A Garden Of Contained Exuberance
The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.
Every year at The Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge Mass., the curators invite some of the region’s most talented garden and landscape designers to create individual container gardens that are sited throughout the garden. The exhibit is called “Contained Exuberance.” Tucked away in different spots around this 15-acre horticultural gem, visitors come upon these surprise arrangements as they stroll the grounds viewing the permanent beds and display gardens, which are open to the public from May to mid-October.
I was flattered to be asked to design a group of pots this year for the second time. A few years ago, I created an arrangement of succulents of all varieties planted in my own collection of repurposed galvanized tubs, barrels and buckets. I was assigned a spot in full sun on a stone terrace, so I wanted to choose something heat tolerant and tough, but unusual. There are countless varieties of succulents, from the huge-leaved Kalanchoe gastonis-bonnieri (Donkey ears) to the tiniest baby fingernail-sized chartreuse Sedum ‘Ogon.’ I absolutely adore succulents! Many look like they were either designed by Dr. Seuss or landed on earth from another planet.
This year I chose a spot in the shade and decided to use three graduated vertical containers created by concrete designer Justin Madsen of Marveled Designs, which matched the beautiful bench that he would be displaying at BBG this summer in their “Benched” exhibit. For plant selection, first I chose a color palette, in this case, purples and greens. I specifically focused on foliage plants rather than flowers to minimize maintenance, with no need for deadheading. Removal of yellowing leaves is about all that’s called for and just a few times during the growing season; the more aggressive growers can be trimmed and shaped to keep in balance with the various plants in relation to each other.
Because the light green containers are simple in shape with a contemporary style, I selected a few feature plants that offer dramatic form and interesting texture, exhibiting one or more of colors in the palette. I underplanted them with smaller-leaved choices to soften the hard lines of the pots and to carry the color story through all the vessels. Some act as “ground covers,” some as fillers and some as trailers, to drip down the sides of the pots in soft contrast to the hard surface behind them.
In the tallest pot, I used Alternanthera dentate ‘purple knight,’ Alocasia ‘Regal Shield’ (elephant ear) and Ipomoea batatas ‘illusion emerald lace’ (sweet potato vine). In the medium pot went Alternanthera dentate ‘rubiginosa,’ Dypsis lutescens (areca palm) and Ipomoea batatas ‘sweet Georgia deep purple’ (sweet potato vine).
In the smallest pot, I planted a Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ (purple fountain grass) and underplanted that with Asplenium bulbiferum (mother fern). I hoped the purple fountain grass would maintain both green and purple leaves for my color scheme if it was sited in mostly shade rather than turning solid reddish-purple as it does in full sun. I’m happy to report that it has performed as planned, and I’m very pleased with the way it turned out.
There are nine container arrangements created by designers on view at BBG into mid-September along with a fascinating group of benches of all kinds, not to mention that the display gardens are all in their glory right now! It’s worth the trip to take in all this horticultural beauty before the season ends.