Pots in the Garden: Designing, Planting & Placing Containers in the Landscape… Part One: An Introduction to Color!

May 29th, 2012 § 7 comments § permalink

Weathered to Sweet Perfection: The Red-Orange Hue of an Old Terra Cotta Urn Complements a Carpet of Springtime Blues (Muscari armeniacum in foreground and Phlox divaricata in background)

Late spring is the time of year when I begin planting and placing pots in the garden. Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection of urns, vessels, second-hand terra cotta pots and various other containers. I find that even before they are filled with colorful annuals and exotic tropical plants, their shapes, hues and textures add a touch of beauty to the landscape. In my career as a garden designer  —using my own landscape as a design lab— I’ve created a wide variety of seasonal containers for my clients. And every year, right around Memorial Day, I head out to the garden center with an open mind, looking to try something new…

Colorful, Dramatic Pots Add a Welcoming Touch to My Studio Entry and Stone Terrace (Stonework by Vermont Artist Dan Snow, See Below for Complete Listing of Container Plants)

Earlier this month, I presented a seminar on container gardening,”Pots in the Garden: Designing, Planting and Placing Containers in the Landscape” sponsored by Walker Farm. Creating beautiful, annual garden displays with potted plants need not be difficult, time consuming or expensive. However, understanding the basic principles of design —as well as how to properly plant pots and follow-up with care and maintenance— is key to success with container gardening at any level. Balance and proportion, form and mass, texture and color, and line and repetition are some of the more important elements to consider whether designing a single pot, or large group of containers.

The Gardener’s Color Wheel

There are many decisions to make when designing a container garden, but color is always right at the top of my list. Color, like music, evokes feelings and sets mood. When designing a garden of any kind, I think about how the space will be used and what sort of feeling I want to create. If you are unfamiliar with how to work with color, the gardener’s color wheel (pictured above) can be a useful guide. When choosing a color scheme for a container garden, I keep in mind not only the foliage and flowers, but also the color of the pots, the surrounding space and nearby objects. Look carefully at walls, floors, arbors, shrubs, trees and furniture. Keep those hues in mind when designing containers for your outdoor rooms.

Monochromatic and Analogous Color Relationships Need Not be Boring. In Fact, By Working with a Limited Palette, a Gardener can Emphasize Other Design Elements; Such as Texture, Form, Mass and Placement. Here, a Mass Planting of Orange-Hook Sedge (Ucinia egmontiana) in Oxblood-Colored Pots, Creates a Soothing Screen in Bold Color. Notice How the Orange-Red Colors Bring Out the Rusty Undertones of the Steel Deck. Bold Harmony.

When I want to set a calm and relaxing mood, I usually opt for a monochromatic color scheme; using a single color on the wheel, playing with only a few, subtle variations of tone. Notice how each color on the wheel is shaded, working toward the center? A pot with foliage and flowers in only one color can be quite beautiful. To keep such an arrangement interesting, I would play with the other elements —like form and texture— to create a dynamic design. Analogous color relationships —side by side colors on the wheel above— such as green and blue or violet and red, are also quite soothing in combination, but offer a bit more design drama…

A Broken, Turqoise-Blue Vase adds a Bit of Drama to this Calm Arrangement. Quiet Harmony.

Things really start to get interesting in the garden when complementary colors are played off one another in a design. Opposites on the wheel, complementary colors tend to bring out the best in each other when placed close together. The more intense the hue —or strength of saturation— the more dramatic the result. For example, I like to play gold against violet. Purple, plum, maroon and lavender all look richer when they are placed near mustard, gold, honey and wheat. To bring out the beauty of violet hued foliage and flowers, I choose pots with mustard-colored glazing or add plants with golden foliage to my container design. Complementary color schemes tend to be bold and attention grabbing; use them to draw attention to an area or create a an energetic mood…

The Golden-Chartreuse of Lysmachia nummularia (Golden Moneywort) Enriches the Angelonia (A. angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’) in this Arrangement, and Enhances the Purple-Hues of Nearby Stobilanthes dyerianus (Persian Shield) and Verbena (Glandularia canadensis ‘Homestead Purple’)

Simple, Mustard-Glazed Pots Work to Bring Out the Beauty of Lavender Colored Asters in This Cascading Group

Polychromatic relationships —or mixtures of many colors— create something of a pinwheel-effect. These arrangements tend to be very bold. When I want to really jazz up a space, I will reach for the most dramatic relationships on the color wheel and spin them into a frenzy. Think outrageous succulent arrangements, tropical plants with fabulous flowers and candy colored containers. Fun!

Blue-Hued Mexian Rose, (Echeveria ‘Pearl’) Plays off the Orange-Red Pot and a Trio of Silver and Gold-Tinted Foliage. Also Pictured Here: Variegated Elephant Bush (Portulacaria afra variegata) and Kalanchoe ‘Pumila’ 

Read More about Creating Beautiful, Bold Succulent Container Gardens by Clicking Here

Colorful pots can accent outdoor tables and dress up stairs, change with the seasons or to suit special occasions. Container gardens offer great opportunities to experiment with design, and yet they require minimal investment in terms of time and money. Don’t like a particular arrangement? Remove a plant or two and try something fresh! Little garden design experience? Begin with a few, inexpensive annuals and a simple pot. Fill your container with soil, keep the plants in their original pots, and try various arrangements before planting. Have a great, colorful container? Try enhancing the hue with annuals in an analogous or complementary color. As you grow more confident, reach across the color wheel for more unusual combinations and visually stunning results.

Bright Orange Flowers Against Green Foliage are Mother Nature’s Finest Example of the Power Complementary Color Relationships. Here, My Mustard-Glazed Pot Provides an Analogous Backdrop to this Simple but Bold Display. Calibrachoa ‘Callie Orange’ Tops the Terrace Dining Table in Late May

For more inspiration, design ideas, maintenance tips and planting ideas check out some of these great, container gardening books…

Container Gardening A Great Guide Book with Useful Information & Beautiful Photos from the Editors of Fine Gardening

Pots in the Garden Beautiful & Inspired Design Ideas from Ray Rogers (Timber Press Publishing)

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Behold the Brilliant, Jewel-Like Treasures! How Will I Contain Myself? Playing with Pots: An Annual Obsession

May 4th, 2011 § Comments Off on Behold the Brilliant, Jewel-Like Treasures! How Will I Contain Myself? Playing with Pots: An Annual Obsession § permalink

Echeveria ‘The Pearl’, Kalanchoe pumila and Portulacaria afra variegata – An indoor garden pot, slowly acclimates to the great outdoors on my steel balcony

It’s an annual question. How will I contain myself? Although the vast majority of my gardening takes place in the ledgy pockets of soil here on my land, every year I create seasonal, potted displays and vignettes to punctuate the landscape. I started moving my vessels, urns and bowls outdoors a couple of weeks ago… And oh, there are so many pots to fill! In addition to the container designs I will create for my clients, I have many garden rooms of my own to accent. There’s a steel balcony to drape, several stone terraces, walls, walks and stairways to soften, shady niches to illuminate, decorative chairs to adorn and dining tables to fill with color.

Ever on the lookout for fresh inspiration, this weekend I will be attending a seminar, “Succulent Container Gardening & Hanging Basket Design and Care”, at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. The talk is being presented by long-time friends and colleagues, Daisy Unsicker (head propagator) and Karen Manix (owner) of Walker Farm. For nearly a decade, I worked maintaining the mixed borders of trees, shrubs and perennials at Walker Farm. And for years, I have been admiring —and enthusiastically collecting— their gorgeous, nursery-proagated plants. This historic farm has long been a favorite horticultural resource for connoisseurs of unusual annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. But this season, I have to say, Walker Farm has really taken its always-spectacular greenhouse to a whole new level with an amazing display of succulents, tropicals and unusual foliage plants…

Mixed Succulent Container Garden (Starring Aeonium ‘Kiwi’) – Designed by Daisy Unsicker for Walker Farm

Beautiful Succulent Bowl (Staring various colorful players; including Aeonium ‘Kiwi’, Cryptanthus acaulis, Senecio rowleyanus and Echeveria) Designed by Karen Manix for Walker Farm

Another Gorgeous Succulent Bowl (Starring several divas and supporting acts; including Sedum and Aeonium)  Designed by Daisy Unsicker for Walker Farm

In an earlier post, I mentioned Walker Farm’s talented, long-time head propagator, Daisy Unsicker. When it comes to raising young plants, Daisy really has a special touch, and succulents are clearly her passion. If a gardener truly loves plants, and dotes on them with tender-loving-care, they tend to show their appreciation in the most beautiful ways. I can’t wait to hear Daisy’s design tricks and maintenance tips for succulent-pots, and to see what she and Walker Farm owner Karen Manix have cooked up for this Saturday’s container gardening seminar. Walker Farm isn’t able to ship plants, but if you are gardening in the area, I hope you will check out their beautiful garden center and greenhouses, and join them for their fabulous —and free— garden seminars (click here for details).

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to preview some of the gorgeous plants now filling the lovely glass greenhouses at Walker Farm. In addition to the extraordinary selection of exotic plants in nursery containers (see some unusual examples below), Daisy, Karen an the staff at Walker Farm have designed and pre-planted some gorgeous, ready-to-go succulent bowls and other to-die-for container gardens. With colors bright as gem stones and exquisite, jewel-like forms, these plant-filled pots are like living treasure chests. From hanging baskets dripping with ‘Strings of Pearls’ (Senecio rowleyanus) to sapphire blue bowls filled with shimmering Jade (Crassula ovata cvs.) to hand-thrown pots overflowing with faceted pink-tipped Aeonium and amethyst-tinted, silvery Echeveria, Daisy has truly outdone herself.  Can you imagine such a delightful accent to your entryway or given as an exquisite Mother’s Day gift?

Solanum pyracanthum would certainly look sharp in my sunny terrace pots!

And Ozothamnus diosmifolius ‘Rose’ would be dreamy on the balcony

This sensual-looking Carex comans ‘Bronze Curls’ would move beautifully with the summer breeze

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that I’ve been singing the praises of succulent container gardening —indoors as well as outdoors— for a few seasons now. In fact, much of my indoor garden is filled with these dry-climate, jewel-box gems. The container atop this article —as well as others on the Indoor Eden page— is literally packed with succulents from small, local greenhouses and online sources.

So then, how will I contain myself this year? Well, I haven’t quite decided. But, I do know that in addition to the usual urns and vessels overflowing with colorful blossoms, my garden will be decorated with a large number of succulent containers, grass-filled barrels and an assortment of what I like to call, ‘un-flower pots’. No matter what I end up planting, I’m certain that I’ll return back here with plenty of new design ideas and maintenance tips to share after the weekend workshop at Walker Farm

A planter of my own design, featuring Sempervivum hybrids ‘Purple Beauty’ and  ‘Kalinda’ with river stone mulch

An oxblood red container on my terrace provides a lovely color contrast to the ice-blue Echeveria ‘The Pearl’, here today with a shimmering rain drop

Sempervivum hybrid ‘Kalinda’ on my terrace

A Succulent Pot of My Own Design (plant details listed in text below photo at top of this article)

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Indoor Eden: Trouble in Paradise… Aphids & Scale Attack the Studio Oasis!

January 5th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

Pots in the Studio – Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ (About to Bloom) Shares Space with Other Succulents (Mustard pot: Crassula ovata ‘Minimus’, Senecio macroglossus ‘Variegata’. Green pot: Kalanchoe mangini and Crassula ovata)

By now, it should be fairly obvious that I take as much pleasure in my garden during the winter months as I do during the warmer seasons. However on the grey and stormy days, when the temperature drops and the wind kicks up, there is much to be said for houseplants in January! I spend a great many hours in my painting studio at this time of year, and with its cathedral ceiling and bright, indirect light, it makes a perfect winter home for larger pots and taller plants. However this one room is hardly the limit of my indoor gardening. In fact, my entire house becomes something of a winter oasis after the hard frost in mid-October, with plants distributed throughout the studio, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, entry hall and secret garden room. In short, there are green, and multicolored things growing almost everywhere you look! And I love to admire the lush leaves and colorful blossoms against a snowy backdrop…

I Love the Contrast of Rich Green Houseplants Against a Wintery Back-Drop (That Red in the Snowy Background is Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ Beyond the Studio Door) Here, Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ is About to Bloom, and Looks Particularly Luscious… Especially to Aphids!

Right now, my collection of Kalanchoe is about to blossom, and the various cultivars all look delightful -particularly to the aphids attacking them! It seems that sometime over the holidays —while I was too busy to notice the early signs— these nasty little freeloaders hatched and multiplied on one of my beautiful plants! Well, I caught them -and not a moment too soon. I pulled out my neem/soap mix (an OMRI approved insecticidal soap), and set to work spraying all of the foliage on this particular plant —and those sharing the space nearby— until it was thoroughly wet.  Take that you sap suckers! Experienced gardeners usually know what to look for when it comes to aphids, but just in case you are unfamiliar with them, here’s a photo to help you identify the problem…

Aphids on Kalanchoe (After Spraying with Neem) You Can Click the Photo to Enlarge & Get a Better View of Them !

Of course, this unpleasant invasion lead me to investigate my other houseplants. And lo-and-behold, there on the fine foliage of my agave: scale! Ugh! Spritz, spritz, spritz; on again with the neem insecticide. I really dislike scale, and find it difficult to eradicate. If the neem/soap mix doesn’t do it, I will upgrade to horticultural oil. Although one of scale’s natural predators, the ladybug, is active in the warmer parts of my house, this overwintering insect seems to avoid the cool studio. I always carefully check for ladybug larvae (click here for photo) before spraying, because even organic insecticides can kill beneficials like ladybird beetles as well as —outdoors during the growing season— bees, other pollinators and helpful bugs. I will have to keep close watch on this scale situation and repeat application of neem or horticultural oil weekly. Scale can become a real problem indoors unless the gardener is vigilant.

Scale on Agave geminifolia (after spraying with neem) This image may also be clicked to enlarge.

Many of my houseplants move outdoors during the summer months, but some —like the giant Ficus pictured below— are permanent indoor residents. These larger plants require regular maintenance to look their best; including pruning, which is done from a ladder in some cases. It looks like I accidentally damaged a branch while turning this tree last month, so I’ll need to get up there and make a clean cut; removing the unsightly dead foliage…

This Giant, Door-Framing Ficus Gives My Studio a True Conservatory Feel. But it Looks Like I Need to Tend to a Few Branches with My Pruners… Time to Pull out the Ladder!

After my rounds today —feeling the soil for moisture and checking all leaves and stems for pests and disease— I felt that most things were looking pretty healthy. I try to keep my houseplants on the dry-side during the winter months, but it’s important to strike a good balance between sahara and monsoon. The plants living in my studio —mostly succulents and many trees which are not particularly fond of humidity during the winter months— don’t seem to mind the dry, cool air. I keep most of the humid-air-loving tropicals —such as orchids, citrus and the mini-greenhouses: terrariums— upstairs in my bedroom, where I run a humidifier both for myself and my houseplants. I also segregate plants known and listed by the Humane Society as potential threats to my cat and dog (click here for article and links). The studio is closed up unless I am in there (where I can monitor munching), as is the Secret Garden Room.

My Feathery Sago Palm (Cycus revoluta)  —Making a Winter Home in the Painting Studio— Is Looking Healthy and Happy

Although It is the Most Commonly Grown Houseplant, Few Ficus benjamina Manage to Reach This Monstrous Height Before Getting the Old Heave-Ho. I Inherited This Specimen a Year Ago, After It Had Outgrown Its Former Home. The Weeping Fig Arrived by Trailer, and Is Now About 15′ High. The Studio is a Bit Cool for This Plant, But it Seems to Like the Bright, Indirect Light.

This Indoor-Outdoor Pot Contains Plants Recycled from a Smaller Container They Outgrew (Clockwise from top: Kalanhoe pumila, Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’, and Echeveria cvs)

I May Not Have My Conservatory Yet, But I Can Still Fake It By Creating an Eden Indoors (Cycus revoluta in foreground)

Someday, I hope to have a tiny conservatory all my own. But until then, I can enjoy most tender plants inside my home by finding the right micro-climate to suit their optimal growing conditions and by carefully catering to their needs and desires. For help with houseplants of all kinds, I highly recommend Barbara Pleasant’s The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. I am a fan of this author in general —I adore her book Garden Stone, which I’ve mentioned here several times— and I think this book is particularly useful for indoor gardening. Pleasant thoroughly covers the essentials of growing over 150 common houseplants and —unlike some of the other books on my shelves— it is both well photographed and well written; with carefully organized, richly detailed horticultural information. Dorte Nissen’s The Indoor Plant Bible is another great resource, and with its compact size, tough cover and ringed-binder format, I find that it stays out near the houseplants where it is frequently used for quick reference. Both books are set up encyclopedia/dictionary style; with all plants arranged alphabetically by latin name. Barbara Pleasant’s book is also broken down by plant group (succulents/cacti, flowering/foliage plants). If you are new to houseplants, these two titles would be my top-shelf recommendations for indoor garden reference.

The Indoor Plant Bible and/or The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual are always on hand

It’s quite windy here today —and cold— so I won’t be spending much time outdoors. In meantime, I have my little Indoor Eden to content me and keep my color-loving eyes satisfied. My exotic houseplants bring a little bit of tropical warmth to my wintery world, and help me to more fully appreciate the stark and crystalline beauty of the landscape just outside the glass doors…

A Dusting of Sparkle-Dust on the Stone Terrace Greeting Me This Morning

And Flurries Swirled About In the Outdoor Dining Room

Reminding Me That, Of Course, Winter is Still a Beautiful Season

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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