July 16, 2012

The Class of 2012

That's me at Great Dixter, providing
scale to one of Christopher Lloyd's
container garden groupings
You can blame it in Christopher Lloyd.  No, not the mad scientist of Back to the Future; the other Christopher Lloyd, who made Great Dixter a ‘worth-a-journey’ garden in East Sussex.  Betty and I were there in May 2004 and it was on that day that Betty fell in love with container gardening.  And, not just pots with multiple kinds of flowering annals in them, but the idea of massing containers to create portable landscapes.  That’s me, at Great Dixter, providing scale for one of Lloyd’s compositions. (Double-click on any image to see it at full-screen size.)

This container is on our back
deck, and consists of coleus,
supertunias, a red grass and a
flowering maple.
And so each year we observe a ritual around our garden.  In early May, we go into our basement and retrieve maybe a dozen beautiful large pots from our collection.  We place them in the turnaround of our driveway.  Betty then goes off in search of annuals and perennials to fill them.  She creates a dozen exquisite containers; they are sited according to their color and texture.  We also pull another dozen plant-bearing containers that we have overwintered in our garage (a subject explored in depth in ‘The January Thaw’).  These containers, too, are placed around the property.  Once those two dozen containers are completed, Betty pronounces herself satisfied.  She is done for the year.

There are more than a dozen
containers in this grouping,
providing a seamless transition
between our driveway and a
perennial garden.
But there is more to the ritual.  When she is done I point to the leftover annuals and perennials that were not used in the creation of those containers and say it is a shame that we can’t have a few more.  After giving me her ‘why do you do this to me’ look, we go down into the basement and pull up a few more pots. 

At the same time, Betty does roughly six container gardening presentations for garden clubs and civic organizations (not including two at the Boston Flower & Garden Show this year).  Each demonstration requires that she put together five such containers.  She purchases more plants plus the lightweight pots that she uses for “road work”.  Inevitably, she brings home a few pots that she later judges to be “too heavy” or “not right” for her demonstrations.  She inevitably buys more plants than she will need for a demonstration in order to have exactly the right 'look' for the containers in her demonstration.  Oh, and she will go to sales when quality garden centers such as Andrew’s, Weston and Russell’s start marking down their plant.

Containers, many using
succulents, soften the sidewalk
and vary its width.
I will bring the preamble of this piece to a merciful conclusion:  right now, there are 61 containers scattered around our property.  Christopher Lloyd would be proud.

There’s a loropetalum that appears to have settled into its container for a long, happy life.  The acuba we purchased in Maryland last year quickly outgrew its container and, in the process of re-potting it, Betty found a daughter shrub which now has its own pot.  Our crape myrtle and Cape plumbago also are thriving in seasonal glory; Zone 8 shrubs summering in a Zone 5B world.

On the front porch, five containers
provide a mix of formal and
informal elements.
But it is the mixed containers that are the ‘wow’ part of the collection.  Now that July is here, they are in prolific flower and visitors can see what Betty had in mind when she first started putting plants together two months ago.  We are still mixing containers to provide height and texture contrast.  A water garden – actually, a four-container water garden – was completed just  this morning.

At a driveway turnaround, five
containers mix annuals
with shrubs (the acuba and
These portable gardens provide bridges to our ‘permanent’ gardens, softening buffers for sidewalks and driveways, and focal points to pull the eye to corners of the garden that might otherwise escape attention.

They require maintenance: flowers need to be deadheaded just as in any garden; ‘thugs’ need to be trimmed back less they take over.  And, on hot summer days, each container can take a gallon or more of water to keep roots cool and damp. 

This container, likely in its last
year of use, mixes caladiums
with a prolifically flowering
And, finally, some containers are
there just to draw the eye to
corners of the property.

1 comment:

  1. I love the container with the hydrangea and also the one using caladiums. What a great idea!