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The Exclamation Point to Landscape Design

Colorful, bold and impactful—container plantings are the exclamation point in the landscape design, providing continual interest as the garden transitions through the season. They attract hummingbirds and butterflies to delight the homeowner, provide culinary herbs to spice up an outdoor dinner and add flare to brighten up a shady retreat. They help draw the eye to beautiful bay and ocean vistas, distract attention from unsightly equipment and lead guests through pathways and entryways, garden rooms and courtyards. They help soften the hard, rigid effects of hardscaping and add flare to monochromatic evergreens and privacy screens.

Whatever their function, planters should be selected and designed to complement the outdoor environment and show-off the aesthetic attributes of the property. For a contemporary home and landscape, planters with clean, simple lines in neutral or muted colors enhance the cool, crisp effect of the architecture and planting palette. If a casual or whimsical effect is desired, look for vivid colors and highly individualized designs when selecting containers. When paired with hot, vibrant flowering plants, colorful pots with heavy glazing can create a dynamic flare in the landscape. For an earthy, eco-friendly atmosphere select bamboo, terracotta or stone containers and allow the plant material to create its own aesthetic statement.

The shape of planters should not be overlooked when designing the container garden. If framing an expansive bay or ocean view, a series of low, broad pots will accentuate the dramatic surroundings. On the other hand, tall, elongated pots work best to anchor the rear of a container grouping or accentuate the homes’ foundation. To personalize a container grouping choosing pots reminiscent of a foreign vacation or repurpose a flea market find into a quirky, one-of-a-kind garden statement. Classic or contemporary, whimsical or stately--the key is selecting a container style and sticking with it.

Annual flowers or edible herbs, sun or shade--the plant palette selected for a container should depend upon its function in and location on the site. However, when it comes to design and plant arrangement, consider the time-tested principle of incorporating a “thriller”, “spiller” and “filler” into the container. The ‘thriller”, or showstopper, is the focal centerpiece of the container design capturing and holding attention. Brightly colored flowers, unusually textured foliage or hot, new horticultural introductions at the Garden Center will function perfectly as the thriller. A low growing, ‘spiller’ plant, typically located at the edge of the container creates a cascading effect and directs the eye throughout the container design. Finally, the workhorse of the planter--the ‘”filler”-- holds the design together and unifies the planting palette.

The choice of plant colors for the planter is endless and depends upon the personal preferences of the homeowner. They can be broken down into cool pastel colors—shades of pink, white, violet and coral--or hot colors like red, dark purple, orange and yellow. Incorporating foliage color and texture into the design creates added dimension and interest to the composition.

With a little planning and forethought, the container garden should delight the homeowner and provide a visual accent to the outdoor environment, especially when first planted. However, to ensure lasting beauty and vigor throughout the season, pruning, deadheading of spent flowers and periodic maintenance is essential. Consistent irrigation cannot be underestimated or overlooked and, without which, will quickly lead to the demise of container gardens.

Water can be particularly tenuous for the summer resident, unable to consistently attend to the needs of the container garden. While a drought tolerant plant palette may slow down the need for water, given our harsh coastal environment of strong sun and desiccating winds, no contained planting can exist for long without this valuable resource. In this instance, the installation of a drip irrigation system tied into the landscape automatic irrigation system is essential and the only reliable alternative.

Available in a kaleidoscope of colors, textures, shapes and sizes, the cache of annual plants is enormous and allows the homeowner an endless opportunity for personal expression and plant combinations. Keep in mind not only the color combination of flowers for your container grouping but also the color and texture of foliage. Tubular or spiky, single flowered or multi-flowering inflorescences--the shape and orientation of the flowering structure on a plant can also increase interest and add dimension to the container design.

Whether supplementing the visual appeal of an established landscape or providing the sole source of color and greenery on a condominium balcony, container planters add visual, sensory appeal to the outdoor environment and create a continuous source of pleasure for all to enjoy during the summer months.

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