Pretty, easy, drought tolerant containers

pretty late summer containers

Sculptural containers filled with low maintenance plants that you don’t have to water every day: perfect. Everything is kept loose and informal and easy, with simple, classic pale blues paired with soft yellows and white.

The garden bed is filled in with river stones, and the terra-cotta pots are set on top. This would be such a cool solution to a garden bed you haven’t gotten around to yet.

Here’s what I think is in these (Don’t you wish that people would put up little signs with plant lists?): Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, Zinnia ‘Dreamland’, Rudbeckia/Black-Eyed Susan, Chinese Forget-Me-Not (Cynoglossum amabile), and Thunbergia ‘Alata Sunrise White’.

Here are some more views:

drought tolerant containers

pretty, drought tolerant containers

pretty, drought tolerant containers


A simple modern home and front yard garden

modern front garden

This home is totally stunning and it’s so simple.

  1. Everything is black – the walls, the gate, the trim – except the stark white window trim, roofline and eaves, and porch light.
  2. Turquoise blue front door.
  3. Repetition of a just a few foliage plants.
  4. The same plant as a low round shrub and as a tree standard. I’m not totally sure what this is, but you could do this with Pittosporum, Privet or Indian Hawthorn.
  5. The flat silver ground cover ties in with the silver leaves of the tree. Try Cerastium (Snow in Summer) for a low silver ground cover.
  6. Sago Palms in low, wide terra-cotta containers.
  7. Podocarpus does it all. Here, it is trained on the wall and grown as a tree.
  8. Low boxwood hedges the same height as the bench they surround frame the entry.

See more black and green gardens here.

See more Podocarpus being awesome and versatile here.

modern front garden

modern front garden

Well hello there, Orange Stalked Bulbine, my new favorite plant

orange stalked bulbine

Saw this one growing at Gunn High School in Palo Alto of all places. I was not expecting to go to a soccer tournament and see great gardens. I’m telling you, when it comes to gardens, Palo Alto does not mess around.

Anyway, this is Orange Stalked Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens ‘Orange’).

According to Monrovia, this is my kind of plant:

Once established, needs only occasional watering. Long bloom season, showy flowers, attracts hummingbirds, deer resistant, easy care. And it’s a succulent.

I must have it.

Here’s another view:

orange stalked bulbine


doorway topiaries

Anything in pairs is exponentially better: dogs, candlesticks, topiaries… Symmetry in the garden is like punctuation. It says “look over here, this spot is important.” Symmetry at an entrance or transition point hints at even cooler things beyond. It’s a simple, perfect solution.

Above, the matching small potted trees make the massive wall of a cathedral in Melbourne, Australia feel softer and less imposing, and keep the doorway from getting lost.

cottage doorway

A cottage in Hobart, Tasmania. The symmetry here is soft and inviting, drawing attention to the balance and charm of the victorian woodwork and turquoise door.

pots and doorway

A courtyard and entry in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Beautiful and timeless.

Simple, easy succulent containers

succulent containers

Here is a cute group of succulents in terra cotta and handmade ceramic pots. The grouping works well because the pots are all natural tones including some soft blue greens that echo the blue green of the plants and the handmade ceramics emphasize the sculptural quality of the plants. The succulents are all different types of echeveria (I especially love the luminous white/silver) so the forms are variations on a single theme. I like to plant one type of succulent per container, and just rearrange the containers when I want a new combination.

Buy your succulents in the tiny 2″ pots so you can afford to try tons of varieties. They will grow quickly and give you plenty of babies along the way. I don’t do anything special – I give them the cheapest potting soil, full or part sun, and weekly water. Ceramics can get pricey so if your mother doesn’t go through a ceramics phase, you can get fantastic ceramic pots at estate sales, garage sales, or flea markets.

kalanchoe container

This is one Kalanchoe pumila. Believe it or not, this started out as a single plant in a little tiny pot (this planter is about 1.5’x3′ to give you an idea of the size). It grows like crazy and if you want more, just break off a piece and plant it. I love this one because it gives a full, lush look of a something leafy but only needs to be watered once a week (or less).

The easiest California garden ever

portola valley garden

This beautiful garden is actually at a riding barn in Portola Valley (the building is one of the stables). A gnarled old olive tree is surrounded by rudbeckia (black eyed susan), phormium (new zealand flax ‘bronze baby’), stipa gigantea (giant feather grass), erigeron (seaside daisy), and buddleia (butterfly bush). Everything here is perfectly suited for our heavy clay soil and Mediterranean climate of wet winters and long dry summers. This is practically a no-maintenance garden if you plant in the fall to catch the winter rains.

Garden reading: Gardenalia

On the want list: Sally Coulthard’s Gardenalia books.  How to create beautiful, informal spaces and throw in a flea market find or three? I’m all over it!

gardenalia stylish garden cover

Gardenalia: Creating the Stylish Garden


Gardenalia: Furnishing Your Garden with Flea Market Finds, Country Collectables and Architectural Salvage

Top ten reasons you should try container gardening

A touch of silver makes all that hot pink really pop.

Top ten reasons you should try container gardening:

  1. It simplifies your gardening. You can keep everything in your garden simple and green, and add color with your containers.
  2. It’s easy to experiment with new plant combinations. You can combine things in one pot, or just move different pots next to each other.
  3. It’s good for commitment-phobes. You only need to stay with a look for a single season, or weekend.
  4. You can have a garden in even the tiniest space.
  5. It’s budget friendly. Container gardening is the equivalent of using high-end fabric on pillows instead of the entire sofa.
  6. Instant gratification. You can go the nursery, try plant and pot combinations right in the store, and come home and style your space in time for your friends to come over for afternoon cocktails.
  7. You can take a risk and try something new or difficult to grow.
  8. It’s forgiving. Instead of ending up with a dead patch in your garden bed, you can just pop in a new plant or put the pot off to the side for a while.
  9. Children love it. Your four year old wants those hideous bubblegum pink petunias? They’ll look great in a container. Or give him some vegetable or nasturtium seeds: they’ll grow big, fast.
  10. You can use anything for a container: vintage pottery, driftwood, tea tins, tree stumps…

Orange makes everything better.

Line a basket with a plastic insert or saucer.

Pair similar forms in different sizes.

Read more posts on container gardens

Sidewalk gardens: climbing roses on a low wall

sidewalk garden with climbing rose

This sidewalk garden had climbing roses underplanted with low shrubs, evenly set along its entire length. The great thing about doing something other than a hybrid tea is you get a plant that looks great even after you’ve cut flowers or deadheaded. Here they’ve used mixed pittosporums – this is a shady street with lots of very large old trees. If you had more sun, you could do low growers like helichrysum, santolina, australian fuschia… anything where the foliage, not the flowers, is the star.

A succulent garden

agave, kalanchoe and echeveria

Agave, Kalanchoe luciae ‘Flapjack’, Echeveria ‘Afterglow’, and Baby Jade (also called Elephant Food or Portulacaria afra). Here, the Agave is used as a focal point and the other succulents are planted in drifts. I love this treatment and it really shows off the beauty and uniformity of their forms.

Make sure you really want an Agave before you put it in the ground, because it will grow to be a big, heavy, thorny monster. It’s beautiful, easy to grow, and hard to kill. They tolerate most soils, including heavy clay. Although they don’t need much water, they will happily survive a wet California winter without rotting.

Kalanchoe will rot if it’s overwatered. It dies after flowering, but its offsets will regrow in its place. It will die back from frost, but usually regrows. If you’re planting this one in the ground, you may want to amend your soil a bit so that it’s got some drainage.

Echeveria and Portulacaria are pretty straightforward. Interestingly, Portulacaria is native to South Africa and is being used for habitat restoration. It’s not a true jade (Crassula) but the cuttings root just as easily.