Yesterday I visited Squire House Gardens in Afton, a wonderful garden and gift shop. The shop is dressed for the holidays, with container plantings, lots of greenery, and an arbor decked with ornaments–well worth a visit on a sunny, winter day. During the gardening season, Squire House, which is owned by Martin Stern and Richard Meacock, has a large garden where customers can see the plants they might want to grow used in a real garden. Martin studied in England and his garden style might be described as “semi-formal.” Snow covers the garden now, although you can still see its basic architecture.
While I was there, Kathy Oss, a Squire House employee, put together a holiday-themed container planting, which will eventually be displayed in front of a house on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. I’ve got a similar project on the to-do list at home and was thrilled to get some advice from a pro.
The urn Kathy used is cast cement, so she inserted a large plastic pot to hold the greenery and protect the urn. She fills the bottom of the insert pot with natural, fast-draining material, such as bark, sand, or gravel, then adds compost. Kathy used a variety of greens for the basic structure of the container: red pine, cedar, and spruce. The contrasting colors and shapes of the greenery provide interest and a substantial backdrop for the contrasting elements to come. Once she’s satisfied with the scale, size, and texture of the base, Kathy adds the exciting elements. In this case, several red-twig dogwood branches for height and color contrast, gorgeous red silk flowers, a red ribbon wound through the greenery, and large pinecones. In other pots, Kathy and Martin will use elements such as willow branches, large woven or metal/glass ornaments, or berries. The only limits are your taste, your budget, and your creativity.
Once she had the pot completed, Kathy watered it thoroughly and set it outside to freeze. This keeps the elements in the pot healthy and prevents them from blowing away. A container planting like this one can still look vibrant and attractive in March, depending on its location and the weather.
If you are interested in more information on planting containers, check out the Squire House web site for a video of Martin designing a container.