Thomas J. Story
Triple decker
Each pot contains Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Marjorie Channon', cotoneaster, red 'Dragon's Blood' sedum, and chartreuse juniper.


Designer Mark Bartos shares his strategies for making a grand entrance

Sharon Cohoon,  – November 27, 2007

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).

More on container gardening:




Keep Reading: