Thomas J. Story
Mini landscapeThreadleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Seiryu') towers over red-leafed 'Little John' azalea variegated ivy and abelia in a 2- by 4-foot rectangular black zinc container.
Trio of texturesA cluster of pots gathers on center stage. Left pot: Aeoniums flank a dwarf mugho pine, with Dianella tasmanica 'Variegata' and 'Silver Dragon' liriope behind. Center pot: dwarf Alberta spruce and 'Burgundy Lace' ajuga. Right pot: silvery Artemisia' Powis Castle', 'Moe's Gold' helichrysum, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Glacier', Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Golf Ball', and black mondo grass.
Meadow in a bowl Small-leafed plants share a 30-inch-wide concrete bowl. Silvery Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue' fills the center while purple fountain grass hens and chickens a silver-leafed hebe and 'Teenie Genie' a slow-growing dwarf Syzygium (also sold as Eugenia) grow around it.
After moving to California in pursuit of movie stardom, Mark Bartos (626/791-2040) went back to school to study landscape design. His containers often combine small trees, billowy shrubs, and mat-forming groundcovers with plenty of Hollywood pizzazz.
Q: What do you choose first, the pots or the plants?
A: The pots. Their style is always driven by the setting, which includes the style of the house. The containers pictured here, for a ranch-style home with a bit of art deco thrown in, are simple and contemporary; they're large and have strong architectural shapes. But then I always prefer big pots ― 24-inch-diameter minimum. You need that scale to create drama.
Q: Which plants always command attention?
A: New Zealand flax, for one. I love its boldness and iron constitution. 'Firebird' is my favorite ― it's a great color (red, turning bronze-orange in summer). 'Skyrocket' juniper ( Juniperus scopulorum) is very narrow and blue, and looks great flanking an entrance. Agaves give Mediterranean gardens punch, and growing them in containers restricts their size. A. angustifolia 'Marginata' is a favorite. Mexican weeping bamboo ( Otatea acuminata aztecorum) has a beautiful lacy texture that creates instant serenity. Variegated Italian buckthorn ( Rhamnus alaternus 'Variegata') has the simplest of leaves but a complex, almost tortured shape. I love the contrast.
Q: Flowers never play a very important part in your containers. Why is that?
A: Choosing plants for their flowers is like picking an actor for his wardrobe. But if you base your decisions on the shape, texture, and overall character of plants, you'll have a container that looks good year-round.
Resource: Pots from Asian Ceramics (to the trade only).
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