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Making TWO Containers Work

I’m often asked how many containers should be grouped together, do they have to be in groups of 3, do they all have to match and should they all be planted identically. The answer is NO to all those concerns! Here are several ways to make a group of just TWO containers work with style.

Make them read as one

As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of Country Gardens magazine

As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of Country Gardens magazine

This photograph shows one way I achieved balance using two pots of similar size and color but which differed in shape and texture. To gain some extra height I placed one on a cut tree round borrowed from the log pile! The silvery-green and white color scheme is used in both while the soft pink-peach accents in the left container echo the wood tones on the right. Those simple visual connections make this duo read as one extravagant display. This is one of 12 deer-resistant container designs in the current (spring 2017) issue of Country Gardens magazine

Using space and color

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A path links these two containers spatially while color and style unifies them

In the example above a flagstone path literally and figuratively connects the two containers. While the pots themselves are different colors, they are of a similar style and glaze. Notice how the blue pot includes orange flowers and foliage – another way to connect it to the orange pot in the background, while both designs are somewhat tropical in style with an emphasis on bold and colorful foliage.

Flanking an object

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Use the containers to create a colorful picture frame

Here the artwork on the wall becomes the focal point of a vignette, framed by two identical containers. Each container is planted as a mirror image of its partner to complete the visual picture frame. The height of the narrow conifers is an important detail.

Simplicity

Simplicity

For perfection at its finest what could be more inviting than this teak bench flanked by two weathered pots filled to overflowing with soft pink begonias? These simple containers seem to meld with the pathway. A mixed planting or larger grouping would unnecessarily over complicate this vision.

Using the landscape

Using the landscape

Fabulous display at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Two rustic pots, differing slightly in size and texture yet clearly matching in color and style. Notice how the larger pot has the addition of a lime green elephant ears (Colocasia) and therefore assumes the leading role in this scene. While the two pots in isolation would be fabulous, their visual appeal is enhanced and expanded significantly by the adjacent in-ground planting which repeats the colors, and some plants. This idea would also work if the containers were centered in a bed.

Using groups of 2

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Design by Mitch Evans. See more of this garden in our new book Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017)

I’ve always loved this scene, so much so that we included it in our new book Gardening with Foliage First. I love the ‘little and large’ pots that sit either side of the steps. All four pots have clipped boxwood, a theme that is repeated in the spheres on the opposite side of the path. The delightful symmetry brings order to an otherwise informal landscape.

How have YOU used 2 containers? Leave a comment below or post a photo to my Facebook page. Share your ideas!

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Design Inspiration from Chihuly in Atlanta

Seemingly rising from the water is the botanical masterpiece Earth Goddess

Seemingly rising from the earth is the botanical sculpture ‘Earth Goddess’

I had the opportunity to visit the Atlanta Botanical Gardens last month while speaking at a symposium for the Garden Writer’s Association and was thrilled to discover that my visit coincided with an exhibit of Chihuly’s work. While  enthralled by the sheer scale and extravagance of his masterpieces I was also intrigued to seek out design lessons for homeowners with a more modest budget!

Glass as a Focal Point

Perhaps the most obvious use of glass art in any garden is to make a statement, to catch the eye and become a focal point. Often these focal points are on a primary axis or at an intersection of pathways.

This fountain was perfectly centered in a formal garden, commanding attention from every direction. Elegant without the glass. Exquisite with it.

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Intricately curled glass pieces in shades of aqua suggest bubbling water while the overall composition balances the shape  and scale of the stone base.

Do you already have a fountain or water feature in your garden? Could you enhance it by adding some  glass art?

Reminiscent of a dandelion clock, this piece captures the imagination as well as the eye

Reminiscent of a dandelion clock, this piece captures the imagination as well as the eye

Think about whether  you want to mimic the movement of water or suggest plants growing in or floating upon the surface.

'Fern Dell paintbrushes' add light, height and color to a shady pool within a fern grotto

‘Fern Dell Paintbrushes’ add light, height and color to a shady pool within a fern grotto

Using Glass Art to Enhance an Existing Focal Point

It may be hard to imagine a Chihuly piece playing second fiddle to anything but as the following images show, while the glass is in itself remarkable it can also be used in more of a supporting role.

Notice how these vertical glass elements draw the eye upwards to the evening Atlanta skyline  – visible when walking this path in a clockwise fashion. To my eye the skyline is the focal point, enhanced and framed by the glass.

Carefully framed vignettes such as these are pure genius

Carefully framed vignettes such as these are pure genius

Yet stroll the same path anti-clockwise and you will perhaps better appreciate these flickering flames of glass are being used to pierce the billowing meadow-inspired plantings, creating punctuation points. So in one direction these glass pieces are seen as enhancing a focal point (the skyline) and in the other direction they are creating a focal point themselves. Intriguing.

The same glass pieces but approached from a different direction

The same glass pieces but approached from a different direction

Can you get your glass art to multi-task in this way? What about placing the art at a turn in the path. Can you relate it to something unique when walking that path in opposite directions?

Back to glass art and water for a moment; the primary focal point below is the botanical sculpture (usually with water flowing from the Earth Goddess’ hand but we were here before regular opening so the pump had not been switched on).

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Yet the glass filled Fiori Boat and Niijima Floats bring this scene to life. They may not be the primary focal point but their inclusion suggests a magical story; “Once upon a time, in a time before time……..

Does this give you ideas? Floating glass balls on water is an inexpensive way to create a Chihuly moment but can you take  that a step further and create a vignette that tells a story?

Or this scene from the conservatory shows how a backdrop of glass rising from a carpet of soft ferns perfectly frames the reflecting pool (the primary focal point), while repeating the organic form of the tropical foliage.

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Color Echoes

One of the easiest way to start designing with glass art in your garden is to repeat the color of adjacent foliage and flowers.

Sol del Citron

Sol del Citron – bold and unexpected yet having a sense of place thanks to the repetition of the color yellow.

Framed by tiers of yellow blooms and yellow-variegated foliage this glass sunburst grabs your attention no matter which direction you approach it from, or at what time of day.

Lighting is everything

Lighting is everything

Add Lighting

Which brings us to the final design tip – add lighting to your glass art so you and your guests can continue to enjoy it in the evenings. Did you notice that several of these shots are taken at dusk. I loved my daytime visit so much that I went back again in the evening. Lighting adds dimension, enhancing reflections, intensifying color saturation, framing and highlighting.

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I’ll bring the wine…..

If you would like more ideas on using glass art in your garden you may enjoy these posts;

When Gardens and Glass Talk

Find Your Inner Artist

Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

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Front Garden Re-Imagined

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space!

BEFORE; After over 40 years it was time to re-think this space

How do you know when it’s time to re-think the front garden? Certainly overgrown trees  and a fractured driveway are clues but spray painting the lawn green last summer was the final ‘Aha!’ moment for my Greater Seattle area clients. Yet funnily enough when I initially suggested a complete renovation they innocently asked “Which tree would you remove?” and were rather alarmed when I said “Both!”

Gardens grow and evolve so it really isn’t surprising that a landscape installed over 40 years ago is now in need of an overhaul, but identifying the problems and finding creative solutions can sometimes take a professional. This  garden is not viewed from the home’s interior, being separated by a fenced courtyard. However passers-by and visitors see this space and it offers an important first impression of who and what is beyond: what we often refer to as curb appeal. It suggests  the quality and style one can anticipate beyond the fence as well as a glimpse into the personalities of the homeowners  – whether we like that idea or not! When putting our homes up for sale this curb appeal is paramount, but even for homeowners like these who have no intention of moving, making a good first impression is important. After all you don’t typically greet guests with your hair in curlers I assume?

The problems

Damaged driveway

The driveway was beyond repair

Poured concrete driveways can last  30 years before major cracking occurs, so this one was well past it’s sell-by date. While the size of the driveway was adequate the paths felt awkward, especially if trying to navigate around parked vehicles. They were too close to the garage wall.

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Useful if you have an extra trailer to park perhaps, but this concrete pad was no longer needed

Additionally a previous homeowner had added a concrete pad to the right of the driveway that was no longer needed so this was a good time to re-think that space. Defining the property boundary and screening the neighbor’s garbage cans would be helpful too.

Overgrown plants

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster....

When a cute little conifer becomes a monster….

I wonder how small these towering conifers were in the mid 1970’s? Certainly much smaller than they are now! When large trees have lost their ornamental value, are casting excessive shade, their  roots are causing problems and their scale in relation to the home is all wrong it may be time to consider removing them.

Likewise after years of increasing shade the understory shrubs have slowly defoliated and become susceptible to disease.

The lawn

The lawn wasn’t being used – except by the neighborhood dogs!

Seattle may be known for its rain but last year went down in history for its unprecedented summer drought. Unless you spent hundreds of dollars on watering your lawn the chances were that it turned brown. I have to hand it to these homeowners for seeking a remedy but I’m not sure that spray painting the lawn green is going to catch on as a long term solution.

The first question I asked was why they needed a lawn at all. Like many homeowners it was simply there by default. Yet it served no purpose while taking time and money to fertilize, water, mow and edge regularly. While there needed to be a ‘negative space’ in the front garden, that doesn’t have to mean grass.

Dogs!

Actually the problem is less dogs than their owners who seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to allow their canine companions to use this space as a bathroom! Words fail me……

Seriously folks, if your dog has an accident clean it up.  Ugh. Anyway, while I can’t offer dog-owner training classes I can try to design the space to deter paws.

The solutions

I needed to come up with a plan that addressed all the above problems, was easy to maintain, had an understated elegance and level of artistry that reflected the home’s interior and private gardens yet  did not feel incongruous in the neighborhood. Here’s what I came up with.

Front Landscape Design for blog

AFTER; cleaned up, colorful yet doesn't stick out like a palm tree in a forest

AFTER; cleaned up and colorful yet doesn’t stick out like a flamingo in a forest.

Revise the hardscape

Parking pad becomes path. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the matire conifers

The extra parking pad became a path, leaving room for more plants and screening. The Ivory Halo red twig dogwood will stand out well against the mature conifers

The additional parking pad to the right of the driveway was removed and replaced with a path to the side gate. Both this path and the one which leads to the front door were angled to facilitate easier access.

Down to the bare bones

It always looks worse before it gets better!

It always looks worse before it gets better! Installation and hard work by the talented team at Berg’s Landscaping

The overgrown  trees and shrubs were removed, stumps ground out and the area graded to provide a berm around the perimeter of a central space. The homeowners wished to keep the laurel as they like having a hedge against the fence but everything else was removed.

No more lawn

Where once there was lawn, now there is a gravel garden

Where once there was thirsty grass, now there is a drought tolerant gravel garden

What would traditionally have been a lawn was re-created as a gravel garden. Landscape fabric was laid under a 3″ decorative gravel that the clients selected. Metal edging keeps this from migrating into the planting beds.

Hand selected boulders were added to the bermed planting beds while a few were placed to deliberately ease the transition to the gravel area.

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

Some boulders were strategically placed to project from the planting bed into the gravel

The plant palette

The planting beds were shaped to accommodate two specimen trees; one was a weeping dogwood that was transplanted from the courtyard. The other was a topiary pine that the clients selected for its architectural style. This makes an excellent focal point when viewed from the home as well as the street.

It took several nursery trips and a fe adventures before we finally found the perfect tree!

It took several nursery trips and a few adventures before we finally found the perfect tree

To balance the existing laurel and complete the informal hedge I added a number of H.M Eddie yew. I haven’t used these before but like that they are slightly fuller than the Hicks yew and do not produce berries. Together these evergreens formed a backdrop to colorful foliage shrubs including  Ogon spirea which has feathery gold leaves that really catch the eye as the shimmer and move in the breeze and the bronze-toned Coppertina ninebark which boasts spring flowers, red fall color and exfoliating bark.

Winter interest comes from the many different evergreens including Gulf Stream heavenly bamboo – an excellent mounded form that does well here and Midwinter Fire dogwood which has stems that range from red to gold.

I love dogs but like my clients want them to keep their paws on the sidewalk! To discourage them I added the berm and boulders, then interplanted with a number of thorny shrubs including the rich plum colored Concorde barberry and the dwarf coral hedge barberry which is evergreen and has orange flowers in spring. At the last minute we also added Wood’s Compact kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Wood’s Compacta’) which will form a dense, twiggy groundcover.

Screening

No matter how much we love our neighbors we don’t necessarily want to see their garbage cans. With that in mind I added a number of evergreen and deciduous shrubs that will quickly grow in to provide screening while still being ‘neighborly’.

Finishing Touches

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To complete the gravel garden I created planting pockets near the boulders. Mexican feather grass and an assortment of hardy succulents add color and texture in an understated, naturalistic style. (Be sure to check if Mexican feather grass is invasive in your area and ask a professional to recommend an alternative if necessary)

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I kept the color palette to red and green for the gravel garden succulents but added golden Angelina stonecrop to the main panting beds

The homeowners found the most perfect container to place by the front gate; the colors repeat the hues of their home while the texture suggests it was a treasure discovered at the bottom of the ocean – love it!

They planted it with a simple purple fountain grass for summer interest: the dark color was needed for contrast. Adding other plants would have been too fussy.

Post script

I asked how things were faring with the dogs and was told that so far people are being respectful. “We do have the occasional dog prints on the mulch but no little gifts have been left for us, yet. We have actually observed people allowing their dogs to wander up the small embankment and back down as they are walking on the sidewalk with their dogs.” Let’s hope that decreases as the plants grow in.

Is it time to re-think your front garden?

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The Path Less Traveled

Sapphire Blue sea holly is a favorite for deer resistant, drought tolerant drama

Sapphire Blue sea holly is a favorite for deer resistant, drought tolerant drama

Have you been into your garden recently? Not to weed the borders or cut the grass – just to see what is happening? Set the alarm clock a little earlier tomorrow, grab your camera and go on a mini garden safari.

I must admit I wasn’t sure there was anything really worth photographing. I hadn’t even caught up with removing spent bulb foliage let alone trimming the grass edges, the peonies needed deadheading, the new borders weren’t grown in, I still had ‘holes’ to plug….. Sound familiar?  Yet I challenged myself to be an adventurer in my own garden, to be expectant, observant.

Hidden in plain view

Create a sense of mystery with a scrim of finely textured foliage or flowers

Create a sense of mystery with a scrim of finely textured foliage or flowers

I typically view this scene from a different perspective; from the left (indoors) the right (driving into the property) or three feet higher up – when I’m standing. Yet as I bent down to pull a weed (I couldn’t help myself) I happened to glance up and noticed what a delightful semi-transparent screen this stand of Sapphire Blue sea holly (Eryngium ‘Sapphire Blue’) made. Veiled glimpses of this intimate patio made it appear all the more enticing, tucked within a frame of foliage and flowers. The elliptical glass birdbath drew my eye back to the roses and Caradonna sage (Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’) now in full bloom. I could ignore fallen petals and leaves and enjoy the romance of the setting.

You can create a similar effect using tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) or grasses.

Take a different path

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From outside the border, the strolling path disappears visually, leaving uninterrupted layers of colorful trees, shrubs and perennials

Do you always walk around your garden in the same direction? The scene above is part of my large island border which has a strolling path running through the middle of it. I have trained myself to deliberately walk that path in each direction periodically to get a fresh perspective but I rarely walk around the outside of the border and peer in. Yet this richly hued  vignette could only be truly appreciated when I did just that. The red-tipped Shenandoah switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) is still low enough for me to see over and provided a perfect visual carpet for the glowing Orange Rocket barberry, Skylands spruce and erupting Cleopatra foxtail lilies and orange oriental poppies . Layers of gold, orange and burgundy, set off by many shades of green – all revealed by taking a walk along the path less well traveled.

Learn to stand still

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No special detours taken for this shot – I just stood still and crouched down a little to look more closely at this lovely metal bird my son sent for my birthday. The early morning light cast a perfect shadow.

From my semi-crouched position I simply turned my head….

IMG_1128 Was this my garden? I usually walk this pathway quite quickly and as a result was missing this complex vignette with its luscious textural layers and color play. Yet look how the ice-blue corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica) needles  complement  the rich plum leaves of my new Moonlight Magic crepe myrtle while offering a monochromatic medley with the Sapphire Blue sea holly and Blue Shag pine (Pinus strobus ‘ Blue Shag’). I had missed that moment when the rising sun kissed the tips of the Skylands spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’) and barberry branches (Rose Glow to the left and Orange Rocket to the right). A little bird helped me see all that.

Do you need a add a ‘garden moment’ alongside the path to re-focus your view?

Dare to dream

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I  want to wait until this newly planted area has grown in before I write a more extensive post discussing the design details of our new patio but I thought you might like to get a glimpse of my vision at this interim stage. This is the view from our kitchen looking out into the back garden. The main patio is several steps away from the house and we have added a large planter in the middle of a border between the two. The idea is to create layers of color and texture to frame the patio, attract hummingbirds and butterflies, establish a focal point and create a more intimate space within the acreage.

IMG_1076 Once outside you feel nestled within that space yet have open views all around. The plants have a lot of growing to do – but the dream is becoming a reality.

How is your garden growing?

 

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The Smile Factor

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Our newest family members

Whether you consider your personal garden style to be elegant, romantic, contemporary or traditional there is always room for a little whimsy – a special garden moment to make you smile. It doesn’t have to be large or extravagant and in fact some of the best are those that are discovered while strolling through the garden rather than something that screams ‘look at me’ from your living room!

Here are a few ideas from my own garden as well as several I have visited.

Highlight unique forms

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

A weathered bird house tucked into the gnarly remains of an old maple tree

This big leaf maple tree had been a focal point in the garden border: originally a towering, bleached silhouette it is now just a snag after a recent windstorm brought down the last branch with a ker-THUMP! Yet I still find this a fascinating sculptural element – just look at all the contorted growth on the trunk. To encourage other garden visitors to slow down and appreciate this I tucked a weathered birdhouse into the snag; he looks as surprised as our guests upon being discovered!

Bringing life back to a dead shrub

Bringing life back to a dead rhododendron shrub

This large rhododendron died many years ago yet its skeletal form is still beautiful. The previous owner had painted it silver but that makeover has long since faded and tufts of lichen now dress up the coral-like structure. This shrub framework seemed like a lovely spot to hang my charming bird feeder with its succulent roof. A thoughtful friend gave this to me at Christmas and I had been looking for the somewhere to showcase it effectively. We see this every day through our kitchen window where it adds an unexpected splash of color to an otherwise drab spot in the garden. Looks like I need to fill it up again….

Child’s Play

Created by Katie Pond

Created by Katie Pond – when she was still Katie Chapman

Lovingly nicknamed ‘Charles’ after a certain Royal personage, this creature was crafted in a high school art class by my daughter  many years ago. Showing signs of wear and tear, this only adds to the humor; I mean how good would you look after scrambling out of a rotted tree stump?

STOP!

STOP!

Spied on a recent garden tour in Pasadena this wonderful dinosaur is doing his best to get your attention! Whether warning against the step or the prickly plant I’m not sure but he did make me stop to take his photograph.

Cact - cus by Debra Lee Baldiwn made me giggle

Cact – cus by Debra Lee Baldwin made me giggle

Of course we’re all children at heart aren’t we? Debra Lee Baldwin may be a few years out of kindergarten but that didn’t stop her adding wonderful googly eyes to this cactus creation in her San Diego garden.

Hidden in Plain View

A brick pathway to read while you walk

A brick pathway to read while you walk

Have you noticed how many bricks have names embossed on them? Love these ideas

Perfect post-topper

Perfect post-topper

Likewise paving stones can be an opportunity to add some personality – or family history

a celebration path

A celebration path

 

Add Interest to Bare Walls

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Cluster small pieces together for greater impact

Whimsical terracotta faces on a stucco wall will soon be surrounded by this clinging vine –  a fun discovery as I strolled along this shaded path and such a variety of expressions

Look up!

An easy project

An easy project

Hanging from a cedar branch one would not expect to see shards of cobalt blue glass wrapped in copper wire – yet their casual placement was perfect in its simplicity.

Unintentional humor?

Hmm

Hmm. Armed by whom or by what?

Strange the things that catch your eye – and make you laugh. Great placement either way!

Does your garden make you giggle?

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

Three Blind Mice by ee-i-ee-i-o

 

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