BY ANNIE HUSTON, BIRDSALL & CO.
Spring has sprung, and with it the perennial conundrum for homeowners with front porches, terraces, and balconies: so many containers and plants to consider, and so many opportunities to make the wrong choice!
Avoid that sinking feeling that your garden still has not lived up to your Pinterest dreams this year by considering a few basic design elements to create an outdoor living space that looks thoughtful, proportional, and healthy. Make this the year of garden satisfaction!
#1 – Location, location, location: Where you are placing your containers is going to dictate everything else in the design. How are you going to be enjoying your containers? Make sure they are tall enough to see out the kitchen window, wide enough to hide that ugly utility box, or deep enough for that citrus tree.
Consider what you already have going on in that space; avoid piling additional small containers into a space already full with an umbrella, fire pit, and dining table. Always be deliberate in your selection and location of containers; clutter is the enemy of garden satisfaction!
#2 – Style: Containers come in enough shapes and sizes to fit all design styles. Identify the look you are going for based on the style of the house and how you use your outdoor space. Mirror straight lines in the house’s architecture with a modern, clean cast stone container or simple square glazed pot. A traditional European setting can be complemented with earthenware urns in antiqued terra cotta for a unique take on a classic look. Use oversized, bright glazed ceramic bowls around a deep seating area to mark off your outdoor room and introduce blooms at eye level. No matter the style, a good rule of thumb is to always consider your containers as an architectural element of your home and landscape; that bright red pot might catch your eye at the store, but think about whether bringing it home will introduce a totally new element into your space instead of tying together the whole.
I have always found that Colorado homeowners eschew the frilly, ornate garden décor of the East Coast in favor of simple lines and styles. That said, you have to live with it and you have to love it. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with any pot that brings you joy.
#3 – Material: Step away from the plastic containers! Flimsy plastic is out of the question when there are so many natural and long-lasting materials out there.
Cast stone is container royalty; often used for more formal settings such as the front entrance or for topping columns, these containers are now often made with clean, modern lines for more transitional or modern settings as well. The highest quality cast stone pots are usually pricy, but will literally last decades without any special treatment or attention. Try a cast stone stain that complements the adjoining colors of the house trim, brick or stucco.
Glazed ceramic containers can introduce color, gloss, iridescence, even sparkle to an outdoor space. With so many shapes, sizes and styles, they can find homes almost anywhere from the kitchen herb garden to more formal entrances. Do not restrict yourself to one shape and color for your space; indulge in different shades of the same color, or with different shapes of the same color. Even better: commit to one or two giant ceramic pots to make an instant statement.
Shop carefully; not all materials will be of the same quality. Only purchase ceramic containers that have been fired at extremely high temperatures, which reduces their porosity and the risk of cracking during cold, wet weather. Cast stone at its highest quality is concrete mixed with limestone, making it extremely dense, heavy, and less liable to flake and crack than their less expensive, less dense, and more porous concrete counterparts.
#4 – Size: Bigger is definitely better! When choosing an outdoor container, commit to as large a pot that will fit in your space, rather than a grouping of smaller containers. The eighties brought us this questionable fashion of grouping small pots in odd numbers; the trend is now toward larger, more architectural containers that make a statement even without flowers. Bigger pots allow for more interesting and bigger plantings and can even overwinter some plants, all of it with less frequent watering.
#5 – Color: The emphasis should be either on the container or the plantings; focusing on both will lead to total aesthetic overload. A vividly colored planter will be a good home for a more sedate experiment with texture and foliage, a green shrub, or a large perennial. A neutral planter leaves visual room for an explosion of colors.
Overall the empty containers should make a statement by themselves, either because they blend into the architecture of the house, as if they were built in, or they seamlessly complement other colors existing in the space.
#6 – Planting: Most importantly, design your containers according to the kind of sunshine your plants will be getting during the day, and be realistic about your space; no matter how nicely you talk to it, that beautiful fuchsia is going to fry in full sun. Whatever the sun exposure and the look you are going for, there are plants out there to get it done without any wishful thinking.
The options for plantings are sometimes overwhelming. I suggest sticking with one variety in each container for a full display of healthy and happy plants. One large and showy dragon wing begonia in a shady location is easy and elegant. One large trailing geranium is equally simple and beautiful (and so European)! The trend of exploring textures and foliage makes for a sophisticated look and a welcome departure from strictly annual blooms.
#7 – Watering with Champagne: Finally, the most pleasant reward after all the hard work is done. Pots are chosen and planted. The neighbors are sufficiently impressed by your style, creativity and green thumb skills. All that is left to do (on a frequent basis) is to pop open the bottle of bubbly, slow down, and carefully apply yourself to watering with Champagne.