Sunday, July 10, 2011

Trying Hard to Contain Ourselves

As you could probably tell from my post about Whichford Pottery, we simply love beautiful clay and stone pots.  Each year, we tell ourselves that we have enough and that we should really try to control ourselves.  And each year we ignore our own advice.

Paula does a wonderful job designing and planting all of the containers in the garden.  They are gorgeous but also a lot of work.  There's not only the time invested in planting each container but it takes even more time to track down and purchase interesting plants.  And, since we are located at least a half-hour drive from any nursery, that means a lot of time spent in the car.  And then there's winter storage as well as the time it takes to regularly water all the pots!   We won't even go there. Despite some of these drawbacks, we can't even imagine our garden without the beauty and versatility of containers.

There are big containers:

Like this beautiful stone planter from Campania that contains a Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Viridis').

On the left is another Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Garnet') in a beautiful clay pot with a design that fits the tree.  We have a collection of Japanese Maples throughout the garden that we remove from their pots each fall and then heel them into the potager beds for the winter once the veggies come out.  Then, in the Spring, we remove them from their winter beds, root prune them (much like a bonsai technique which keeps them small), and then replace them in their pots with fresh soil and potting mix.  We use a mixture of Pro Mix plus added compost from Ideal Compost as a potting medium in all our pots throughout the garden.  The annuals then get fertilized on a regular schedule.

In the same category of large and heavy is this stone "basket weave" pot holding a Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) that sits on the edge of the terrace at the base of the support for the pergola...

... and there is this large classic stone container holding an Asparagus densiflorus underplanted with white Calibrachoa superbells and Euphorbia graminea 'Diamond Frost' that marks the beginning of a gravel path.

This container is actually large and light. It is the only "faux" container we have in the garden. It disguises itself fairly well but, more importantly, it does its job. It's our largest pot and contains a 12 foot high white birch tree that sits at the edge of the pool deck through all four seasons. It is underplanted with Supertunia 'Pretty Much Picasso' and the blue fescue grass, Festuca ovina glauca 'Elijah Blue.'  The tree has been in the pot for three years now, through the best and worst possible weather, and is still going strong.

There are small containers:

We have several small bonsai containers, like the one containing this Chamaecyparis, displayed around the garden.

There are containers that provide fragrance where we want it:

We place several long-tom clay pots (like the one just behind the chair) containing Oriental lillys around the seating area on the terrace where, in just a few more weeks, their wonderful fragrance will engulf the entire area as well as scent the inside of the house.  This one (Lillium Oriental 'X-otica') sits next to a blue ceramic pot filled with a Calacantha floridus, a small pot containing an agapanthus and, on the opposite side of the chair, a pot filled with rosemary.

There are groupings of containers that provide interesting vignettes:

Here is an antique cart that we filled with six clay pots containing white cosmos. The pot at the base of the cart is planted with a pumpkin which will send out a vine that will eventually trail around the gravel, and form its fruit.  Once we trade out the cosmos in the cart for mums, toward the end of the season, we will have a ready-made fall scene, including pumpkins.

There is this little grouping of sun-loving annuals and perennials that sits by a water trough in the courtyard.  The pot in the foreground contains Salvia farinacea with Nicotiana, to the left, a Dracaena Palm, and, in the rear is a long tom containing a Ricinus communis 'Carmencita Bright Red' underplanted with Supertunia Bordeaux.

And, it's always great fun to try new and unusual container plants like this Ptilotus exaltatus 'Joey' from Australia that's underplanted with lavender Calabrachoa in a scalloped edged clay pot from Campo de' Fiore.

There are containers that don't contain anything...

This wonderful antique clay jar, with all its wear and imperfections, serves as a center focal point in one of the gardens and needs no accompaniment.

photo by Andrea Geesaman
Here's another one that serves as a focal point at the end of a very long allee.

... And there are containers that contain collections of plants: 

This little table off the terrace provides a convenient place to display a collection of small pots containing succulents.

A simple collection of empty clay pots on rustic shelves against the red barn works well too, especially when contrasted with the more formal urn containing Torenia fournieri with white Lobelia.

There are containers to mark entrances:

These two roll-top clay pots, filled with Dracaena, blue and white Lobelia and red Verbena, mark the entrance to the front garden.

And I simply love this beautifully designed container by Guy Wolff that sits by the front door!  It contains Oxalis purpurea, Caladium x hortulanum and Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost.'

And by the north entrance to the garden sits this stone urn planted with assorted Coleus and chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea).

Here, two oversized long-toms filled with spheres of Thuja Hetzi Midget mark the entrance to a gravel path.  Although hard to see in the photo, at the focal point at the end of the path there is a large, vivid blue, ceramic container filled with Lysimachia clethroides (gooseneck loosetrife- a plant you definitely want to keep contained) whose tall white flowers will soon bloom, providing a sharp contrast with the red barn, and drawing the eye along the path.

There are containers that frame seating areas...

This bench is flanked by two large green ceramic pots of the same color but with different shapes; the one on the left containing a bamboo (Fargesia Murieliae) and the one on the right a tall Cyperus papyrus.  The smaller clay pot contains a red-leafed begonia that blends well with a red Japanese Maple nearby (not seen in photo).

... and water.

These small square stone containers that sit at the four corners of the pool are planted with Calibrachoa, Supertunias, Scaveola, and Helichrysum in hues of purple.  We use the same planting here almost every year because the colors go so well with the pool, the plants can take direct sun and high heat all day and still look good, and they go on blooming right into fall.

Containing the same plantings, these two old urns on stone plinths sit on the pool deck.

... And containers that decorate table tops:

We have several of these beautiful clay bowl planters made by Campo de' Fiori on tables in the garden.  This one is planted with a variety of succulents.  In the vase are a bunch of just-cut garlic scapes from the potager.

There are containers to provide vertical accent:

Occasionally, there are places in the garden where we would like to have some vertical accent yet there are obstacles to planting that make it impossible.  Here is such a spot, right up against the foundation of the house, where we use a tall long-tom planted with a Duchess of Albany clematis.  In the fall, we cut back the clematis, heel it into a vacant bed in the potager, and then re-plant it in the same pot in the spring.  The plant in the container sitting atop the locust post is an ornamental oregano, 'Kent Beauty.'

And here is clematis Josephine planted in very similar conditions by one of the side doors to the house.

There are containers that serve as focal points:

photo by Andrea Geesaman

This large urn, filled with a huge red cordyline is the focal point at the center of the "lilac garden."  The smaller stone urn, one of two that flank the top of the stone steps, is filled with Salvia farinacea and lobelia.

The urn above is filled with Guara lindheimeri with pink and white Scaveola.  Planted at the base of the urn are white daylillies and green mountain boxwood.

The urn and plantings make up the focal point at the end of the long allee in the photo at left.

There are containers that light the way...

Both of these containers are placed in very shady areas.  The blue ceramic container above sits under a large crabapple and is planted with New Guinea impatiens, Juncus 'blue arrows,' Dichondra 'silver falls,' Dusty Miller, and Variegated Ivy.  I love the way the blue color of the pot and the blue-green Dichondra harmonize with the blue-green color of the lichens on the old trunk of the crabapple tree.

The huge long-tom at left contains a Calla lilly underplanted with white lobelia.  It's also in a very shady spot under a few white birch trees and there's just enough white in the planting to make it stand out from a distance.  An important attribute since it also serves as a focal point at the end of the crabapple allee.

Here, in a simple half-whiskey barrel, is a bright green hosta that works better than a reflector to light up the very shady entrance to the garage.

... or mark a path.

Along with the two chickens, the tiny little pot of Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' sitting on top of an old beam on the right, and the huge pot of Philodendron selloum 'Hope' on the left are enough to mark the stone path through this shade garden area.

There are containers to accentuate form and color:

Along the outside perimeter of the courtyard garden fence, we have five roll-top clay pots containing red cordylines underplanted with purple Scaveola.  The placement of the pots not only breaks up the planting of blaze peonies and New Hampshire geraniums along the fence, but the red cordylines also accentuate the color of three bloodgood Japanese Maples that are nearby.

Here we are using a clay pot of Colocasia esculenta 'Black Magic' to accentuate the similar leaf form of the bed of Epimedium rubrum in which the pot is sitting.

And with this clay pot containing an Abyssinian 'red ensete' banana, it's less about form and more about color.  The color of the banana blends nicely with the foliage of both the Sambucus Nigra 'Black Lace' (r) and the Weigela 'Wine & Roses' (l).  The pot also serves a dual function by hiding some of the unsightly foliage of a group of poppies behind it, once they have finished flowering.

This is not your typical container plant but we're always willing to experiment.  We loved the way this Abies koreana 'Horsman's Silverlocke' and the underplanting of white lobelia and Dichondra 'Silver Falls' accentuated the green color of this ceramic container, or vice versa.  It provides a nice sentinel by the door of the pool house.

There are specialty containers...

Like these next three from Guy Wolff:

A greenhouse pot.

A strawberry pot.

And a rhubarb forcing pot.

Then there's this sedum-haired beauty from Campo de' Fiore.

Containers don't have to be made of terracotta or stone.  Some of the most interesting plant containers happen when the gardener gets creative.  Iron cauldrons, baskets, wooden bowls and dough troughs... almost anything you can find around the home can be used as long as you provide adequate drainage.  In this photo, an old English dolly tub containing an Actaea simplex 'Hillside Black Beauty' sits among a large bed of hostas and ligularias.

... and there are containers we make ourselves:

These Versailles tubs that contain Agapanthus and flank the Lutyens bench at the end of the pool are easily constructed.


Check out this article by Gordon Hayward on creative container gardening that recently appeared in Organic Gardening magazine by clicking here.

Also, click on the book covers below to learn more about these two informative books by Jim Keeling, founder and owner of Whichford Pottery...

... Or this one by Sydney Eddison:

For information on clay and stone containers, you can check out the websites of these quality suppliers by clicking below.

Whichford Pottery         Lunaform

Campo de' Fiore            Haddonstone

Campania International


  1. Joe, The garden is looking better than ever. Who does the watering!!??

  2. Uhhhh... most days that would be me, I'm afraid. Thanks for your nice comment, Michael! And, drop by for a visit some day soon! -- Joe

  3. Love love love! The containers are spectacular and I am jealous of your Guy wolfe pots...also very intigued by the Ptilotus exalatus "Joey", what an interesting plant.

  4. Thanks, Cheryl! I'll pass your comment on to Paula. She deserves all the credit in this part of the garden. And, as for the Guy Wolff pots... we definitely have a weakness there!

  5. Gosh o' Gee Jiminy, Joe -- Where were you hiding that first Campania lovely when I was visiting? If I saw it, it would've been missing. And you've got some truly unique Guy Wolff container styles that I've never seen = and he's my neighbor. Now, the moment of truth -- How many do you break each season?

  6. Hi Tovah! Whew! I thought for a minute you were about to ask me how many do we BUY each season, which would really give away our addiction! --Joe

  7. Thank you for your kind comments about Whichford and my blog. Your garden looks fantastic - hope you don't mind if I steal some of your container planting ideas!
    All the best, Harriet

  8. Hi Harriet! How nice to hear from you! I can't tell you how much we enjoyed our visit to Whichford. Everyone was so friendly, the gardens were stunning, and of course the pots were to die for. We are telling all our friends planning trips to the UK to make sure to stop by and say hello. Thanks for your kind words. I am enjoying your blog and hope that you'll check in on us from time to time!



  9. Love the clematis in the pot. I live in zone 4 would I need to bring the pot in for the winter or will the plant roots be fine if the pot is left outside?

    1. Hi Ann! We live in zone 5 so have similar winter issues. What we do is simply heel the clematis into the ground ( we use a vacant raised bed in the veggie garden) at the end of the gardening season, then remove it and repot it again in the spring. If you have the right light and temperature conditions inside, like a greenhouse or conservatory, you can just winter-over the pot and intact clematis there. The clematis will almost surely not winter over well if left outside in the pot during the winter. Plus, unless it's made of plastic or some winterized material, the pot will also freeze and crack. Hope that helps!


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