Story By ELIZABETH DUNN

Obviously, I would not be capable of assembling the planters myself. For starters, the terrace where they would live was five stories up and six flights of stairs above the narrow tandem parking space, where the giant sacks of soil and carefully curated collection of plants would be delivered. I was certain there was a well-established and practiced system for neatly and efficiently delivering materials to lofty apartment gardens, that only experienced urban garden professionals could execute. There were also the “special climate circumstances” – full sun exposure and no outdoor water source. I convinced myself that only a true professional with extensive experience would be able to engineer an assembly of plants resilient enough to withstand the hot western sun, as well as the inevitable thirst they would experience while waiting for me to make multiple trips indoors to fill bucket after bucket of water from the bathtub faucet.

As it turns out, there are many professionals more than willing to offer their services and expertise. Anticipating the initial consultation with one such urban, small space, gardener, I dutifully selected seven identical black planters, each twenty-four inches wide and twelve inches deep, to evenly and neatly rest against the terrace railings. My meeting with the gardener produced drawings and a plan for installation. It sounded perfect. Each planter would be composed of lime green sweet potato vines intended to crawl out of the planters, red and green coleus to offer girth, blue salvia for contrasting color, and the obligatory fountain grass for height. And following the assembly of the planters, they looked perfect too. Seven, identical, perfect planters.

Every spring, for the following six years, I hired a gardener to assemble and install these exact same plants. We spent summer after summer dining and entertaining on the terrace among the company of our seven, predictably lovely planters. We received many compliments from guests, and I always responded with a Thank you, and offered full disclosure, “I didn’t do it myself. I had help." Even though I would never describe the process of outsourcing my planters as joyful, I felt decently satisfied that I had accomplished the chore of making our terrace pretty.

And then we moved. While the empty planter containers moved with us, the hired help did not. Nor did my carefully crafted justifications for needing help with the planters in the first place. No longer did the planters live on a terrace high in the sky. Instead, they would reside on a stone patio situated less than 20-feet from a driveway. No longer would the plants roast in the hot sun while waiting for me to sate their thirst, one small pail at a time. Now the planters would have the luxury of living in partial sun, in close proximity to a dependable hose. And, most importantly, no longer could I hide behind all of these excuses and dodge the real reason for avoiding the job of assembling the planters myself—I was scared.

I was scared of wasting time and money; I was scared of not being able to make them look perfect. But I was also motivated by the newly acquired responsibility of owning a yard. In some way, the time of gardening reckoning had arrived for me. I was going to try this. After all, I still held the secret recipe for the perfect planter in my back pocket: potato vines, coleus, blue salvia, and grass.

 

container garden collage by rochelle greayer

I was scared of wasting time and money; I was scared of not being able to make them look perfect. But I was also motivated by the newly acquired responsibility of owning a yard. In some way, the time of gardening reckoning had arrived for me. I was going to try this. After all, I still held the secret recipe for the perfect planter in my back pocket: potato vines, coleus, blue salvia, and grass.

Stepping inside the gates of the nursery, I was immediately distracted from my uneasiness about the mission.  Although loosely grouped by sunlight requirements, the scene of plants appeared to be a beautiful chaos – vibrant colors, sizes and textures all intermingled together. The overwhelming abundance of choices was oddly comforting. Between the sea of plants and the winding lines at the registers, systematically trying to decipher the perfect composition and quantity of plants for the planters seemed completely impossible. And curiously, I felt free. While trying to search out the proven lime sweet potato vines and coleus, I gradually loaded my cart with fuchsia impatiens, flame orange begonias, minty green vinca vines, classically blue hydrangeas, and strikingly modern looking Canna Tropicanna. I grabbed zebra grass and sculptural juncus grass.  And while waiting to purchase this eclectic collection, I couldn’t help myself from selecting various seeds from the nearby display, picking out envelopes filled with the promises of morning glories, columbine, zinnias, dahlias, and even moon flowers.

My selections were more than my seven planters could handle. Random pots of various styles, colors, and sizes were added to the family of planters to accommodate the abundance. I initially promised myself that these vessels were simply temporary placeholders until I could locate permanent ones that would properly coordinate with the originals. I nestled the plants into their mismatched containers and assembled plants together based solely on the fact that I liked to look at them next to one another. I wondered if I would realize my mistakes immediately, or if they would sneak up on me later in the summer. But the months passed and my planters grew. Some plants were happier living together than others, but no one ever gave me a citation for any missteps. Buying matching replacement planters quietly fell off of my to-do list.

Three years have passed since I have assumed sole responsibility over my planters. Every spring, I haphazardly add new pots and trays to the gathering, filling them with plants that look interesting together, and every time a unique and surprising display is produced. Over this time, the worry about revealing my inadequacy as a gardener and the basic fear of failure has faded, replaced by the pleasure of creating a new collection. I have ownership in the deficiencies, but also in the beauty; disclaimers no longer feel necessary. The planters are authentic, they are evolving, they are the product of my efforts, they are me.  They have come to represent a perfectly, imperfect assembly.

7 Responses to HELP WANTED! – Perfect Planters

  1. I’m the same kind of gardener. I look for what I like and pick it. It some how comes together and there is great joy in it. Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring me again to plant what attracts me.

  2. I have a large barrel on my front porch, which I set there when I moved into my small cottage home last year.

    Here it is June, and my barrel still sits empty, while my mind is filled with ideas, mixed with fear and trepidation.

    Thank you for offering me a nudge to just plant it and love the process, even if turns out “perfectly imperfect!”

  3. Gardening is my passion and we learn from mistakes. Same is the case for the gardener. We feel fed with gardening if we do same monotonous work. So, change is needed. We should do experiments with our garden. Then it will be an enjoyable work.

  4. Yeap. Gardening is not an easy task and sometimes it’s boring. If you don’t have a passion for it, you can’t do it.

  5. The challenge described is one that most of us who like to garden confront especially when we move to different surroundings. We want everything to be perfect. I like what comes through in this description about expressing individualism and embracing that. That very notion helps move along the new effort, relishing in it and succeeding with satisfaction and pride.

  6. I have started my own garden and found it quite difficult to take care of it. But I love gardening and will try to cover everything related.

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