It feels like choices for planter filling are very very polarized these days. Gardeners either decide on a stiff boxwood ball to impart minimalist European flair or an ever-more-complex assortment of carefully researched annuals. I’m proudly guilty of both approaches. Yet I, too, like to change the idea of one plant per pot — a lot of boxwoods could be blah.
Based on context, style and exposure, I’ll pick one particularly charismatic specimen and bring it up to eye level. Without fitting companions, without flowery trim, this lucky one then takes an entirely new dimension. Against a backdrop, it pops like never before. Let us look at seven instances of the plant favoritism.
Well past Quebec City in Canada, the cold maritime climate of famous backyard Les Quatre-Vents matches this old dwarf pine tree. Perched on a dry-laid stone wall full of alpine plants, a white painted concrete planter hosts a single walnut, probably put in decades ago.
Having a bit of summer watering and some thoughtful design, this pine nonchalantly eyeglasses a magistral vista of the surrounding areas. Restraint is the only thing to do here.
In this simplest combination of a Ghostbuster-green chair and a cabbage tree (Cussonia paniculata), nothing detracts from the gardener’s intention: plant collector’s whimsy.
This amusing-looking cabbage tree is a choice South African native generally restricted to under-glass botanical collections. Wheeled inside for the winter, it has happily adapted to the Washington state climate.
One plant per pot could end in the boldest vignettes. In a temporary garden installation in Montreal, a quartet of huge agaves dresses up glistening urns. Their highly charismatic silhouettes, here contrasting against pearl-colored exercise balls (of all things), are radically put on show. Less is more, they say …
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If diversity is kept out of our cards, repetition can considerably improve our hands. Here a series of equal planters, smooth and sleek, forms a regiment along a beautiful wall. Every planter is topped with an extremely contrasting variegated yucca to make a powerful contemporary scene. By the simplicity, maintenance is kept to a bare minimum.
Brought out from the open and hence deprived of any smoldering competition, this cute cape rush (Chondropetalum tectorum) takes centre stage. It’s a mesmerizing native of Cape Province, South Africa, which looks like an alien cross involving an ornamental grass and a horsetail. Isolated and raised upward, this cape rush gets the enviable quality of a museum piece perched on a plinth.
Actual plant fans and collectors often favor, for practical reasons, to keep their specimens in individual pots. Yet a simple researched category of these collectors’ items can become a really satisfying garden makeup. In the excellent Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, a few of named cacti achieves that.
Sophisticated or trivial, rare or common, most crops will grow dramatically in perceived value propped up at a wonderful pot. As a last proof, I challenge anyone to really downplay this case: a variegated sanseveria, the ultimate pedestrian indoor plant, in a simple terra-cotta pot as the centerpiece of a Chanticleer Garden installation in Pennsylvania. Yes, less is often more. And not a bore.
More: Simple Container Plantings for Intriguing Garden Design