Using Faux Bois in the Garden

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While visiting the Nashville Antique and Garden Show this year, faux bois was one of the key items featured in the garden dealer booths. These items were all sold early on Friday, proving their popularity. All these were made of concrete, included moss patina, and most were brought back from Europe by the dealers. Faux bois details are great in many gardens for this contrast of cottage and modern. There is also many different ways you can add it to your garden.

Collection of antique Faux Bois planters seen at the Nashville Antique & Garden Show - More images and details at Thinking Outside the Boxwood



One of my favorite garden containers I own is the faux bois planter next to our back door. It is my favorite for a few reasons. First the story of when and where we found it. (It was on a detoured state route in rural Wisconsin on our trip back from the PPA symposium in Minneapolis, MN. It caused us to u-turn in the middle of the road and strapping down luggage to get it back to Ohio.) It is also my favorite for the mix natural wood graining in the rough and raw texture of concrete. The fact it needs leveled with pennies, missing a small chuck in a foot, and an amateur repair on side adds to its charm.

Faux Bois Planter over the season - how to incorporate faux bois into the garden - more at

Our container at home at a few different seasons. This is placed at our back porch against the black portion of our home which makes both the container and plantings pop.


Faux Bois fiber cement table top planter filled with succulents - more at

This is a small concrete planter belonging to a client that is planted with succulents. The smaller sized containers look great on outdoor or indoor tables and do not require a crew of people to move.


Faux Bois planter filled with ferns seen in Preston CT. - More on Faux Bois at Thinking Outside the Boxwood

We saw this faux bois planter in Preston, CT over the summer filled with ferns. Something this size is extremely heavy but its heft is scale and weight gave it the realistic feeling of a carved out tree trunk.


Outside of planters, faux bois can be added to the garden in furniture. There is antique furniture and contemporary designers still crafting in these designs today. Carlos Cortes is the most recognized craftsman, (see article from Martha Stewart here). Other designers include Branch Studio, Husson Studio, and  Marcella Marie.  Outside of using concrete you can also find cast iron benches with faux bois details.



Besides our concrete planter, we have had a wood stump planter that was painted at one time to look like a real wood stump, but over the past few years has chipped off. This is a much more manageable size to use and moves around from inside to outdoors. This one is made of a mystery resin and was purchased a long time ago at auction with no maker marks. Even up close this planter looks very realistic compared to the concrete versions.

Using Faux Bois in the Garden, Thinking Outside the Boxwood



Cast Iron Faux bois is another antique item you can use to add to the garden. From benches, hitching posts and ornaments, the cast iron stands up to wear and tear. Oddly enough we saw no cast iron faux bois while at the Nashville antique and garden show.

Faux Bois in the Garden - Cast Iron Hitching Post at Moss Mountain Farm. More at

This cast iron hitching post is from Moss Mountain Farm, the home of P.Allen Smith. Painted black it is the perfect fix of form and function.


Using Faux Bois in the garden - Metal Edging that evokes bent branches. More at

Here are two runs of metal edging that evoke the look of bent branches. Adding these are a subtle nod to natural elements in the garden while serving a function creating edges to different areas.




Another antique faux bois planter belonging to my in-laws collection is made by sewer tile craftsmen. These are made from the same material as the tile, so have the color of the red clay used. These are American made but are equally expensive as their European counter parts for their rarity.

Using Faux Bois in the Garden - 20th Century Sewer Tile Faux Bois Planter - More examples on

This planter is about 2 feet tall and 3ft wide and crafted using clay used to craft sewer tiles. This planter was purchased in Southern Ohio and was most likely made by a Ohio craftsman.




Finally, the most contemporary way of adding faux bois to the garden is using board formed concrete. This could be in retaining walls or in fireplaces, really any were you would use poured concrete. These are created using wood boards that have been sandblasted to bring out the graining in the forming process. HERE  is a great post about how it is accomplished.


Faux Bois in the Garden - Board Formed Concrete from Howells Architecture +Design from Dwell. More uses at

A board formed concrete wall from Howell Architecture + Design via This method can be used for fire pits, walls and raised beds.



Here is a round up of some faux bois planters that don/t require visiting antique shows , France or farm auctions.

Using Faux Bois in the Garden with containers - More at


(1) Martha Stewart for QVC 19 inch Planter

(2) Capital Garden Products Driftwood Planter

(3) 910Casting Concrete Faux Bois Planter

(4) Pennoyer Newman Tree Hallow Planter


I ordered the Martha Stewart QVC 19” planter, and will let you know what I think about it when it arrives in March. Also, this spring I am planning on selling some of our antique garden items. I have held on to stuff for too long and it’s time to pass along and make room for new items. Will keep you posted, but I know metal edging is going to be up for grabs.


Boston Container Designs

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I am working pulling together all the posts from my trip out to Boston for the APLD conference and I found photos from walking around Boston that don’t fit into any of my other posts. Boston had some great container designs in the Back Bay area and along the shops on Newbury street. If you want to see more beautiful container designs from the Boston area, view fellow APLD member and Friend, Ellen of PERENNIAL GARDENS portfolio.

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GARDEN TREND: Monoculture Container Design

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GARDEN TREND: Monoculture Container Design, Thinking Outside the Boxwood


I give credit for the monoculture trend in container design to the brilliant container groupings by Danish gardener Claus Dalby. The groupings of containers he places at the entrance of his garden receive over 2,000 Instagram likes for the striking color and scale impact they create. Traditionally you see “mono” container groups of singular variety of specimen plants, such as begonias or succulents. However, this new trend focuses on a variety of plants curated based on color and texture. I compare it to a French or English florist showcasing the seasons best blooms at the entrance to their shop.  The work featured here is all by Claus, but there are a lot of Nordic designers that are creating amazing monoculture container groupings are large and smaller scale.

New Garden Design Trend - Monoculture Container Design showcased in the work by Claus Dalby. More on the trend at


Generally, monocultures are not a good horticulture practice since they leave your garden vulnerable to pest and disease. Just ask anyone losing their boxwood to boxwood blight or dealing with the relics of Emerald Ash borer. However in container gardens, planting pots in a singular species gives you flexibility in swapping out under performers and revise placement based on height and spread.


New Garden Design Trend - Monoculture Container Design showcased in the work by Claus Dalby. More on the trend at




SKILL LEVEL: This container design method is great for gardening novices, you can move and swap to keep it looking fresh and easily replant any unsuccessful pot. Also mono-containers can use smaller, less expensive containers and be placed in compact outdoor spaces. Plant geek level gardeners will also love this trend since you can highlight your unique plants and constantly fiddle with your groupings.


PLANT SELECTION: Following in Claus’ footsteps, I recommending following a strict color palate when selecting plants. Either go for variations on one color family or just warm or cool tones. If you are more confident in color theory, mix it up with using complementary colors, etc. But remember this is a designed collection, not a hodgepodge of random plants.


CONTAINER SELECTION: This design is great for smaller containers which don’t work with when building combo containers. Since using small and easily moved containers they can be made of just about any material; terracotta (just store indoors during freezing temperatures), metal, concrete, pottery, fiber-clay and reclaimed containers.


CARE: Smaller containers will have more frequent maintenance. Check soil daily for moisture. Some weather could require daily watering compared to their in the ground counterparts. Smaller pots provide less organic matter for growing and will result in root bound plants with a shorter plant lifespans for your plants. Outside of watering, remember to fertilize and feed your plants. Also lighter containers could be susceptible to strong winds blowing over, so just take note if placing on a balcony.


ARRANGING: For the height and impact, you need a multi-tiered surface. You can start with a grouping of tables nesting together or line a collection down your stairs. You can take it to the next level and find or build a tiered plant stand (try searching antique/vintage French and English plant stand for some ideas). The objective is to have a graduated height with focus on the plants not the stand. For the minimum I would start with 10 containers and a maximum only limited to what the space can hold.


GARDEN TREND: Monoculture Container Design, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

I am currently building my small container supply and designing a plant stand based on some antique French models to create my own grand display. I will share the plant stand design and planting results. Also, if you don’t already follow Claus on Instagram (with over 100,000 followers- I hope you do), I highly recommend you add him to your list and include posting notification. Outside of views into his own garden, Claus visits some beautiful gardens across Europe.

Looking back: Container Designs 2015

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Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Finally, we have snow and below freezing temperatures. This mild winter has allowed the team to continue with projects up until Christmas, and now finally we have a chance to breath. 2015 was a busy year, and unfortunately I did not always remember to bring my camera to the job site. And as I look back at blog post, I did not share much of what we accomplished. But now I am in the office, editing the images I will spend the winter posting to catch up.


Here is a selection of our container designs from our main container season of May through October. Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood


Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood


Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Looking back: Container Designs 2015, Thinking Outside the Boxwood




Selecting Containers: Size and Scale

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Here is my third installment on container gardens with selecting a container based on size and scale. This post has taken me over a week to write as I found explaining scale outside a specific environment tricky.  You see images of amazing containers, but its difficult to judge the exact size of  a container based on the size of plants alone. Since you want the investment in your vessel last for years, getting the right size is important. Hopefully below I am able to give some guidance in selecting a good size.

Selecting Containers: Size and Scale, Thinking Outside the Boxwood


First, in selecting a container there are four features to evaluate, including size. All of these are factors you need to evaluate before you start with the artistry in building the plant pairings for your container.


  • MATERIAL. There is a wide range of materials to select from including metal, wood, pottery and composites. The choice of material will also depend on where you live and if the containers need to remain outdoors year round in addition to personal preference.
  • STYLE. From modern to Victorian, rustic to mid century there are no shortage in container style choices. These can either reflect the architecture of the surrounding buildings/gardens or be chosen for a distinct contrast.
  • PLACEMENT. The beauty of containers is their ability to be placed anywhere. Given their dramatic quality, containers are often used to highlight key areas like focal points and entrances or hide other flaws.
  • SIZE/SCALE. This is the trickiest factor in selecting container, especially when ordering from a thumbnail.  Larger containers allow you to add mature plants and more plantings compared to smaller containers. They also take up a bigger footprint so are harder to place. You need to consider the depth and opening width of the container and if it will work with the planting style you like.


For size you have to evaluate both the WIDTH and HEIGHT of the container.

WIDTH: Start with measuring the area you want to place the container. If next to a door, this would be the landing or steps. You are often limited with space on porches so the width will need to stay with in this area. If on the edge of a patio or large area, you have more range in the size you can use. Pick a width that allows some movement around the container to accommodate traffic.


HEIGHT: There is more flexibility in the height of a container. Look for a height that will be noticed in your chosen location, low bowls next to doors might be outside visitor’s sight lines. (Note that you will fill with plants so the height will be even taller). Also consider the best depth for the root structure (trees like deeper containers).



Here is a comparison of eight different containers next to a standard door (the door to our nursery). Using a standard door, you can see how the size of each container compares. If you have a specific container in mind, you can compare against these to see what it will look like next your door.

Selecting Containers: Size and Scale, Thinking Outside the Boxwood


Here are two items to keep in mind while selecting the container: 

A MINIMUM SIZE: Generally, I stay clear of containers smaller than 12″ wide. The smaller containers require more frequent watering and do not make a big impact on their own. If you are looking to make an impact, look in the 20″ wide range or bigger. You can then add smaller containers to make a grouping, but I recommend starting  with the main focal container first and then add on with the smaller containers.


RULE OF THREE: If you are going to make a grouping, aim for three containers in three different sizes. The three containers will make a bigger foot print. Play with three different heights and a mix of shapes or material.




GOOD RESOURCES: Here are some great resources for purchasing containers if you are looking for vendors that are easy to order/purchase and have a great selection of quality and unique containers. There are also great to the trade resources that are available at your local garden centers, but the five listed below are accessible to everyone and a good place to start your search.


Crate & Barrel: I have used personally and for clients containers from Crate & Barrel. The feature modern shapes, and from year to year include some larger scale containers. They also offer a range of materials. It is also nice since you can see these often in person at a local store before purchasing.  This photo features Crate & Barrel containers purchased a few years ago.

Selecting Containers: Size and Scale, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

This is a series of six Crate & Barrel containers purchased three years ago that are placed along a low retaining wall in a pool area. 


West ElmI like West Elm containers for the same reasons as Crate & Barrel; modern, range of sizes, can see in person and range of materials offered at great prices. This season in particular I really like the shapes and range of sizes offered. I have also used these at home/clients and they have lasted season to season.

Selecting Containers: Size and Scale, Thinking Outside the Boxwood, Monstera deliciosa- Swiss Cheese plant

We planted a Monstera deliciosa in this West Elm container, and bring in doors every winter. He has been happy in this container for the past three years with his in/outdoor lifestyle. 



Detroit Garden Works: This is my go to resource for unique and quality containers for clients. We make the drive north 1-2 times a year to buy something for a client. Deborah and Rob have an amazing eye for finding the best items from the USA and Europe. We are really fortunate to have such a great resource close by. They ship across country, but their site is a great resource for window shopping for types of containers you like.

Selecting Containers: Size and Scale, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Here a photo is the same container from Detroit Garden Works in the summer and fall that is planted with a Japanese Maple Tree and grouped with smaller containers. The scale of this planter very tall (about 10 feet with the tree), but matches the scale of the home. The clustering of smaller seasonal containers gives freshness, for the year round container design.  



Restoration Hardware: I have used Restoration Hardware containers for both clients and currently at my in-law’s home, and the quality for metal containers is really great. We can leave these containers outdoors year round (with below freezing temperatures) and they hold up for going on 5 years. The styles offered are more traditional and come in very large scale sizes that are often needed depending on the scale of the home.


Selecting Containers: Size and Scale, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

This is a pair of the Restoration Hardware Estate Zinc Paneled Planters flanking the front stairs of this home.  These are the Large size at 28″ sq., 28″H. We planted with a tall banana to bring the height of the container in line with the front door that is four steps higher.  This sizes also allows us to fill with plenty of under plantings to keep the container full. 


Terrain: Terrain carries the vintage and exclusive containers that showcase the, Oh I have had this container forever (but really just purchased). They are also plants people so offer a range of containers for different plants and uses. If you are privileged enough to live near the Glen Mills or Westport locations, you have the added benefit to build your container with plants while you are at the store to take home and plant.

Selecting Containers: Size and Scale, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Here is a pair of 16′ x16′ Fiberclay Barrel pots designed based on the difficult to come-by (unless you want to pay $200 plus) zinc Dolly Pots.  I have had great luck with Fiberclay pots holding up to our freezing temperatures from year to year, and at $78 for the large is a good value. 


I hope you find information on scale and size helpful in selecting a container. It’s most important to select something you love and will enjoy, and if that breaks all rules who cares.

Embracing Container Gardens – Part One

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The next series of posts on Thinking Outside the Boxwood are going to be more of rant than normal as I attempt to solidify the impact container gardens have in residential gardens. By no means are container gardens a ground breaking concept, there are hundreds of books from edible containers, instant containers and succulent containers to name just a few. But the more I travel and see residential gardens, I wonder why there is a lack of color and excitement in the design besides shrubs and trees. Understanding not everyone has the budget let alone time to maintain vast perennial gardens, I believe embracing the well designed container gives all the impact with a fraction of the effort.  Please bear with me as I attempt to see if I can spur a widespread love of Container Gardens. 

Embracing Container Gardens - Part One, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

The beauty of utilizing containers gardens is the ability to control a very small area and create a garden beyond your geographical area, existing plantings or maintenance ability.  Container gardens allow you to experiment from season to season or year to year.  Even in a large container, it is very easy to control the soil type, sun exposure, water frequency, and beneficial nutrients.  Also you can create a very large impact in a garden that has mainly foundationial plantings.


This was a concept I experimented over the years with the container flanking our front door. The blank wall and landing provided us a canvas for building a container design that would be seen by every visitor.  The location next to our front door made it easy to water (near the hose) and reminders to water with frequent traffic past.  But what the container allowed was just to change the plantings with no relation to the surrounding landscape or worry about how items would fair in a zone 7 long term

Embracing Container Gardens - Part One, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

This is the front of our previous home taken around the end of July in 2013. The planting beds include our foundational plantings that give the garden year round structure.  It also includes seasonal color of alliums, daffodils and nepeta that are highlighted throughout the different seasons. The container next to our door never reflected the surrounding plants and changed from year to year. 


Embracing Container Gardens - Part One, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Here is three years of the containers from our front door; 2013, 2011 and 2013. These were always an experiment in design, with the container from 2012 including Asparagus deniflorus ‘Myers‘ – Foxtail Fern never taking off due to lack of sunlight. In 2013, inspired by Mediterranean gardens, I contrasted the height from previous years with low-water plantings. It was this container that was an “Ah ha” moment for me on how containers can be used to transport you across the world into your favorite gardens without touching the rest of your garden.  


My ranting will continue with the next post showing how a destination garden like Lotusland in Montecito, CA or geographical area can be recreated in container garden. I am very interested to see what you think about “containing” a destination or favorite garden in a container.

Containers – Look for Something Different

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I admit I was a bit jealous over the weekend watching everyone’s Instagram posts from Trade Secrets and even worst, the mad rush of finishing RHS Chelsea Flower Show gardens (have you seen photos of Dan Pearson’s garden yet?) I was able to console myself with a trip to Dawes Arboretum and Springfield Antique show with the family.  At Dawes, I found a new respect for rhododendrons, which were in full bloom with their rainbow of flowers. Typically you see the pinks and whites, but Dawes had some amazing purples, yellows, reds and oranges.  In particular I really liked Rhododendron yakushimanum ‘Yaku Angel’. (sorry only photo I took was of the ID tag).


Sunday we went to Springfield Antique Show, and even though it was the last day I was still able to find some good deals.  Besides purchasing some plants, I found an assortment of items to add to my ever-growing collection of potential garden containers. I justify buying them with plans to sell to clients, but so far have not be able to part with very many. What I normally purchase are items that had a previous utilitarian life before I transform into a container. Others are unique cast iron garden urns that you don’t see very often, such as my Kramer Brothers urns. Often I get questioned what I am going to do with an item, and only when potted is the vision clear.


Containers - Look for Something Different, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

My current collection of barrels. The smallest (purchased this weekend) is a street cleaner’s rubbish bin. The wider was found at an Amish farm, not sure what they used it for. Finally, I don’t know what the tall narrow barrel was used for, but love the graphic quality of the lettering. These are great pulled together, but each was used for a completely different reason before. The galvanized feed bin was a purchase last year mainly because it still had the feed label. All these containers have been planted this year with a mix of annuals, perennials and vegetables.


Containers - Look for Something Different, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

I have a pair of these long baskets which I plan to have brackets made and turn into moss lined window baskets. We don’t have a window to use these yet, so will be awhile before get implemented.


Containers - Look for Something Different, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

This long galvanized feeder has great crisp edges and is very long. This could be a beverage holder for our next family function, or will be great filled with a selection of herbs. Lots of options with this container.


Containers - Look for Something Different, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

This is a small chicken feeder I purchased because of the crimped edges. The plan was to fill with succulents, but I have not gotten around to it.


Containers - Look for Something Different, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

These are a pair of urns that I saw this weekend, but did not purchase. They are a little smaller than I like to use since can only fill with 1-2 plants, but the rope and tassel handles were a great detail. They wanted $350 for the pair, which being cast iron in good condition, is a good price.


Containers - Look for Something Different, Thinking Outside the Boxwood

There was also a booth with a collection of chimney pots or caps (these are just two). I have seen these used in a grouping of containers, flanking doorways and mixed within a perennial bed. I am waiting for find one for a great deal or in a design I have not seen before.


For complete disclosure this is just the tip of the collection I have. The majority of our items are in storage while we wait for our house to be built (this has been two years in the making). Once we finally have a permanent home and garden I will have all my containers together and will be able to evaluate what to keep and what to sell. Just with plants, I buy based on emotion and eventually find the container the perfect home.


Spring Containers + A Garden Giveaway with terrain

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Spring has finally arrived in Ohio. With three warm sunny days in arrow, we have dried out from the early April showers. This weather should have you excited to plant your spring containers, if you have not already. If you are still looking for some inspiration, peruse the options on Container Gardens: Spring + Summer. Together with terrain, I have complied some of my favorite container designs from Pinterest to provide you some great inspiration to welcoming spring. As a bonus, terrain is offering a $500 gift card giveaway if you repin your favorite container design from the board. The giveaway ends April 25, but don’t wait too long to plant your containers and it will be time for summer color.   Here are some direct links to enter:

  • Here is a link directly to the board: HERE
  • You can also pin directly from terrain’s site: HERE

Some quick ideas for building your spring containers: More than just Pansies. We use a lot of pansies in containers, they are great for color, price and resiliency to spring’s temperamental weather. But build a container with more than just pansies.  Try an evergreen or edible like kale to mix up the texture and dimension to the container.  The container below includes some topiaries underplanted with pansies and a few deep pink heuchera to play off the mauve of the pansies. This was photographed and planted the same day, but in a few weeks the heuchera will have a bigger presence. Pin it to win it- terrain + Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Look for unique containers. These can either be vintage containers or items not initially intended to be planters.  I like to look for old barrels in either wood, galvanized or steel. The come in all sizes, but generally have a large scale or top opening to fill with with numerous plants. Remember to drill a hole in the bottom for draining before planting.  Below is a vintage grape crate from terrain.   Shop terrain, Pin it to win it- terrain + Thinking Outside the Boxwood

I will share some more container designs from this spring later this week, and reminders to pin to win!

15 Fresh Greens for Holiday Decorating

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The week after Thanksgiving is a rush to get our clients homes decorated for the holiday season. Even though the week is busy, we look forward to flexing our festive creative muscles. I shared photos of a few projects on instagram throughout the week (NickMccland),if you want a preview. There were questions about the types of greens we used and thought I would share a list of all the different types of fresh greenery we use as a info graphic for quick reference. These are the greens that work well in Ohio’s December climate or we use only indoor (such as pepperberry). There are infinite combinations you could make with these greens, highlighted with ribbon, ornaments, pinecones and branches.


15 Fresh Greens for Holiday Decorating Containers, Wreaths or Garlands from Thinking Outside the boxwood



One of our favorite tricks is using a variety of these fresh greens tucked in a standard Frasier Fir wreath or graland. The fir provides a dense base for tucking in other greens for distinctive texture and color. You can purchase greens from florists or take clippings from your own backyard. The dense fir wreath will hold the green’s branches with in the existing wiring, or use paddle wire to secure to the frame. This trick provides you with a nice fresh wreath, that is unique to only your home without the custom made cost or time.