophisticated.  Combined simply with other materials…brick and granite block…the lowly cmu comes into its own.

Under a counter
As a wall

Tuesday’s Find…a Majolica Pot

I am usually ambivalent about Majolica pottery.  Often its explosion of surface decoration and eccentric forms are just too over the top. With that said, this uber pretty planter drew me in.  Because it is a specific type of collectible Majolica, it’s outrageously expensive…but it’s still lovely, romantic and best yet…turquoise.

It’s available at Linda Horn in New York.

Cache Pot


Garden Design Details: Classic Box Planters

Sometimes it’s hard to improve on a classic.  Since a visit long ago to Versailles, I have had a secret love affair with the classic box planter.

An army of trees boxed for a king...

Also known as an Orangerie Planter or tree box planter, these containers can add drama to a garden or a patio.  The simple cubed geometric form adds structure and a tree, well I welcome the opportunity to add trees just about anywhere.  They can work in traditional and contemporary settings.

The tree greens the space

There are, in my mind a few features that make these planters different from any other square planter.  First, they have feet which improves air circulation under the planter and helps to keep it cool and second, they have corner finials.  Below are some of the many variations on a the classic.

The most classic are from Les Jardins du Roi Soleil. These planters are built to last centuries, open on one side and have the pedigree.

The real deal...

Updated with reclaimed wood and rusty iron details…from Clayton Gray Home.

Reclaimed wood and contemporary lines

A concrete and cast iron antique version found at Decorati


Great age and wonderful patina

From Restoration Hardware…the Versailles planter.  Well, not really but they did reinterpret it.

The re-interpreted classic

Gothic and Victorian variations from Horchow.

Gothic Variation
Victorian variation

So even though my garden doesn’t have the style or scale of Fountainbleu…

Fontainbleu. The Orangerie of the Queen. ca. 1670 - 90. Etching.

I have a box planter next to the garage that this year is home to a large tropical fern. It does a wonderful job of hiding my plant hospital.  It’s powder coated steel with a removable box for planting.

You can never go wrong with classic black...

For more box planters…traditional and contemporary here is my Box Planter board on Pinterest.



Tuesday’s Find…boardwalk planters

Coney Island amusement park opened this week.  What does that have to do with garden design?  Here’s the tale…

You wouldn’t really know it, but Coney Island is in my blood.  My uncle owned and built Astroland on the site of the former beer garden Feldman’s.  His wife ran a speakeasy in the 20s that was popular with crooked politicians.  Another less entrepreneurial uncle ran one of the carousels.   I grew up with stories of the Steeplechase and the Parachute Jump.  As a child I had passes for the  famous wooden roller coaster The Cyclone that was next door…it is the only one of those pieces of boardwalk history still operating as it was then.

When I saw these terra cotta planters from a bath house on the boardwalk all of the stories associated with my Coney Island past collided with my present.  This is why I love old things.  They preserve bits and pieces of the past and they tell stories.   They’re from Elizabeth Street Gallery in New York.

First…where they were on the 3rd floor…

As they are for sale now…


Tuesday’s Find…Modernist planters

Modernist and geometric elements for the garden can be so clean lined that they lack visual power beyond their form.  This beautiful set of highly detailed planters found at Gordon Watson Ltd goes against that idea.  Made of  perspex, bronze and aluminum (so 70s!), the crisp and clean lined boxes are certainly hard edged, but when planted up the natural soft quality of plants would create a powerful visual counterpoint to their geometry.

Planters designed by Tobias Scarpa, Italian c1972

In my Reader…Planterworx

Brooklyn based Planterworx fabricates steel planters and features for landscapes.  A friend sent me a photo via a Tweet from the New York Gift Show earlier in the week.  When they deviate from the ‘box’ planters, their work is interesting and their capabilities for custom work is a happy discovery for me as a landscape designer.


A stainless water feature in New York…

Stainless water feature

I was particularly intrigued by this installation at Boothby Square in Portland, Maine…I can think of other applications and silhouettes to use in my own work.

Stainless steel waves
Waves of grass and steel