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There’s an exciting trend today in outdoor containers. Rather than simply plants in a pot, containers are being designed more as an art form. This trend is part of a larger movement creating garden art. At the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival in Seattle this past February, there was more emphasis on incorporating art into outdoor living spaces.
One element critical to any art form is the focal point. Where does your eye go first when you look at a container? What demands your attention? What really stands out?
Once you determine what plant will best fill this key role, the next steps are all about accessorizing. What plants will play well with the focal point, enhance the entire look and add an artistic flair?
Succulents are currently very popular, particularly the many new types that feature various colours and forms, and they make standout focal points from late spring well into fall. Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Fire Sticks’ looks very similar to branches of undersea coral. Its stick-like green-and-yellow stems, which can grow up to a metre tall, turn a striking red in the hot summer sun and add a fiery flair to a container.
Another of my favourite focal plants is the amazing Aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf’ with its very dark burgundy foliage. If the main stem is pruned back, new shoots will emerge, resulting in multiple foliage heads that actually turn a rich black in full-on hot sun.
For a big, bold look, Echeveria ‘Dick’s Pink’ is quite something. In spring, its foliage is green with a rosy frill around the outside. As the plant matures, the green turns a rich bluish colour, and the frill becomes dark red. Because it stays fairly compact, it’s ideal as a centrepiece plant.
Anigozanthos (kangaroo paw) is a fun novelty plant. I first spotted it in San Francisco when I was visiting one of the piers famous for its containers. It was a cold February day, and the anigozanthos was doing great. There are various sizes available today, but for versatility I prefer the shorter ones that grow about 24 inches tall (60 cm). They flower most of the summer and can be treated as a tender perennial.
As we continue to experience more hot summers, it’s hard to beat the beautiful new varieties of canna lilies. They thrive on heat and require minimal care. Their colourful foliage alone is very striking, and their dramatic flowers add a whole other dimension. I particularly love C. ‘Pretoria’, which has vibrant, green-striped, yellow leaves and orange flowers. ‘Tropicana’ has a punchy red-burgundy striped leaf with orange flowers, and ‘Australia’ has deep black-burgundy leaves and red flowers.
Don’t write off dracaena palms as focal points because some magnificent new varieties have stunning foliage. ‘Dancing Salsa’ has pink and raspberry striped leaves; ‘Dancing Zumba’ displays bold cherry and red foliage; and ‘Dancing Cha Cha’ begins the season with apricot and brown leaves that mature to yellow and green. These are just a few of the many new varieties spicing up this old traditional palm.
Rather than the same containers year after year, challenge yourself to create more dramatic works of garden art by incorporating today’s selection of exciting new plants into your outdoor summer patio pots and baskets.
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