Thursday, May 18, 2017


 Hey!  We're not going to talk about something super emotional and chewy this week!
Are you relieved?

There's a whole lot of gardening stuff floating through my world
 and the general gist of the conversations are..."plants are weird", 
"I don't know why I killed them but I have killed them many times",  
or "plants will just not do what I want them to do".  
Why do people think gardening is so hard?
I guess anything that is unfamiliar can be overwhelming.
It appears to be difficult to remember that plants are ALIVE
they need to be cared for in ways that are not the same as other 
living things we need to care for...say dogs or children.
As a total plant nerd in a family of gardeners....
this lack of general plant knowledge can be hard for me to remember.
I have put my foot in it lately by assuming that people know about plants.
Sometimes my arrogance shows up in odd ways.
Like say....laughing out loud when someone says they're going to grow all 
their produce needs organically in the (tiny) pots on their deck.
Oh were serious.

So...for the next few posts I want to share some info 
about how to successfully choose and grow plants-
specifically how to grow them in containers.
I'm offering some long winded advice
with some tips that should help up your game!

As an example, I'm going to use a small weekend redo 
of the main entrance of our church.  
If you like before and after stories, this is a good one for you!
The Peak Connecting the Disconnected

I love love love my church.

I hope everyone who walks towards those doors feels
invited in and welcomed with open arms.
Many people work to make that intention a reality-
they serve with their time, their gifts, their hearts.
The space where we come together is special.
My husband and I recently offered to use our gifts to 
enhance this space and over the next few posts, 
I'll break down the ways that we used our knowledge of plants 
and container planting to get the best result.


As you walk up....what do you notice?
 Part of the reason people garden is to add beauty to an area.
I know that beauty is a somewhat subjective topic-not everyone has the same style.
However, as marketers everywhere know....we do find some things universally pleasing.
We're not always aware of our preferences or our perspectives.
It can be easy to distract us from the bigger view by focusing on the little details.
There's an easy way to help shift your perspective now that we have digital cameras built into our phones.
Take a picture.

I take lots of pictures when I'm working on projects.  
It helps put things into perspective.
Here's a picture of the main entrance of our church.
Basically a simple, public space.  
Everything is symmetrical.
Neat and tidy.

When I look at this picture, I am noticing the planters-
I'm noticing that they don't seem to belong.
I'm not just being a plant-freak here...this will look off to most people.
There's nothing wrong with these planters per se.
In a different place, they would be great.
However, in this case, they almost disappear and seem accidentally placed.
It's not obvious what isn't working until you step back.
The picture helps solidify the scale and show you what is off.
They are too small for the space.

Bottom line for this tip - you need to know the scale of the space
before you can fill it appropriately.
A picture will help.


Take another look.....
In addition to being too small....there is something not right about the number of pots here.  
I mention this because I have fiddled with things for a looooong time 
before I realized that the reason it's not working is because 
I have an even number of things.
Why does it matter if you have an odd or an even number of things?
I don't know for sure but there is scientific data to support our innate desire for symmetry.
Here's a very small set of pictures to help you understand it visually.

One thing? Looks cool. What a statement!
One thing can be as wild and unstructured as it wants to be.
One thing is individual.
It can be small or large.
It can grow sideways or upright.
There's no point of reference.
Look how beautiful that is!

Two things?  The inner critic wakes up!
If you have an even number of objects,
then they better be symmetrical, identical, mesmerizingly perfect.
Two things need to be balanced and twin-like.
If one of the plants grows bigger or broader or just to it's own drummer
it can be difficult for your brain to appreciate it.
why is that one on the right so tall?

Three things? Back to cool. 
We can relax again into a zen-like hippie trance.
Three things can be more free and wild.
We don't expect them to match each other.

 Beautyberry clusters 

Another related thing is that even-numbers scream formality to us.
Even-numbered things are great for some spaces or projects...
formal gardens, castles, government spaces, medicine doses, baking recipes.
Even numbers should be reserved for spaces (or plants) that
can be measured and controlled.
They are not great for things that can grow and change on their own.
They don't give as much room for life to happen.

My advice is....Why risk the inner critic?
When in doubt, stick with odd numbers.
This holds true for filling the planters too.
Buy 1, 3, or 5 plants for each pot (or 7 or 9 or 11)
Avoid buying 2 or 4 or 6 for a single pot.

One small problem...this entrance is already symmetrical!

Has it been decided for us?
Do we automatically have to continue the symmetry?
Well....we could go that route.
In a formal space, that might be the choice to make.

Very formal symmetry here will say
'Come in and do things the way we've always done them'
It will not say 'come on in and bring something different'..
There can be comfort and value in's just not what needs to happen
at the church that connects the disconnected.

Instead....we're going to trick our inner critic.  
We're going to to add some odd numbers on top of the symmetry
to add some energy and welcome without upsetting the balance of the space.
It is possible-I'm not making this up.

Of course....sometimes it's hard to let go of the need for symmetry. 
Even in places where it doesn't belong. 

Consider reading other posts...I recommend anything tagged #controlfreak.

The yellow rectangles are the size of accent you need.  

Back to our picture of the church entrance for a minute.
For this particular space, I will need to have something about 5'x4'.
I don't know what that something is yet...but that's the size I need to fill.
You're probably thinking....5' x 4'....that's pretty darn big.
It is.  
It's bigger than me.
To go smaller will always look just a little bit off.
No matter what, I've got to have something in here that will be about 5 feet high.
I can do that in a variety of ways-with plant material, with trellis or sculpture.
 I'll need a collection of pots or a pot that expands out to fill the space around it to about 4 feet.
And since I want to invite people in, I need to find a way to incorporate lots of 
odd numbered things.
If I can't do that, then I need to just leave it alone.
Go big or go home.
So now what?  How do I decide what to put in here?

Stay tuned......

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