Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grouping Containers

What’s better than one container? Two containers! (Or more). Yet putting together a group of containers can be daunting for some. Do they have to match? Should there be an odd number? Do I need symmetry?

A classic group of three containers; the same elegant
color and finish yet the variety in texture makes this
more interesting. The largest container is planted as
the focal point with the smallest having just a single
New Zealand flax to achieve balance and a sense of
order. My design.

At the end of the day, if you like them, they’re fine. Unless container design is your profession then stop worrying! Just play with placement and move things around until you’re happy. Here are a few tips that might help get your started and take some of the guesswork out of it though.

Do all the pots have to match?

These three rustic containers are
clustered together, yet the larger pot on
left is brown whereas the others are dark
red. Since they share the same style and
 are a similar shape the group works well.
My design

Well think of your interior furnishings. The days of the traditional ‘three piece suite’ for the living room are long gone. Certainly a matching set can be used but the main thing is to have all the pots relate to each other somehow.

I start by assembling a group that has the same style i.e. rustic, contemporary or traditional. Typically that decision is driven by the architectural style of the home itself as well as the setting. 
Style? WACKY! Color? LOTS! So why does this work?
The rooster is the key element here and all the colors
relate to him. In addition, each color is somehow found
in each container, whether in plants or artwork (or
peacock feathers in the tallest one!)
My design.












Next I consider color. Again the initial choice needs to take the surroundings into account. I may choose to have all the pots in a rustic red or perhaps a rustic blue, brown and red grouped together. Either can be made to work. In the latter case, in order for the association to remain strong between all the pots I would include red and blue flowers or foliage in each of the pots to tie things together.

Shape and texture are two aspects that I find homeowners are most nervous about – relax! If you have taken account of the above tips on style and color then you’re already heading in the right direction. Varying both the shape and texture adds interest to a grouping. You might choose to combine containers which are smooth, ribbed or dimpled, or keep a sleek non-embellished look for all. Either can look elegant or informal depending upon your other choices but for a contemporary look I will always choose simple shapes and clean lines. 

These two black cauldrons are the same size
and each is raised to the same height. This
duo visually reads as a single unit however
as the container to the right is planted
more simply and acts as a supporting player
to the star. My design

The main problem with placing a group of containers together which are all the same size is that you won’t be able to see the ones at the back. You can easily cheat by raising pots up on small outdoor tables, platforms, bricks or even upturned pots to stagger the heights. The ‘workings’ will be hidden as the plants grow in.


Do I have to use an odd number of pots?

Of all the misconceptions this one is the biggest. The short answer is NO! If a group of 2 looks awkward try adding a unique third element such as a gazing ball or other piece of small statuary. Maybe an over-sized hurricane lamp with a candle to match the design will add the final touch? Perhaps add something which relates to your culture or travels such as a decorative Indian elephant or some Balinese wood sculptures.


Although the two middle cedar planters are identical, 
those on the outside are each a different size.
This custom group was designed to resemble the
gentle shape of a garden border with varying 
depth and height. My design

What about symmetry?

Some people love strong symmetry and others prefer an asymmetrical look – either can be made to work. I recently had an interesting challenge where I was adding containers to a beautiful home entrance, flanked by two pillars. The obvious thing to do was add one container to each side. However the homeowners felt that perhaps this was a little too much of a good thing taking into consideration other containers nearby. The solution in this case was easy. The front door, seen beyond the pillars was not centered on the pillars themselves but slightly to the left. We therefore kept one large container by the left pillar and added a smaller but otherwise identical container to the right of the door. This moved the eye diagonally through the space, making a strong connection between the two but eliminating the need for symmetry.
 
Do you have an overabundance of small containers? Try grouping them around a feature such as a birdbath or fountain or use them to line outdoor stairs. Many years ago in France I was struck by the sight of humble red geraniums in bleached terracotta pots, lining a flight of weathered stone steps. There was beauty in the simplicity.

Three identical containers in style, color, dimensions and
contents, each planted symmetrycally. These clean lines
and repetition ties into the contemporary
architecture of the home.
My design.



So assess you containers with new eyes. How can you group them to get a greater impact? Do you need to ‘retire’ a few for the sake of a more cohesive look? Perhaps a shopping trip is in order? Whatever you do have fun, add plants and enjoy your creation.

Containers in photos 1, 2 and 6 are from AW pottery

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