The Formal Look In Container Gardening
In The Garden – March 2019 – By Stephen and Kristin Pategas
Plants have been cultivated in containers through the centuries and around the world. As plant explorers brought back plants from more temperate regions, a passion developed for growing tender plants in locations where they would not survive outdoors through the winter. This led to the extensive use of portable containers – tubs, pots, and boxes. The large wood boxes called Versailles planters are still planted today with formal-looking plants that are exotic and not cold hardy. During the cooler months they were and still are stored in orangeries – tall structures with high broad windows to maximize light penetration.
Select containers with a formal style and use them singularly or use a symmetrical pairing to flank a walkway, wall fountain, garden gate, or doorway.
For plants, select ones with strong structural shapes, imposing stature, and perhaps with single straight trunks – crape myrtle, Majestic Beauty Indian hawthorn, windmill palm, pygmy date palm, or Japanese ligustrum. Be aware that using a pair creates the challenge to maintain the plants as matched equals otherwise they appear to be unbalanced. Topiaries are a good choice if the person who is doing the pruning has a sharp eye.
Many shrubs trimmed into topiaries are available at local garden centers in a variety of shapes: spirals, spires, pom-poms, single, double or triple balls, fans, cascades, columns, cones, or standard (single-trunk) globes. The following plants are typically trained into shapes: dwarf yaupon holly, boxwood, Eugenia, wire vine, firethorn, and creeping fig. Lantana, juniper, and roses are sometimes grown with single trunks. These are all small-leaved plants that can be sheared with minimal damage to the leaves. You may create your own topiary with a frame as a trimming guide for shrubs or vines. Provide a sunny location; rotate the container to promote full, even growth; and hand prune or shear to maintain the desired shape.
Plants that offer more than a visual treat are some of our favorites for a formal container look. Rosemary is easily trimmed into a cone and will perch outside a kitchen door for use by the discriminating chef. The pungent scent released by its volatile oils will encourage a stroke from passers-by.
If you are willing to replace plants after about five years, look at the essentially thornless kumquat (Fortunella spp.). It is cold hardy (to 10 degrees) and its small round to oval yellow to orange fruits are profuse and showy. The Nagami (pop the whole fruit into your mouth for an explosive sweet-tart flavor), Meiwa, and Marumi types offer the tastiest fruits. They mature in the fall and adorn the tree for months. As with other citrus, kumquats have fragrant blooms that precede the fruit. Keep them healthy to forestall their inevitable demise from citrus greening.
Select containers to match your style, purchase plants with the perfect shape and appropriate size, install them using a quality potting mix, and add that formal touch to your garden.
Hortus Oasis (FL26000315) in Winter Park is a boutique garden design company specializing in residential, commercial and specialty gardens. Stephen is a registered landscape architect and Kristin is a certified landscape designer. Contact them at Hortus Oasis (FL26000315) in Winter Park is a boutique garden design company specializing in residential, commercial and specialty gardens. Stephen is a registered landscape architect and Kristin is a certified landscape designer. Contact them at 407-622-4886/ firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photography by Stephen G. Pategas/Hortus Oasis