Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
August, 2011
Regional Report

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Beyond a similarly planted antique wellhead at the top of Flower Garden Drive, a dynamic duo of pots and plants mimic modern sculpture at Longwood Gardens.

When Pots Are More Than Pots

Now that I'm editing photos from my most recent trip, I'm reminded how important it is to make good use of my camera on a garden tour. It not only takes photos of the things I want to remember, it also records objects and ideas that can be discovered later when I'm perusing the images at leisure.

Tour photos are uniquely useful in two ways. They suspend time, allowing you to examine a garden in detail so that you can carefully evaluate each plant, structure, and design concept, both individually and in context. And they also compress time, giving you the opportunity to review days of travel in just hours, or even minutes, so that similarities and differences of the varying landscapes can be fully appreciated and understood.

In fact, reviewing tour photos can be a great way to spot trends among a group of gardens, or to comprehend the importance of something you've seen many times before but never stopped to consider.

For example, while pouring over the photos of my recent visit to gardens of the Delaware Valley I noticed something that hadn't caught my attention while I was actually there -- namely that nearly every garden featured a display or two created with multiple pots that were identical in every way, including the plants which grew in their embrace.

This repetition of pots, which varied in number from three to more than a dozen, increased their usefulness as well as their impact. While still satisfying many of the purposes of a single container garden, such as moving plants onto hard-surfaces and placing them at eye and hand level, they also served as structures or produced other worthwhile effects.

Here's a list of some of the most eye-catching examples, as well as their jobs in the landscape:

At Winterthur a series of gray, faux-stone pots filled with purple and white agapanthus ornamented the rim of the rectangular reflecting pool, reinforcing the strict symmetry of the garden's Italian Renaissance design, and clearly delineating the pool's edge for safety.

At Morris Arboretum, a line of terra cotta pots planted with silver-hued cardoon, black-purple potato vine and violet and yellow annuals topped the posts of a long, descending balustrade. Here again the pots reinforced the shape of an existing architectural element, but they also linked two ornamental areas, much like the sugar-sweet confections that decorate a towering wedding cake.

At Chanticleer, a row of contemporary black pots containing a fiddleleaf fig tree and smaller plants marched along the edge of the terrace directly behind the house, while a collection of terra cotta bowls filled with a burgundy-hued ornamental grass and cascading annuals outlined the waist-high wall of the home's roof terrace. Both groups of pots set the color theme and style of an open-air entertaining area, and created a wall (or extended a wall) to enclose and define an outdoor space.

Most striking of all, however, was a collection of mammoth, blue-green jars at Longwood Gardens, each containing a like-colored century plant. Paired on either side of Flower Garden Drive among a 600-foot long border of pineapple sage and enclosed by both a hedge and allee, the stiff spear-like foliage and uniformity of the century plants turned the dynamic duo of pots and plants into modern sculpture, while their precise arrangement lured visitors forward, from one end of the border to the other.

Clearly, multiple pots equal more than the sum of their parts. They're a force to be reckoned with in any garden, creating something monumental despite their small size. It's a mystery how they escaped my notice. Multiple pots do their jobs so effortlessly, however, and so beautifully, I guess I didn't realize what they were up to.

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