Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One Plant, One Pot

Well scaled terracotta pots repeat the roof tile color of this Italianate home,
while the clipped topiaries lends a formal grace. Repetition of the smaller
boxwood topiaries draw attention to the sculpture enhancing the sense
of timeless elegance.
Green garden. Dallas, TX

Container gardens have many guises. They can be self contained herb or vegetable gardens, hanging baskets which overflow with color to give vertical interest or huge pots which explode with an exuberant mixture of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. What is sometimes overlooked, however, is the simple statement a solo planting can make. Adding just one plant to a pot may require too much restraint for some yet there are occasions when pared down design says more than an overstuffed medley. The trick is marrying the plant to the pot and the pot to the surroundings.

Perfect marriage of plant and pot. This red
'Kangaroo paw' can be enjoyed outside in
summer and brought indoors during colder
Design by Paul Repetowski

Contemporary architecture is epitomized by clean lines and the use of stark, sometimes industrial materials. Containers with strong geometric shapes with little or no embellishment are the best choice for such a situation. Matte black, charcoal or bronze are all good colors for this application, with concrete, natural stone or ceramic working well for materials.

A tall sleek pot is the perfect vessel for this
contemporary planting with black mondo grass.
The granite ball placed casually at the base
adds to the masculine feel.
Design by Paul Repetowski

When it comes to the plants, select foliage with strong architectural lines such as aloes, agave, New Zealand flax (Phormium) and Yucca all of which offer a bold, spiky texture which stands out well against a plain background. Horsetails are notoriously invasive weeds in wet ground yet when corralled their strong vertical lines complement modern style. If a series of containers are needed, a sequence of identical containers will set up a dynamic rhythm.

Blowsy white daisies make a perfect partner
for this rustic green container
My design

At the opposite end of the spectrum, rustic containers or terracotta are perfect partners for informal settings such as cottages. A mass of white daisies such as the marguerites (Argyranthemum) would associate well as would other simple flowers such as cosmos or black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia). All three bloom profusely throughout the summer in good potting soil. Just a little deadheading and you’ll have bouquets of flowers.

Mediterranean and more formal architecture suit large scaled topiaries especially if a pair is used to flank an entrance. Junipers, boxwood, yew and privet all lend themselves to such treatment, but need to be kept into shape by semi-annual shearing. These containers should be of a sufficient size to be in scale with the home, with stone urns or terracotta being traditional choices. Allowing these to weather naturally gives a sense of history and permanence.

Note how the terracotta and striated theme is repeated in this
vignette. The simple container sets both the style and color
palette, repeated by the colorful croton foliage
as well as the cushion fabric. Wonderful attention to detail.
Rister-Armstrong garden. Dallas, TX
 Another way to work with Mediterranean style is to select tropical looking foliage such as bromeliads, crotons, palms or elephant ears (Colocasia). Placed in a bright glazed container these will create drama, adding a punch of color to stand up to the strong sunshine found anywhere else other then Seattle!

If you really can’t bring yourself to just try the concept of ‘one plant in a pot’, use it as a ploy to stop container groups becoming too ‘busy’. In a group of three I will usually go completely over the top with the largest container, pare it down a little for the middle size and add just one complementary plant such as purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum rubrum) to the smallest pot. It keeps the color and style theme in mind while emphasizing the focal combination.

Funky plant in a funky pot!
Aeonium 'Zwartkopf'
My design
Use these ideas to re-think your container garden designs this year. As much as I love to cram as many possible plants into my designs, and it is probably what I am known for, I also need to recognize when ‘less is more’.

Other solo candidates

For sun;
  • Silver bush (Convolvulus cneorum)
  • Sun loving grasses e.g. blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens)
  • Kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos flavidus)
  • Bamboo
  • Dwarf, mounding pine trees

For shade;
  • Coleus, especially Kong varieties in deep shade
  • Variegated daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’)
  • Aspidistra
  • Shade loving grasses e.g. Carex ‘ice dance’, ‘Gold fountains’ & wood rush (Luzula)
  • Bugloss varieties e.g. 'Jack Frost’ (Brunnera)
  • Anthurium


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thank you Alexis - great idea. I have copied and pasted your comment below without the link I think you inadvertently included.

    Alexis Preatori said...

    I also love using foliages like Yucca on my garden. They serve as a wall surrounding another mini park and a fountain in between. It's just so nice that my visitors are very curious of what's behind those foliages.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hallo Chapman :),
    I love to see your garden pictures here and I love to see especially your daisy :) Can you tell me how your daisy look so fresh and very blossoming? Any idea to share?

  5. You never fail to impress, Karen. It seems every new post I see about your garden makes me feel I need to work harder on my own gardening. You're a true plantaholic indeed.


  6. Thank you - I'm so glad you are enjoying these posts and find them both helpful and inspirational. That was my aim at the outset so you have encouraged ME!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.