Summer Planters


Today everyone wants their dollar to go farther. Our current economic crisis has encouraged smarter buying habits, helped to rid ourselves of wasteful praxes while simultaneously grounding us to be more thoughtful consumers.  We, as consumers want our money to be spent wisely and help contribute to our quality of life. Aside from our retirement funds, real estate holdings, stocks and bonds, which we all worry about, there is that little bit of disposable income we use to enhance our quality of life.

What moves and inspires us is what we spend our money on. Whether it’s visiting a museum, going to dinner, listening to a concert or watching a ball game, we simply want to enjoy and surround ourselves with pleasant experiences. What could be more beautiful and inspiring than summer color in your planters?

Your imagination is your only limitation! The days of Italian clay pottery filled with a dracaena spike, surrounded with simple begonias or impatiens has been replaced. Today, vibrant colors can leap out of our landscapes, inspiring us to be bold and use nature’s assortment of colors and textures.  Imagine this summer if you chose a cobalt blue, canary yellow or raspberry red container and filled it with something playful. The use of pottery in and around our homes helps add dimension to our landscapes. The simple act of incorporating one of these rich colors by a front door, within the mulched bed of your home can seem like a piece of sculpture. The advantage we have, as gardeners, is that our container plants continue to grow throughout the season. Hence, they take on a sort of living sculpture quality which can be changed as little as every season or as often as every month.

Consider, if you will, the use of ornamental grasses in your planters. Playful movement with rich color and interesting textures will help amplify bold pottery colors. Sweeping movement is guaranteed everyday from these low maintenance plants. Carex buchananii (Fox Red Curley Sedge) is a gorgeous, colorful sedge grass. Stunning clumps of reddish-bronze make this evergreen perennial a great choice with its fine texture. Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ (Ivory Feathers Dwarf Pampas Grass) is well suited for smaller spaces. This clumping grass has rich, vibrant, narrow green foliage with huge, white plumes held on top. The texture of the leaves however suggests a thickness not often seen in grasses. Drought and wind tolerant, there is virtually no maintenance with this one.

Elymus arenarius ‘Blue Dune’ is perhaps the most striking blue grass you will come across. Silver-blue foliage shines in just about any landscape. Very erect, full blades only grow to about two feet. The flowers however are held another foot higher than the foliage. This is a texture and color I simply can’t live without. Cautioned by friends and colleagues in the industry, I used this plant in mass in our own landscape. Touted as a grass which “spreads indefinitely”, I created a huge outdoor planter within a mulched bed. Backed with the broadleaf evergreen Buxus sempervirens (common boxwood) I trenched in a bamboo barrier some thirty inches deep to control its spread. So far so good! Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Lenca’ (Regal Mist Pink Muhly) has glossy green leaves and feathery pinkish-red plumes in late summer. For those of you who like yellow, consider Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ (Japanese Forest Grass). Slender stems suspend bright yellow foliage with a thin green stripe suggesting an almost bamboo like feel. Useful as a border shrub in shade to filtered light, Japanese Forest Grass looks stunning dripping over the outer edges of one of those brightly colored pots suggested earlier. Finally, let’s not forget the Phormiums! I’m talking about New Zealand Flax. Such playful nomenclature as ‘Evening Glow’, ‘Platt’s Black’, ‘Rainbow Chief’, and ‘Tiny Tiger’ provide most colors of the rainbow. This series of plants has been used by designers to create outstanding architectural lines. This is simplicity at its best.

The argument may be that some of these are not cold hardy. To that I say this…for the minimal cost of these beautiful grasses and phormiums; you could enjoy their beauty for the better part of half the year. A far better return than the cost of an entrée out at a restaurant, a beer and a hot dog, not to mention parking at a sporting event or the price of a single concert ticket. Those experiences will no doubt leave you fulfilled, but your outdoor garden can feed your soul year round.