Designer Mark Bartos shares his strategies for making a grand entrance
Knockout Garden Containers 
Thomas J. Story
Triple decker
Each pot contains Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Marjorie Channon', cotoneaster, red 'Dragon's Blood' sedum, and chartreuse juniper.


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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