Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The One Plant Pot

Large pots are delight in a garden. Pots are perhaps the purest expression of planting design. Composing a pot is like a chef creating a salad—all of the rules of design get stripped down to their essence. In a larger landscape, the hand of the designer can be lost, but with a pot, the artificial environment is a pure display of horticultural skill.

Earlier in my career, I was obsessed with highly mixed pots. With pots, you can pull off things you never can in a larger landscape. One year, I did a theme pot of nothing but plants I found on the side of the road. It actually turned out ok. Other years, I’ve had fun combining annuals with huge leafed perennials like Tetrapanex. A well designed combination lets you see plants in a new light.

But recently, I’ve been drawn to simpler, single-plant pots. They seem to have more impact in a garden than a fussy, highly mixed pot. I wanted to share a few images of gorgeous, one plant pots from other designers:

Above:  I love this composition of one-plant pots designed by Mosaic Gardens in Eugene, Oregon.  I love almost anything this design firm does.  Their designs are strong, yet whismical with a real sense of place and materials.  My list of designers I would have design my own yard is small, but Rebecca and Buell would definitely make the short list. 

Above: The pot cluster goes modern.  I love the sculptural use of plants in these simple geometric pots.  Equisetum, Pinus mugo, and a purple Aeonium prove that less is definitely more. 

Above: The tightly clipped boxwood in this garden define space on the terrace.  The cool blue color of the pots contrasting with the deep green of the boxwood is utterly elegant. 

Above: Is it really this easy?  Boxwood, a dwarf spruce, and terra cotta prove that boring foundation plants placed in a great pot can transform a space.  Image from Siebert and Rice catalogue. 

Photo by Valerie Easton, garden design by Nancy Heckler. Originally published in Pacific Northwest Magazine
Above: Edible and ornamental?  This simple pot of rosemary set in front of Redbor Kale proves that moving a pot from the terrace to the garden can be a wonderful way of punctuating a moment.  Check out the full article of this delightful garden.

Want great pots for simple creations like this?  Here are some of my favorite sources.  First, for fiberglass recreations of large size pots, I always use Capital Garden Products.  This company is able to patina fiberglass to look like aged terra cotta, lead, or even bronze.  Fiberglass is a super-strong, super light weight alternative to terra cotta, lead, or metal planters. 

For smaller, terra cotta pots, I love Guy Wolff.  My wife and I visited his potting house a few years ago in Connecticut.  He specializes in recreations of historic pots.  His line is very affordable and very beautiful.  My favorite are his white pots.  They show off plants marvelously. 

A photo I took of Guy Wolff in action


  1. So glad to read someone else who believes in this way of planting. I've been doing it for awhile and it still seems to confuse some people (what no filler, spiller and thriller?). I have taken to making mixed plantings of some small succulents though, they seem to be able to hold their own in a group setting.

  2. Really enjoyed this post...it is amazing in design how something so simple can have such an impact!

  3. Two pots, each containing an arborvitae, framing the entrance to an outdoor eating area in a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, are my basic idea of effective and wonderful use of pots. I don't even like arborvitae, but it just works in a garden. If pots are all you have, more exuberant arrangements are called for; but, as an element of a larger plan, they seem to work best if simplified and scaled down.

    Explosions of purple and chartreuse plants in a pot always catch my eye when I'm wandering the city, but it's serial monogamy when it comes to potted plantings at home for me.

    Thanks for posting...your blog is the absolute best when it comes to gardening.

  4. Wow! Anne Wareham sent me this link! What a fantastic article! I am EXTREMELY intrigued by your 1-plant pot thinking, since you're the first container gardener I've heard talk about this, although I've seen some simply do it. Have a great day!

  5. Literally found on the side of the road? We you driving around at midnight with a shovel?

  6. Gorgeous and simple. Love the pictures! Here's a question: what do you do with your potted plants when winter hits? Terra cotta is so pretty but not freeze-friendly...or is there a trick to keeping them from cracking?

  7. Hi, randomly came across your blog and thought I'd share these pots done by famous British garden designers (Tom Stuart Smith, Cleve West etc. etc).


  8. www.fionasilk.com - that was me above :)

  9. Haven't checked out your blog in a while so I'm glad to have spotted this post. As a container garden designer I have to create all styles for all people, even if it means putting my personal style on hold. Like you, this concept intrigues me, which is why I also wrote an article on it; http://www.karensgardenadventures.com/2011/03/one-plant-one-pot.html
    Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Margaret - it is so long since you posted your question that perhaps you won't still be waiting for an answer! However as a container garden designer Perhaps I can assist with my experience.
    In frost prone areas I do not use or recommend the typical terracotta at all. Such containers are stored indoors for the winter - or wrapped with several layers of bubble wrap which looks hideous!
    However, thee are a few companies which make high fired terracotta which is impervious to water. I also have a lot of antique terracotta pots from England - they were my Grandad's. They must have been made differently because they have survived over 100 years. I think at least some are actually hand made.
    Hope this helps.

  11. Thanks a lot for providing valuable information.


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