Summer Containers – Kennett Square, PA

Longwood Gardens

Do not go to Longwood Gardens if you don’t want to see containers bursting with summer color.

Visitor Entrance
Visitor Entrance

The Visitor Center entrance displays many large box planters filled with bright Canna and towering Cyperus. The Cyperus wobbles in the breeze this movement adds interest.

Peony Garden
Peony Garden

At the rim of the Peony Garden a trio of terrra cottas filled with Geraniums sits at the entrance to the garden.

Nothing says garden like Geraniums planted in terra cotta this is a simple and cute combination.

Rose Arbor Garden
Rose Arbor Garden

The Rose Arbor Garden is loaded with colorful summer containers. At the time of my visit the roses were not in bloom. Several colonies of containers are arranged throughout this garden the colorful foliage and flowers redirect interest from the roses to the containers.

When it comes to containers more is better. The folks at Longwood Gardens like more. Love their container attitude! You will see container inspiration throughout the gardens.

ARS Weeding Sickle

ARS Weeding Sickle – Nejiri Kama

In the winter 2016 I purchased the Nejiri Kama Weeding Sickle. The primary reason I selected this tool was for removing dead foliage from ornamental grasses and dried perennial stocks.

What I like about this sickle?

This small sickle is an efficient tool for removing expired foliage down to the plant basal foliage. The flat pointed tip (or toe) allows for precision when slicing into the soil to uproot weeds.

Sickles like a pruner have a sharp edge. It is important to keep the sickle sharp. If you allow the blade to dull you will notice it becomes less effective when cutting and slicing.

What is wrong with this sickle?

ARS Weeding Sickle - Nejiri Kama
ARS Weeding Sickle – Nejiri Kama

Typically, I work 5 to 6 days per week I use this sickle on a regular basis. In a season my tools get a lot of use. The sickle blade (chine) chips with use. Sharping the sickle will give you a good edge.

Would I purchase this sickle again?

Not sure, this is my first small sickle. It is the perfect size for various garden maintenance tasks. With or without chips this tool is handy. Wish it held up better to frequent use.

Summer Containers – Washington, DC

The National Arboretum

Often I am asked for my container planting “recipe”.  Location is my first planting ingredient followed by the container.  The plants are the last added ingredient.  I like to let the location and container inspire the plant selection.  These photos from The National Arboretum capture location, container and plant selection.
Grass display gardens
Huge concrete containers are positioned throughout the grass and turf display gardens.  These containers are planted with grasses and millet.  Adding these simple planted containers gives the location visual layers.
Furcraea foetida ‘Medio Picta’
The foliage of Furcraea foetida ‘Medio Picta’ appears to glow when positioned in front of a black wall.  The common terra cotta is a great container choice for this plant and location.
Sedum and Nassella

This concrete perimeter wall extends the length of the walkway.  The wall has built-in containers that are planted with Sedum and Nassella.  This planting combination appears softens the look of the concrete and the Nassella billows in the slightest breeze.

Most of the time I think in terms of location, container, and then plants.  Sure there have been many times when I have purchased an unplanned container and a plant then spent a crazy amount of time scouting for the perfect location.  Not a problem there is always room for one more planted container.

Summer Containers – Austin, TX

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

My professional and leisure time is plant focused.  Visiting public gardens is an essential exercise that tunes my plant skills.   In June I had the opportunity to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX.   The day of my visit the daytime temperature was forecasted to reach 105 F.  Exciting!

It was an adventure studying the gardens at the Wildflower Center.  Each garden design complemented the natural landscape and generously motivated me.   That motivation inspires me when I create client containers.

Salvia greggii, Dalea greggii
Salvia greggii, Dalea greggii

Here is a sample of some of the containers on display at the Wildflower Center.  When you arrive this large terra cotta box container sits near the admission kiosk.  The Salvia greggi is lush and the Dalea greggii gracefully overflows.

Illex vomitoria 'Pendula'
Illex vomitoria ‘Pendula’

Sitting in the courtyard is a large terra cotta container planted with Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’.  This weeping specimen is large and showy.   Wow!  Look how this simple container planting complements the courtyard.

In the Theme Gardens galvanized containers are used to display a variety of plants.  This water garden was surrounded by smaller containers this display was a visual feast of plant variety.

Theme Garden galvanized containers
Theme Garden galvanized containers

The container you place your plants in matters.  Plant in a container you love.  Each container at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center accessorized the garden space.

ARS LongReach™ Loppers, 1.7-inch Cutting Capacity

ARS LongReach™ Loppers
ARS LongReach™ Loppers, 1.7-inch Cutting Capacity

Pruning and training shrubs and trees is a big part of what I do to restore and maintain gardens.  Most of the time I work in lush plant filled garden locations.  Some gardens are on slopes, rocky terrain, or areas that are best accessed on foot due to the location layout.  My tools need to be light weight to allow me to move and work carefully.

This year I added the ARS LongReach™ Lopper to my work tools.   This lopper is a jewel.  Light weight, easy to use, carry, and is sturdy.  When doing scheduled espalier training and routine shrub and tree maintenance this tool reduced the need to get, set up, and remove a ladder. The lopper easily slides into the interior of shrubs and trees to prune out dead or crowded branches.

Source: A.M. Leonard (



Glyphosate, several weeks ago I attended a landscape design symposium.  One of the lecture topics was on biodiversity planning in landscape design.  The speaker was from a well-known University the handout included the University and USDA logo.

The University had a grant to plan, design and install a residential landscape that improved environmental biodiversity.  The University found a homeowner that agreed to a landscape makeover.  In return the new installation would be maintained by the University for 3 years.

Sounds great!  The design scale was impressive.  Like most designs the design scale exceeded the budget.  To save money the University decided to use Glyphosate (RoundUp) to kill the lawn.  Using Glyphosate (RoundUp)  eliminated the cost of renting a sod cutter and hauling the debris.

So I was confused.  Someone is lecturing me on the environmental benefits of using Glyphosate (RoundUp) to promote biodiversity planning in landscape design.  Two weeks prior to this lecture I attended several herbicide lectures so I am not totally confused.

In my own practice there has been many times where the design exceeds the budget.  It happens.  Best practice is to discuss the options with the client.  Never has a client chosen Glyphosate (RoundUp).  Either we scale back the design or the client agrees to increase the budget.

The University had a choice.  Scale back the design and do what was environmentally beneficial.  Instead, the University knowingly used Glyphosate (RoundUp) ignoring the environment issues.  The funded University project was focused on the environmental benefits of biodiversity planning in landscape design.

Espalier Restoration

Photo 1
Photo 1: First dormant season photo shows an espalier overgrown and crowded

Clients who have established espaliers enjoy the living art.  Espaliers need to be maintained.  There are plenty of good books on pruning.  So, I am not going to explain how or when to prune.  Instead I am going to share a espalier restoration adventure.  The restoration and training process requires pruning restraint with an eye for understanding how each cut works to create a decorative structure.

Photo 2
Photo 2: Wire girdling the tree

When espaliers are neglected or mishandled they lose form and the plant health may decline (Photo 1).    A couple of years ago I was called to restore 3 neglected espaliers.  These espaliers are estimated to be more than 50 years old.  They were over grown, girdled by wire, and unsightly  (Photo 2).

Restoration takes time.  Therefore, pruning restraint is part of the maintenance process.  Time is calculated in seasons. How many seasons?  Depends on the project.  For this client I estimated 3 growing seasons to go from unsightly to revealing a decorative structure.

When I first consulted with the home owners I took pictures of the espaliers.  Using the photos I  discussed the issues and options the client choose restoration.   An example of a serious issue is this photo 2 were heavy gauge wire is girdling the tree.  This particular issue is a common problem that I encounter when I am consulting on other properties.

Photo 3
Photo 3: First season: Dormant pruning shows overcrowding reduction

After the first dormant season pruning was completed overcrowding was reduced (Photo 3).  The second season pruning was completed reducing height and overcrowding (Photo 4).  Compare photo 1, 3 and 4 notice the tree has been cleaned and congestion reduced.  Follow up maintenance is scheduled each season after the trees leaf out.

Photo 4
Photo 4: Second season pruning

Scheduled restoration takes time.  After the first maintenance season some clients will want the schedule to be accelerated.  As long as no safety hazards exist I stick to the restoration schedule.   Sticking to the schedule requires pruning restraint.  Keep in mind the health of the plant, the canopy, and what each cut means to restoring an artful structure.

Restoring neglected espaliers requires a maintenance priority discussion with the client.  The task list includes cleaning, reducing overcrowding, and height, remove girdling wires, and evaluation during scheduled maintenance.  During evaluation you are checking how the trees are compartmentalizing and making canopy reduction decisions.  Having a plan reduces maintenance hours during restoration.  Maintained espaliers are wonderful living garden decorations.

Return to this post February 2017 to get an update on this restoration adventure.


Garden Container Love

When I was a child my family sold terra cotta and ceramic containers from Mexico.   We did not have a retail store.  We would scout vacant lots on busy street corners park and sell our merchandise from the back of a truck.  The containers usually sold out by the afternoon.

This large Pennoyer Newman container is filled with tulips and violas.
Pennoyer Newman container filled with tulips and violas.

Winter is a good time to inventory garden containers.  During the winter I use this time to evaluate the containers that I have set in client gardens.  Containers complement the attitude of any garden.

Patapsco Valley Sales wherehouse.
Patapsco Valley Sales

Each one of my clients has a unique landscape attitude.  You can find containers for every attitude.   Client  landscape attitudes shift over time.  I am always looking to add a new garden container.  Hunting for new containers is exciting.  If I love the container sitting on a pallet I will buy it.

Do you love your containers?  Loved containers inspire seasonal plant selections.   If your container love has fizzled out it is time to move or modify your containers.  Best scenario is to add a new container to refresh your container love.

Large urn with bright foliage.
Large urn with bright foliage.

I am always scouting for containers.    Where I look depends on the garden attitude.  Good sources are nurseries, wholesalers, and consignment shops.

Some of the places where I have purchased containers:

  • Patapsco Valley Sales, Baltimore, MD – The inventory quality is fantastic.  Every container that I have purchased from Patapsco looks great.
  • Pennoyer Newman, New York, NY – These containers are tough, lightweight, look great, and can be left outdoors in cold climates.   My experience is with the following designs:  Garland Planter, Dutch Planter, French Florentine Round, The Modern Collection.
  • Southland Nursery, Vancouver BC – This nursery is an adventure.  The selection is amazing the team is happy to assist.