Category Archives: Container Gardening

A Brown Bowl…Planted 2 Ways For Sun

The other day I noticed we only had two midsize, light-weight brown planter bowls left in stock,  and they were just calling to be planted. Since summer is relatively slow and we have time on our hands, we’ve been planting all sorts of mixed containers with annuals, herbs, perennials, and everything in between to tempt folks coming in; and I thought one of these might be just the right size for someone.

Usually if I plant two of something for display, I make them similar, but, with these, I decided to play off the brown color of the bowls with two different plantings – both for sun, but each quite different, using annuals. Here’s what I came up with. Of course, there are endless variations of plants out there; these are  simply my two versions using annuals available mid-summer.

The first planting uses light colors that are quite harmonious – white, blue and yellow. A variegated Swedish ivy and yellow duranta are the all-important foliage accents here, and the white flowers of the angelonia will add a spiky bloom in the center (The yellow duranta will need some clipping eventually to keep it at the right proportion for this planting.). Pretty blooms of a blue daze trailing over the edge complete the picture. If the container were larger, I might have added a silver thyme as well.


Color is an interesting thing. You can either go big, bold, and wild and mix many together, or you might choose  two or three very opposite colors (Think purple and orange, for example.). Combinations can also be fairly calm, using colors closely related.

Flowers obviously add color to any composition, but don’t forget the importance of foliage too. Many times I’ll begin a design by pulling foliage plants to accent a particular planter, then add blooming plants to play off of those  leaves. In fact, leaves and their shapes are extremely important  to the overall look of a planter once it’s completed and growing out.

Lightweight Brown Bowl Planted - Babywing Begonia White with Bronze Leaf, Euphorbia, Yellow Joseph's Coat and Silver Dichondra

The second is quite different, though once again there’s a yellow foliage (Yellow works so well with brown!), this time a dwarf Joseph’s coat, and white blooms too, represented here by a dark leaved baby wing begonia. Its  leaves match the color of the bowl almost perfectly. The begonia is a heavy presence in this planting; so, to lighten it up, an airy blooming white euphorbia went in next. Finally, the silvery foliage of a trailing dichondra spills over the edge, adding  a nice contrast to the brown of the pot.

So, there are now two fairly simple, yet quite dissimilar plantings in the same bowl. At another  time of the year, the choices would have been even more different…yet another reason container gardening is so entertaining!

Stop in and take a look at our container planting designs if you’re in the Birmingham area. We try to have as many made up as possible to give you ideas and inspiration! 


Summer Container Gardens…The Heat Is On


Owner, Billy Angell’s deck might not be finished yet, but his pots are!

It’s high summer with the 4th of July just past… time for vacations and lazy days at the lake, the beach, or maybe just spent lolling by the pool with a good book. I’m off on a much anticipated vacation to visit family and friends too, but I wanted to share a few more plantings first. If you are off and away, be sure to make arrangements for a friend to tend your plantings and container gardens so they’re as pretty when you return as when you left. No one wants to come home to a sad garden, after all.

Here, then, are a few plantings we’ve done recently:

All flowers...Pinkie's creations for a customer

All flowers…Pinkie’s creations for a customer

Flowers obviously add blooms for bees and butterflies. Pinkie used an assortment of flowers for a customer’s containers. She included pentas, lantana (The butterflies love them!), angelonia, million bells (calibrachoa), purslane, plumbago and salvias for loads of color. With plantings like this, it’s necessary to keep old blooms cut off (deadheading).

Container Planting for SunMany of the container plantings we do are in light, mâché pots that can either be used on their own or placed in another planter. Here’s one with a mix of sun coleus, a dracaena (Barely visible in this picture, it adds a spiky leaf.), lantana, red million bells to trail,  and a white angelonia. This planting will get much larger and fuller as the heat of summer settles in, and daily watering will be necessary.

The coleus will also need pinching back as it gets larger. This may seem difficult at first, but it’s really quite good for the plant and will allow it to grow fuller rather than getting leggy and scraggly. Think about it this way: Every time you cut it back, there will be two stems of colorful leaves rather than just one. It rewards you for your efforts!

Hanging Basket for Sun - Rhoeo spathacea, String of Pearls, Echeveria, ChivesThe white, cone-shaped hanging basket shown here is now home to a common houseplant, an herb, and some succulents. While it may seem an unusual combination, it’s working quite nicely and has a cool, summery look. The houseplant is a pink and green tradescantia (It’s also known as Rhoeo spathacea.), sometimes called Moses In The Cradle.

It’s keeping company with some succulent echevarias and trailing string of pearls, just beginning to peek over the edge of the basket in this picture. I added a pot of chives in the center, just for its spiky green leaves. This is hanging in the nursery waiting for someone to give it a home.

Container Planting - Summer - Part SunWe have a few tall, lightweight planters still available, and this planting shows one of them off. A tall, white ruellia (They’re sometimes called perennial petunia.) is combined here with a caladium whose leaves will get very large. The name of this one is ‘Garden White’, and it’s impressive! The large leaves will contrast nicely with the smaller leaves of the ruellia. Another foliage contrast is provided by the silvery-purple leaves of a strobilanthes, sometimes called Persian Shield. A beautiful foliage plant, it benefits from a cutback every now and then if it gets to lanky in the planting. To trail there’s a blue fanflower, scaevola.

Container Planting - Sweetheart Pink Caladium, Alternanthera 'Little Ruby', Blue Daze, Lime Potato Vine, under 'Carolina Sapphire' CypressFinally, since we had a few ‘Carolina Sapphire’ cypress left, they were candidates for a planting using smaller plants at the base to add fullness, color, and trail. These planters will be in the sun and can be changed out in the fall with the addition of pansies and other cold weather plants for the winter season.

For now, though, the underplanting includes dwarf ‘Sweetheart Pink’ caladiums, trailing blue daze, lime green potato vine, a new silver helichrysum, and the purple foliage of an alternanthera ‘Little Ruby’. Watering, clipping out caladium seed pods (It’s best to cut them off so the energy of the plant goes toward making new leaves.), and keeping the potato vine cut back (if desired) will be needed.

These are just a sampling of the plantings we’ve done this season. Plants that are available from growers change rapidly, and so do our offerings. Hopefully you’ve planted a few pots this summer and are enjoying them now!

More Container Gardens…Foliage, Flowers and Pizazz!

The last post highlighted a few shade planters, and I hope this one will give you ideas for your hot, sunny spots. Even with large planters maintaining a set watering schedule is important when plantings are sited in full sun.  If your plantings wilt as a result of being too dry between watering over and over, eventually they’ll become so stressed they won’t recover. So, if you’ll be leaving for any extended period, ask a neighbor or friend to check your plantings and water regularly.

This planting is easy to hand water since it needs to be dry...

This planting is easy to hand water since it needs to be dry…

The first planting is a classic “Thriller, Filler, Spiller” combination, designed for a tall urn, using a silver foliage plant called cardoon. It will get very large, creating a dramatic centerpiece while the  mounding, succulent echevarias fill the middle with their pinky gray rosettes. The beautiful heat tolerant trailing dichondra creates a waterfall of shimmery silver over the edge. This is the most drought tolerant of the plantings shown here but still needs attention – even succulents need water!

Planted Container for SummerThe next uses a red fountain grass for height in a tall planter with the addition of white Profusion zinnias and white euphorbia as fillers. Spilling out are blue daze and potato vine. This planting will bloom continuously with regular water and periodic deadheading or clipping back of the zinnias. Late in the summer the grass will begin to bloom for an end of the season finale.

Wheelbarrow - Planted For Summer


This wheelbarrow is a fun and bright mix of flowers and herbs and will provide a riot of color through the hottest months. This type of whimsical container calls for a jumble of color,  and here it’s provided by zinnias, vinca, fanflower, rudbeckia, ornamental oregano, purple basil, and thyme. It would be perfect in the middle of a cottage kitchen garden! It will be necessary to deadhead the zinnias as they fade, cut back the fan flower periodically, pinch the vinca if necessary, and harvest the basil and thyme. Watering daily will be a must, since it’s planted very intensively with many plants.

Urn - Chamaecyparis and Summer AnnualsMany of you have pots that have shrubs in them that live year round, and just need some color added each season. In this example, the Chamaecyparis adds yellow foliage and is complimented through the summer with yellow million bells, white narrow leaf zinnias,  silver dichondra and some euphorbia. The million bells and zinnias will be cut back when they get too leggy (There’s no need to deadhead each individual bloom on these.) and it will be watered daily, since the Chamaecyparis has been in this planter for a few years and it’s roots are filling the planter quite extensively.

Planted Container for Summer - AlocasiaThe final planting uses a dramatic, and very large Alocasia – this speaks for itself, though it has supporting players as well, including dracaena, epescia, nepenthes, and alternanthera. It’s quite a combo.

I hope this and the previous posts will give you the confidence to try new plants and combinations, to be braver about cutting plants back (Yes,  they do need it every now and then!) and the understanding that these types of intensive plantings need regular water whether you’re home or not to keep them looking their best. 

Summer Shade Planters…Foliage and Flowers for Lasting Impact

As the hectic pace of spring gives way to summer and the necessary routine jobs around the nursery of  grooming plants, watering, and cleaning, it’s a real treat for us to be able to “play” and indulge our plantaholic ways. Truthfully, we do this as often as possible. First, because it’s just plain fun to try different combinations,  and, if a planter stays long enough to grow out, you can see the end result and we can explain how we maintained it. It’s a win-win situation for everyone! So, here is a gallery of planting combinations for shade that we’ve put together recently. When combining plants it’s necessary to understand light and water requirements for compatibility. If you know this, the next goal is to pair plants with contrasting leaf shapes, color, and texture. Echoing or contrasting flower colors and shapes will also factor into the design.

For Filtered Sun or Shade...

For Filtered Sun or Shade…

The first planter for filtered  or morning sun utilizes the big white  leaves of ‘Garden White’ caladiums, the airy white blooms and leaves of a euphorbia, a ‘Babywing’ Pink begonia, the grassy foliage of Carex ‘Evergold’, and the dark shiny foliage of hemigraphis, or waffle plant. There’s also a touch of a selaginella for a lighter green, low-growing skirt at the edge of the planting. Maintaining this will involve cutting any seed pods from the caladiums, removing any unsightly leaves and watering regularly. Urn - Juncus, Swedish Ivy, Alternanthera 'Ruby' Potato Vine 'Caroline Green'


The next is a simple planting using only foliage for contrasting color and leaves. Grassy juncus, variegated Swedish ivy, a tough alternanthera with reddish purple foliage, and a chartreuse potato vine provide as much color as flowers…and don’t need any deadheading! This combination only needs occasional clipping if necessary and regular watering.

Shade Planter For Summer

Caladiums and coleus should be go-to plants for continuous color and big, bold foliage. The dark leaved coleus in the very center of this planting will need to be cut back if it has overgrown its companions, and the caladiums will need seed pods removed to ensure the best leaf production. This planter is mostly caladiums and coleus, with the dainty white blooms of a euphorbia acting as a filler plant.  Pothos, a common houseplant, will trail over the edge and add even more color to this shady composition. In fact, many houseplants work well in these types of shady container gardens.


imageSometimes it’s fun to try a plant that’s more unusual as the centerpiece of a design. In this glazed pot the dark leaf of  the Alocasia is a beautiful contrast to the coleus, grasslike juncus, maidenhair fern, trailing torenia, and creeping jenny.

Shade Planter for Summer Finally, here’s a simple planting for shade using a begonia and the contrasting leaf and brightness of carex ‘Evergold’,  which will spill over the edge of the container. Simple, yet effective. The begonia will continue to bloom with a couple of cutbacks if it gets “leggy.”

Need help with container plantings in sunnier spots?  The next post will highlight some of the plantings for sun that we’ve designed recently. 

Planted For Shade – Chez Fonfon Planters – Summer 2014

The large square planters outside chef Frank Stitt’s French bistro, Chez Fonfon, are my babies to plant each season, and it was interesting to see how things fared after a particularly harsh winter. Not surprisingly, even with the excellent maintenance their staff provides, it was time to redo for the summer heat.

Chez Fonfon Shade Planters - A New SeasonA testament to its common name of cast iron plant, the aspidistra looked amazingly good considering the bone-chilling temperatures Birmingham dipped to in January.  It only needed a few leaves cut out, and no thinning was required this season…probably due to the cold. A heuchera, that had been added in the winter planting for its beautiful leaves, was removed to be planted in a bed at another of the Stitt’s restaurants, Bottega.  I also removed the branches that had been added to give extra interest in the winter planting.

This year, instead of using the Aaron caladium of last summer, I switched it up and put in some caladiums that are all white, named ‘Garden White’. They should get quite large and work well with the kimberly queen fern, a tropical fern with an upright growth habit.  Next, a couple of white sunpatiens were placed. These will also add mass to the center of the planter and, with the trailing white torenia, add more color to this shady spot.

I love foliage in planters such as these, so I couldn’t resist using Carex ‘Evergold’ to spill over the edge, along with torenia and a pot of angelvine, muehlenbeckia complexa, a tough-as- nails little vine that will also trail.

Chez Fonfon Shade Planters...Caladiums and More For SummerTorenia is an interesting plant, useful in shade plantings such as this. The white one used here (They are also available in blue, purple, magenta, and a yellow.) will trail over the edge of the planter, but there are also plants in this same genus that grow more upright and are useful in garden beds and planters in light shade as well. This is a good plant to get to know, since regular bedding plant impatiens are susceptible to downy mildew of impatiens.

So…another planting finished. The best part is yet to come, though, as patrons and passersby can watch the transformation of small plants as they gradually  grow together and flourish with  a little help from the capable staff of this fine Birmingham restaurant.



Branching Out…A Teal Bowl Planting

Laying the branches...

Laying the branches…

Adding the bird's nest fern...

Adding the bird’s nest fern…

Lichen covered branches are so beautiful in their own right, but we ultimately are a plant shop and every project we create begins and ends with plants; so, incorporating these branches into our designs has been a lot of fun.

This one started with a beautiful, large teal colored glazed bowl, really very pretty all on it’s own. I chose a few lichen covered branches and positioned one upright on an angle into the potting soil and laid the other across so I had some planting pockets to work with. The ends needed just a few loose lichens and moss glued to them to cover where they’d been cut.

The trick when using something like this is in not hiding the beauty of the branch and finding plants to compliment both the color of the bowl and the added texture of the lichen as well. Of course, the plants also have to work together as far as water and light needs.

Wandering the greenhouse contemplating the choices, I decided to go the woodsy route, with ferns as the go to for this planting. So, a bird’s nest fern, Asplenium nidus; button fern, Pellaea rotundifolia; a selaginella,; and an austral gem fern, Asplenium dimorphum x difforme, were gathered.



The bird’s nest fern was the largest, and I placed it toward the front and tipped forward to show off its form. The button fern was the next to be placed, the austral gem fern was tucked in the back (not shown in these pictures) and, last, a small selaginella was added to the front to spill over the edge.

A smaller, more delicate lichen branch connects the two larger ones and gives it a pretty, woodsy look in contrast with the glazed container – ying and yang in a pot!

Contained – In Cork…Indoors Now, Then Outside For the Summer!

I planted this cork planter the other day for a birthday celebration. This one has a double duty life ahead of it: First, as part of a happy get-together, then, later, outdoors, possibly in a shady nook for the rest of the growing season.

Cork Bark Planter - Autumn Fern, Rex Begonia, Angelvine, Nephthitis, Selaginella 'Frosty', Tooth Brake Fern, Bird's Nest FernThese pieces can be used either horizontally, planting along the top, or vertically, like I’ve designed this one, positioning the plants up the planter. Since it could be unsteady if it didn’t have something to stabilize it at the base, I placed it in a pulp planter that I’d covered with a layer of sheet moss. A plastic saucer underneath will protect the floor during its time indoors, then it can be used without the saucer out in the garden or on a patio, porch or other spot  that has some shade.

nephthytis, tooth brake fern, rex begonia and selaginella 'Frosty' nestled together...

nephthytis, tooth brake fern, rex begonia and selaginella ‘Frosty’ nestled together…

Because the cork has a tendency to open up as potting soil and plants are inserted, I also wrap it tightly with bark covered wire after it’s all planted and add  green sheet moss to keep everything in place. We were surprised when our first plantings gradually opened up, threatening to disgorge all the plants we’d carefully positioned, but the bark wire has been a good remedy.

Close-up Cork Bark Planter - Autumn Fern, Rex Begonia, Angelvine, Selaginella 'Frosty'This planting  has a variety of houseplants, including nephthytis, used for its lighter green and white foliage, rex begonias for a bit of color, tooth brake ferns and a bird’s nest fern, a  new selaginella with white tips called ‘Frosty’, and a large autumn fern in the top with angel vine spilling over the edge with one last, large rex begonia.

We’re getting in a new shipment of these cork bark pieces at the end of the month, so if you’d like to try your hand at planting one or you’d like us to plant one for you, stop in!





Herbs, Veggies, Cool Season Annuals Shine in Late Winter Containers…

Wondering what to do about your winter-weary container plantings? It’s still too early to put in the real heat lovers, but there is hope.

Sweet allysum, lettuce and violas

Sweet allysum, lettuce and violas

If your pots  look just plain awful, it may be time to, at the very least, empty them out and add fresh potting soil so you’re either ready to freshen them now  or get a jump on planting them in another month or so.  (You’ll be so happy you did this when you don’t have to do it later!)



Herbs add so much to container plantings. Whether it be some thyme to trail over the edge or a bit of parsley to add some fluff, they will add texture, color, and scent…not to mention it’s nice to snip a bit here and there for cooking! Take a look at this herb post from last year for more information. While not everything in that post has arrived yet, it will soon; so keep your eyes open!


Silver thyme and lettuce brighten this planting...

Silver thyme and lettuce brighten this planting…

Other great additions this time of year are lettuce and arugula…just in time for spring salads! Plant some now and you’ll be picking until the heat sets in and they “bolt”, or send up blooms. This will mean they’re finished for the season and need to be replaced with something that will withstand the heat of summer. Another really pretty veggie addition is red-veined sorrel…and it’s very cold hardy as well.

Poppy and cool season annuals, diascia, sweet allysum and pansies

Poppy and cool season annuals, diascia, sweet allysum and pansies






This is also the time of year for what is termed “cool season annuals“. These are the flowers that shine when the nights are brisk and the days aren’t too too hot. Think sweet allysum, lobelia, heliotrope, diascia, and nemesia for starters (Though breeders have now improved the sweet allysum to withstand even our brutal summers.),


We even have the first of the geraniums in stock now; they love this late winter, early spring weather. If your pansies survived this winter, they should begin to really blooom for the next month, as well, and snapdragons will even later.

Red veined sorrel adding some color...also shown Perennial Veronica 'Georgia Blue' and golden acorus.

Red veined sorrel adding some color…also shown Perennial Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’, golden acorus and lemon variegated thyme…


When the heat takes it’s toll on these cool season beauties, it will be time to plant your summer combinations. We’re so lucky to be able to have more than one growing season!

caution when using these cool season flowers, however. Be a weather watcher and protect these from any freezing temperatures. If you do this, you’ll have the prettiest planters of anyone on your block!

Remember, you can always bring your manageably sized pots in for us to plant! We also carry a good selection of the biodegradable pulp pots that look great on their own or can be dropped into another container. Like to do it yourself? Browse the nursery and collect what you want for your planters, or ask us for help choosing just the right plants.



Frank Stitt’s Chez Fonfon & Bottega Restaurant’s Planters…Done!

Each spring and fall I have the pleasure of designing and planting the containers at Frank Stitt’s
Chez Fonfon restaurant next to his acclaimed restaurant, Highlands Bar & Grill.

The aspidistra (cast iron plant) is thinned out each season...

The aspidistra (cast iron plant) is thinned out each season…

Pardis Stitt, Frank’s wife, likes Chez Fonfon to have a simple color scheme of white and green, and she and I both love different foliage colors, textures and leaf patterns, so it’s always fun to put together combinations of foliage with a few white flowers to  brighten things up. The planters are in quite a bit of shade, both from the building and from trees planted there, so for flowers it’s violas for winter.

Frank Stitt's Chez Fon Fon Restaurant PlanterThe emphasis is on foliage, though, and I’ve included curly parsley for it’s fresh green color, a small blue fescue grass, and a shade loving heuchera for this planting.  Holdovers from the summer are aspidistra, which I thin out each season,  and a tiny leaf green ivy. After planting, I added birch branches to add more height and winter interest. (Branches are an easy way to get color in planters during the holiday – red twig dogwood branches would also be pretty.) While it looks a bit top heavy with the tall aspidistra at first, the parsley and heuchera will add fullness to the composition as it grows in. I’m also trying the Cool Wave white trailing pansies here this year, hoping they get enough sun to bloom well.

These planters get more sun...

These planters get more sun…

Franks Stitt's Bottega Restaurant PlanterThis fall Pardis asked if I would also take a look at the planters at Bottega, their other wonderful restaurant.

They are smaller and placed in the courtyard.  I’ve included pictures of the two on either side of a wall fountain and shade garden. Because they’ll get more sun than the planters at Chez Fonfon, I’ve included one of my favorite ornamental (and edible!) kale, ‘Red Russian’, for height, a dark leaf heuchera on the shady side of the planter, trailing rosemary and more of the Cool Wave trailing pansies. I especially love the contrast of the birch against the lightness of the wall. It will be fun to watch all of these grow out, knowing their dedicated staff take great care to keep them looking their best.


An Old Iron Fountain….Repurposed!

Shiny and new...

Shiny and new…

The old iron fountain had seen better days; that’s for sure. Many, many years ago (over 20 now) it was the star of a brand new garden shop, and its place of prominence was at the very center of the entrance…the shiny black finish was reflected in the pool of water filling  the large, shallow basin.

Maybe some of you remember when you had to walk around it, in all its glory, to reach  the greenhouse. Though I have to say I wasn’t overly fond of the giant snails in this old photo!



Can you see the dog in the fountain?

Can you see the dog in the fountain?


The beautiful fountain was a fixture it seemed. Soon, the neighborhood dogs discovered the cool water in the large basin – it was a common sight to see a large lab or some other dog (Where did they come from anyway?) lolling in the water, tongue out, happy, happy.

Keeping the fountain filled was a chore, and we quickly  discovered a definite flaw in the design. The basin was too shallow to hold enough water – ever! So, to keep the fountain running consistently, we had to fill it continuously. Boy, the dogs really loved that. They kept coming…cool, running water any time they wanted it – such a treat!


planting begins....

planting begins….

After many years of fighting this, we decided to move the fountain into the greenhouse, but after one disastrous attempt to use it for a glorified goldfish pond (Note: Goldfish do not like iron or rust.), we finally gave up and it met it’s inglorious fate stored under a table…the enormous basin turned upside down and covered with plastic. The top tiered portion ended up outside, leaning precariously on its side, a sad sight for anyone who remembered it in its heyday.

photo (24)




I’d been wanting to move the top portion and plant it, but busy seasons came and went and there just didn’t seem to be the time or inclination (It is a very heavy piece of iron!). This summer, though, Jamie found the perfect spot in the greenhouse, and I planted it up. It has a new life once again as a fixture of Oak Street Garden Shop!

Because the three  basins are designed to hold water, the plants needed to be those that don’t mind moisture.  I also wanted to have enough plants cascading to create a “fountain” effect, as well as some to create  fullness but not get too large. We’ll see how it grows out.

photo (26)

Saxifraga stolonifera, strawberry begonia, was the first plant I chose. These are wonderful perennial groundcovers in moist, shady spots of the garden. Hopefully they will spread and cascade over the edge happily in their new home.

Next I added a dark leaved trailing coleus. Yes, there is a coleus that really spills! In addition, I tucked in a bit of pilea ‘Aquamarine’ – this plant seems to be able to grow in any conditions and I’m testing it here to see how it does. That’s one of the luxuries of working in the greenhouse – we can always substitute another plant if need be!

photo (23)One of the filler plants I used was a tiny grass, Acorus minimus – all the acorus love moisture so it should do well. I rounded out the filler plants with a few ferns and another bog plant called Syngonanthus chrysanthus  ‘Mikado’.  This is a definite test since we know next to nothing about this plant; however, the fountain basin should give it the boggy conditions it is supposed to prefer!

I’m glad the fountain has a new life and hope the planting grows out the way I envision it. The large basin is in yet another new spot outside, leaning against a sturdy wall. Hmmm… what next for it , I wonder? Only time will tell.



Eye Candy and Inspiration…Container Gardens and Arrangements

growing out nicely...

growing out nicely…

It’s summer, the heat is on, and we’re all working overtime to keep our landscapes looking as fresh as they did in the spring…thankfully we’ve been getting rainfall to help us out!

I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the planters and arrangements we’ve done through the spring and now into summer – some are succulent designs, some will enjoy the hottest part of a landscape,  others are meant to stay inside or in a shady spot outside. And there are some just for a party or gift – but since they’re created with live plants they’ll last so much longer than cut flowers!

a gift for someone...

a gift for someone…

early spring...a centerpiece for a party....

early spring…a centerpiece for a party….







Arrangements for parties or gifts using orchids, indoor flowering plants, and any other plant that catches our eye are a lot of fun to put together, and we stay very busy creating them for folks…there really is no end to the combinations that can be used for this type of arrangement. And, once the party is over, the whole thing can be taken apart and the plants used elsewhere! The copper planter shown here was used for a party – and we’re assuming the flowers and herbs were planted in a sunny garden or container and are probably still going strong!

deadheading, judicious clipping and consistent watering kept this planter beautiful all last summer...

deadheading, judicious clipping and consistent watering kept this planter beautiful all last summer…

For long term plantings, smart plant choices need to be made,  taking into consideration pot size and amount of light they’ll  receive, Last, but definitely not least, the plants need to look good together!  One of the most important aspects of container gardening is maintenance. Watering, deadheading, pinching, or, even more drastic, cutting back need to be done  consistently to keep your container gardens looking their best.

The planter at left is filled with herbs and flowers designed to handle a lot of heat and sun – just what we have in the middle of summer in Birmingham!  This combination grew out quite happily last summer in the front of the shop on the hot asphalt…and inspired many other planters just like it throughout town. Herbs and flowers just go together!

aloes, succulents and a trailing rosemary...

aloes, succulents and a trailing rosemary…



Succulents and herbs work quite well together…the trough planter shown here combines succulents, a couple of different  aloe plants, and a trailing rosemary. Whoever said you can’t mix it up wasn’t talking to us!

succulent and orchid arrangement...

succulent and orchid arrangement…

The succulents that have been available this spring and summer have really been beautiful, and we’ve been using them in all kinds of containers, on their own in long term plantings, and in gift arrangements too. Here’s one used in an orchid arrangement as an accent…they’re quite striking used in this fashion. If you’ve been keeping up with our posts on cork bark planters , you’ve seen us use the succulents in them as well.


houseplants in cork bark...

houseplants in cork bark…

more house plants in cork bark - this one ended up on a mantle...

more house plants in cork bark – this one ended up on a mantle…

this cork bark piece was large...

this cork bark piece was large…

Speaking of cork bark planters, here are a few pictures of some interesting things we’ve done with them…succulents aren’t the only player in this fun sandbox! A cork bark planting done using carex, ajuga, selaginella and perennial ferns ended up at a mountain home in Highlands, North Carolina. The other planting in that post also went home with a happy customer.







The ones shown above utilize a lot of houseplants and will be happiest either on a shady terrace or porch or inside in bright light.  Some of the plants used include episcias, pilea, angelvine, creeping charlie, dracaena, selaginella and philodendron…all good houseplants. These will work nicely in a shady spot and there are other planters we’ve done that will too. Let’s take a look…

for shade...

for shade…

Shade containers are some of the most fun plantings to do because so much depends on foliage color and form. This might not be as flashy as an entire pot of flowers, but it is very long lasting and beautiful when done well. The hayrack shown here uses maidenhair fern, caladiums, an angelwing begonia and episcias in a very pleasing combination…the ‘Sweetheart’ caladiums  seem to float above the maidenhair, and the episcia is a very subtle addition to the composition…

imageThe last planting is shown to serve as an example of how you can definitely have color in the shade using foliage in addition to flowers…the ‘Garden White’ caladium in contrast with the golden carex and sunpatien really catches the eye! The planter at the top of this post is also one for shade, and, once again, the foliage is the star.

It’s always nice to have customers walk through the nursery with the same plants in their hands as we’ve done in our display planters. We are happy to have our designs in your landscape, and know  that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

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Inside The Making Of A Massive Mossed Hanging Basket…

imageOk, this might not be the moss hanging basket for your front porch…in fact, its proportions are massive, at least 30″ across and almost as deep. This basket belongs to a customer who hangs it in in a shady garden area.

imageThis year, she wanted an all white and green foliage basket filled top to bottom with shade loving plants. What a fun project! The basket itself is a heavy duty plastic coated metal frame with openings that plants can be inserted into. Many folks use sphagnum moss or coco liner for these type of plantings, and it works well. However I prefer to use fresh green sheet moss and layer the plantings from the bottom up.

Of course deciding on the plant material came first. I chose plants for their form, leaf color and shape – and, of course, to grow in a very shady spot. I took a walk through the greenhouse and nursery looking for interesting shade plants that would also be small enough to insert into the framework of the basket.

Carex 'Evergold'

Carex ‘Evergold’

I wanted trailing and mounding plants with the exception of the very top of the basket. I started with the variegated carex ‘Evergold’, one of my favorite shade plants. I added some small tassel ferns, Polystichum polyblepharum, for their beautiful deep green color – what a great contrast to the carex! I’m off to a great start…

Of course some ivy – a pretty variegated form worked well with my first two choices. I’d already decided on blue crisp ferns for the very top, and to compliment their blue color, I chose the blue/green pilea ‘Aquamarine’ – all the different foliage colors, textures and leaf forms were looking very pretty together – and not a flower in sight! Next, I added a variegated Swedish ivy – a great addition to shade plantings. It works really nicely as a counterpoint to the carex…and some tiny leaf creeping charlie rounded out my choices. It should meander through the entire planting, adding its dark green and very textured leaves to the composition.image

Now it’s time to plant. This type of container takes time and patience – and a lot of sheet moss, fertilizer and potting soil!

I began by laying a thick layer of moss on the bottom of the basket and up the sides about 6″. Next I added a layer of potting soil, mixed in Osmocote, and started inserting the first layer of plants, alternating to highlight their differences in leaf shapes and color. The Ivy had long runners that I pinned into the moss with florist wire – it will root where pinned and then begin to trail.

Foliage textures...

Foliage textures…


After the first layer was inserted, I watered the plants in, pieced moss around the basket again about 6″ up, firmed the first layer of plants in place, and added more potting soil and fertilizer.




The basket fits in nicely with the shade garden...

The basket fits in nicely with the shade garden…

After 5 layers of plants, I was ready to plant the top! Blue crisp fern or bear’s paw fern, polypodium aureum ‘Mandianum’
is a beautiful fern whose fronds will easily reach 3′. This will definitely be a showstopper! I placed it in the center and added the remaining plants, firmed them in and watered everything one last time. Done!

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Mix It Up – Potager Style Container Planting

Flowers, herbs, veggies…who says you can’t mix it up and make beautiful combinations with them?

winter mix...

winter mix…

Dyron’s Restaurant, next door in the old market space, opted to keep the three horse troughs in front…they added a couple of charming painted wooden benches in between two of them and asked if we would continue planting and maintaining them.

fall/winter planting - lettuce, kale, chard, herbs

fall/winter planting – lettuce, kale, chard, herbs







The planters are large and perfect for a good mix of herbs and flowers…and they get a lot of afternoon sun. This past winter the photos above show the planting included kale and chard with green and red lettuce, curly parsley, dill, variegated lemon thyme, silver thyme and trailing rosemary. Pansies and violas were added for even more color – and they’re edible too! During the holidays I added red twig dogwood branches in the center of each trough for additional interest.

for summer - lots of herbs and some flowers too...

for summer – lots of herbs and some flowers too…

This spring I gradually pulled out plants as they played out – the kale was the first to go after it went to flower. (They’re actually quite pretty when they bloom or bolt – with pretty yellow flowers on tall stalks.) Next the chard, curly parsley and violas were pulled out, fresh potting soil added, some of the remaining thyme and rosemary trimmed and they were ready to be planted for the summer…

Bright colors look good in front of the newly painted dark brown of the new porch space, so for the flowers I opted for yellow and white Profusion and narrow leaf zinnias and red Dragonwing begonias. A little Osmocote was added under the flowers to feed them through long the summer.

Horse troughs planted with a mix of herbs and flowers for Dyron's Restaurant next door
Horse troughs planted with a mix of herbs and flowers for Dyron’s Restaurant next door

Next, herbs…for the center trough I put in a lemon grass – this will get quite large and should provide the chef with plenty of goodness! Next, sweet and purple basil – hopefully they’ll be cutting plenty of basil for summer dishes – the variagated lemon thyme and trailing rosemary were left in place – they’re doing quite well and seem happy.

The sage you see is ‘Berggarten’, a beautiful large leaf sage, and it’s complimented by ‘Downy’ lavender, grown primarily for the blue flowers that continue through the summer if they’re kept deadheaded.

Maintenance on these planters will involve pinching the zinnias back, keeping the basil and other herbs clipped, and hoping the Dragonwing begonias don’t get too enormous – but, if they do, a little judicious clipping should keep them in check. The zinnias will add a lot of color and should fill in nicely…
Watering daily will be a necessity as the summer wears on.

We’ll keep you updated as these horse trough potager plantings fill in this season! If you’re interested in container gardening and want more tips, take a look also at this post from earlier this spring – it also shows some combinations with herbs and flowers…


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Shade Containers…No Impatiens? No Problem!

Because of the threat of downy mildew on impatiens, this year has seen all of us having to rethink what to plant in our shady beds and planters. In an earlier post  I explained what downy mildew is and offered some alternatives. After planting these pots (located in a very shady spot in front of Chez Fonfon downtown), I thought they offered a good example of a planting that utilizes different foliage and blooming options.

imageOwners Frank and Pardis Stitt prefer white and green for the front of this  French cafe, located next to their acclaimed restaurant Highlands in downtown Birmingham. These are fairly large, tan colored  cast stone planters  with nice clean lines.  A mix of contrasting green and variegated foliage with a touch of white add light to this shady spot,  and the stone wall adds a pleasing backdrop to the planting.

The photos shown here were taken right after planting, so you can imagine how much they will grow up, out and over the planters. By the end of the season they should be quite lush…and the folks at Chez Fonfon do a great job maintaining them.

The cast iron plant, aspidistra, stays in these planters year-round and is the backbone of this planting. Occasionally in the spring  it needs to be pulled out and thinned; at the same time any damaged leaves from winter are cut off. Once that is done, the planters are topped off with fresh potting soil, Osmocote is mixed in,  and they’re ready to plant.image

I started with the ‘Aaron’ caladiums first. (These will work in full sun as well!) The white center on the leaf really brightens this planting and is the direct opposite of the Algerian ivy leaf with its green center and white outline…foliage is so fun to work with! The tiny needlepoint like ivy is a big contrast – a much smaller and darker green leaf than the first two. Difficult to see, but, right up against the aspidistra, I added a blue-green grass-like juncus – it picks up the gray-green color in the Algerian ivy.



Next, the blooms – white New Guinea impatiens (These and the Sunpatiens are NOT affected by the downy mildew disease.) and some Euphorbia ‘Silver Fog’ to brighten this spot even more. The euphorbia is difficult to see in these photos, but it is a very nice filler for sunny spots too – I’m hoping it will get just enough light to bloom well and add its airy texture to this composition.


Last, a bit of the tiny, low growing baby tears – a lighter green to brighten the very lowest level of the planting, next to the dark green ivy. Eventually this will get engulfed by the rest, but until then it will be another lighter green in the mix…

So…no impatiens? No problem!  Want to see another example? Take a look at this massive moss hanging basket – it’s planted all for shade too!






Cork Bark Pieces – These Are Planters!

imageimageThese cork bark pieces are so organic and natural…we love them and wanted to pass on just a couple of ideas for planting them. Actually, they were one of those happy accidents – one wrong stroke of the keyboard, with a different item number ordered than planned, and, voila, these cork bark pieces arrived the other day that were rounded, with just enough space for planting rather than being flat…oh, happy day!

You may see other possibilities for these bark planters that don’t involve plants at all…that’s fine too – we will have plenty in stock in the coming weeks and you can decide how they’d work best for you. They are affordable and fun for whatever use you choose to make of them.

imageOf course, if you’ve been keeping up with previous posts, you know we’ve gotten in some pretty cool looking succulents, as well as air plants and the beginning of the new season’s herb offerings. So, with all this bounty to work with, one bark planter became a succulent, herb, airplant design and the other became a study in silvery grays and blues with a pop of chartreuse…image


imageAs with any combination planting,  look at color, texture and form of the plants you’re working with. The bark is rough and brown…in one planting the red coloring of the hens and chicks play off the brown of the planter while the red edging of the thyme also picks up the color of the succulents. The spiky air plants contrast with the rounded forms of  the rolled bark as well.

The silver succulents show nicely against the dark of the bark, and the repetition of the round forms is pleasing, almost like a river running along the piece…of course, succulents and some herbs are best for this type of shallow planting. image


Strong morning sun with shade in the afternoon will be helpful in keeping these looking their best…We planted these with a light potting mix – water freely when dry but let dry completely between watering. We will be checking  the thyme more frequently and keeping  it clipped, and as plants outgrow the composition we’ll  pull them out and replace with new ones…fun!