Christina Salwitz is truly one of the queens of container gardening. She is a nationally recognized, award-winning garden designer and has a website and garden design business called, The Personal Garden Coach. Christina's containers are lush, imaginative and drop-dead gorgeous. Her garden photography is stunning and she is a generous and talented presence in the garden writing community. I am proud to call her a friend.You can also follow Christina on Pinterest and on Facebook.
Please click on the images to enlarge.
Please tell us about yourself and where you garden?
I live in Renton Washington, one of my jobs is working in a little nursery just north in the city of Newcastle called Newcastle Fruit and Produce. At the nursery, I am the Container Designer and a salesperson.
My other job is my own business called The Personal Garden Coach. I provide clients with personalized one on one garden coaching and design advice, give classes, seminars and lectures. I also write articles for magazines and various other garden related media.
Both areas that I work in are suburbs of Seattle across Lake Washington closer to the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. My USDA Zone here ranges from 6B to 8, the closer you get to Puget Sound, the warmer it gets. We can grow a HUGE wide range of plants here. This is why gardeners from across the country refer to it as a gardener's paradise!
The Seattle region is typically mild and wet for about 9 months of the year. The summers are outstanding and can be seriously hot. It is not unusual to have 90 plus temperatures for a length of time. On the flip side, it's also not unusual to have occasions of heavy snow and or ice storms.
How would you describe your container design philosophy or style?
I LOVE this question! My container designs are mostly plant choice and foliage driven. Sometimes I will see one little plant, a coleus, or a trailing plant and then create an entire color scheme and design around it. I can find inspiration from two plants that may have ended up coming off the delivery truck at the same time, I see them together and BAM!
Flowers in my designs are usually a second tier element. I am a firm believer in the saying "You can fall in love with the flower, but you're married to the foliage."
Sometimes I have an intention to highlight a particular plant that customers have a hard time envisioning being able to use together. Sometimes even the container itself will be a color or design inspiration. I have a whole design presentation that I do called "The Teal Pot Theory" where I show how that particular color works in SO many varied container designs.
The container shown here is a great example of how the 2012 Color of the Year, "Tangerine Tango," was used to help us sell orange plants and boy did it work! Not only did it help me sell the Orange Nemesia here, but also it helped me to sell the Huechera 'Green Spice' and the Ninebark shrub (Physocarpus) 'Coppertina'.
Do you have suggestions for using and placing containers in a landscape?
I adore containers in the landscape. And I mean IN the landscape, not just by a door or on a patio, I mean out in the beds. In my own garden I have containers in nearly every major planting space. My climate is mellow enough that I can leave them out all year if they are placed properly with a space underneath to prevent the drainage from being blocked.
Here's a great example of one of my favorites: On the corner of the house is a black steel table, sitting on concrete blocks in the ground. On top of the table is a very large black, ceramic bowl shaped pot. There is a 'Dappled Willow' sticking out from the middle, but the bowl is SO large that I think I may have fit somewhere around 30 other plants in it for spectacular effect. This was done for a magazine and this was my interpretation of the theme "Ice."
What are the challenges and or advantages of your climate?The constant challenge in this region and climate for a gardener is the delicate balance between plants that can tolerate BOTH wet winters and dry summers while still having an interesting landscape for the long gray months of rainy winter here. The other challenge is our soils here are very shallow, on the order of only a couple inches in most areas and then tons of clay below, the remains of what created all those beautiful mountains and lakes we have everywhere! However the beauty and advantage of this climate is that once you amend your soils enough, the world is your oyster for a selection of plants that you have to choose from!
Do you have favorite plant combinations that you use again and again?
I don't use specific plants, but more categories of plants that get along well in designs. I rarely use the same combination twice, I'm not sure I could even if I tried. For example heuchera is so insanely versatile for sun or shade, I can use 30 different cultivars in almost every design and make it work!
I will say that there is one thing that I use repeatedly from a design perspective: I use particular colors of containers very frequently, dark greens, black, or dark grays and any shade of teal. Those tend to be very friendly colors to almost any plant combination whether it's sun or shade.
What advice do you have for beginners?Be bold! Just go for it. If you are using good quality potting soil and your container has drainage, there are no rules.
What's your advice for choosing containers?
It depends on the design you want to create. If a single specimen plant is your thing, then you can really use almost anything for a container. If you are doing a combination, then the shape of the container is more important. I try to avoid those with what I call a shoulder at the top, where the pot narrows at the opening. Plants will root out laterally and then you're in trouble when it's time to take them out.
Other than that, color is the only other thing I think about. Try to use colors that are universal enough that your investment in good quality pottery allows you to have as many styles of plants and colors as possible.