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Pots are perfect way to decorate outdoor spaces

Bright blooms can make rooms really blossom

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Garden spaces can be considered as outdoor rooms. Spring is a good time to rediscover, redecorate and revive some of these spaces.

Garden spaces can be considered as outdoor rooms. Spring is a good time to rediscover, redecorate and revive some of these spaces.

Nance E. Hill, Chris Madden Inc.

I like to think of my garden spaces as outdoor "rooms." And this time of year I can't wait to begin my annual redecorating of these areas. As my good friend and expert gardener, Bunny Williams, says in her book, "On Garden Style" (Simon & Schuster), " . . . at the end of a long gray winter, few mercies are more tender than the sight of a spring flower pot . . . whatever the flower, those blooms bobbing in the chill air are sweet relief to winter-weary passersby."

I couldn't agree more.

My favorite way to decorate my outdoor rooms is by using containers — wonderful, aged urns and pots that I empty, clean and store each autumn and look forward to using again in the spring. Throughout the summer, I'm constantly rearranging and "fluffing" these colorful flourishes. I move containers around and also replant them to take advantage of seasonal blooms — from the first pansies and daffodils of spring to end-of-the-season mums.

Container gardening provides instant gratification. Nothing is more satisfying than visiting your local nursery, buying the latest bloom offerings, sticking them into a decorative pot dosed with plant food and then creating bouquets that can line steps, define garden-room perimeters or provide a touch of welcome at the front door. When I'm in a big hurry, I sometimes just stick the plant, still in the nursery's plastic pot, into a decorative urn and cover with a sheet of moss.

Early this spring, I cast a critical eye over my gardens in anticipation of a photo shoot. They certainly weren't ready for their close-up. So I topped the flower boxes out front with fully mature trailing ivy and pots of blue hydrangea and interspersed it all with lavender and yellow pansies. I also filled the urns flanking the front door with blooms and covered over the annual garden with evergreen. When I was done, my gardens were more than passable.

Suzy Bales, the author of "Garden Parties" (Clarkson Potter), has a special fondness for the container garden.

"The great thing about containers is that you can just take a bunch of different pots, even if they don't relate, plant a single plant in each pot, and then you can arrange them to look like an instant, lush garden," she says.

It's perfect for the rooftop terrace or a spot in the garden in need of color and height. Bales says to arrange containers in layers, "invert a pot to use as a pedestal for another pot for the back row, set your containers on bricks, and play with the height and colors . . . container gardening is so versatile."

I love placing pots around the garden because it is like creating any other arrangement in your home. You need to be sensitive to placement, color, balance and the harmonious arrangement of the overall effect.

One of Bale's favorite container plants, perfect for most climate zones, is double impatiens.

"Some people consider this flower trite, but the whites or pale pinks resemble roses and are very hardy," she says. She suggests planting something that drapes around the edges of the container, "to soften and spill over the sides." Something as simple as ivy, or for color, "lobelia or alyssum. Then with white impatiens in the middle, you get a very classic, blue-and-white summer arrangement."

So where do you place pots for the greatest impact? Here are some suggestions:

Line a pathway or define an entrance. Our home has two doors facing the front drive, and visitors are often confused as to which door is the "proper" entrance. Friends and family always pop into the pantry door; but for other visitors, two urns planted with roses signal them to the front foyer. Bunny Williams recommends using same-sized pots with identical plants to mark a path, such as to the front door or the back garden.

Integrate planters into terrace or porch additions. Use the shape of the container as an architectural detail or incorporate a container spot into the end of a row of built-in seating along a deck.

Use hanging pots to emphasize architectural lines. Williams uses the example of a long side veranda of a white frame house, where identical large ferns are hung at the same elevation, making a green hallway out of an ordinary porch.

Frame a focal point. Large urns on pedestals or hanging pots at the end of a porch are great for framing a vista — a meadow, woodland, pond or lake. Or have a magnificent urn or planting become a focal point in the garden; center it in the middle of a formal layout or place it at the end of a formal path. Another option is to put urns or plantings in pairs on either side of a terrace.

Get ready for that first-of-the-season outdoor gathering — whether a Mother's Day luncheon, a graduation party, a baby or wedding shower, or just the first weekend when it's pleasant enough to spend the day out-of-doors. Prepare your garden with colorful plants and blooms — filling containers and pots that you can move into and around your garden all summer long.

Chris Madden's 16th book, "Haven," published by Clarkson Potter, is available in bookstores now.