Mixed up containers

Michael Perry reveals the Japanese style of living floristry: planted containers that excel for a few weeks and not months.

Take inspiration from the Japanese!
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During my time working in Japan, I have discovered a lot more about how to create mixed container displays, and have been surprised with what I have learnt!

As part of my work with Barakura English Garden, I hold lectures and demonstrations for their unique gardening school. This is a gardening school that educates Japanese ladies and gents on how to garden in an English style. Part of those lesson plans is the subject of container mixes, but unbeknown to me, I actually began to learn from them.

Living floristry

The Japanese approach their gardening and use of plants with a much different style to what we do in England. They do not expect months and months and months of colour from their container recipes, but were happy with short-term joy. Once you embrace this concept, expense aside, you can really open up how you work with plants and the combinations that are achievable.

When making up a display that’s only intended to look good for a few weeks, it’s almost as if you’re working with ‘living floristry’. Most of the rules are then out of the window; perennials can be mixed with annuals, shrubs with alpines, you could even add a small tree into the mix, depending on the size of your chosen container of course.

Getting the balance right

Short-term containers don’t have to represent money down the drain though. With the right balance of timing, the plants from the container can easily be moved on to spots in the garden afterwards. In Japan, this isn’t always easy as space is usually at a premium. But, when we copy this concept in the UK, we could certainly find permanent homes for the formerly featured plants, I’m sure.

So, here’s 5 of my favourite container mixes that the students and I created during the gardening school. We really enjoyed tearing up the rule book, all in the name of living floristry.

1. The Disco Mix

This high-energy blend was put together by student Mika, and is amazingly vibrant; being both full of colour and texture. Despite using a very traditional style of container, what’s about the rim of the pot is a total disco. The use of yellow is brave, but works with the adjacent purple as well as the scarlet red. The similar shapes of the pointed celosia, cyclamen and chill fruits echo that of the yellow-leaved plectranthus too. The repetition of the cyclamen also seems to stabilise the mix a bit more. I love this one, and it would be popular with millennials too, I’m sure.

The Disco Mix

2. Shady Lights Mix

This mix is planted into a rather daring, duck egg blue, terracotta container. I really enjoyed matching the colours to this container, and have celebrated the magic of blue and yellow together in one spot. Packed with plants for shade, this mix of leafy ferns and small-leaved lonicera is sneakily jazzed up by some liriope, stitching it all together with its purple shades.

Shady Lights Mix

3. Red Space Mix

This one is kind of modern, thanks to the slate grey container and use of edgy-looking plants. Annual zinnias have been blended with arching ruby grass (pennisetum) and the frothy pink sedum. Peeking through the back is then the very intriguing slender club rush (Isolepis cernua).

Red Space Mix

4. Small is beautiful

One of the advanced students created a mixed container I couldn’t get out of my mind! Her artful hands have created a blend of plants with miniature features; some of which are houseplants, and some of which are outdoor plants. Not only has she planted those plants side by side, but she has made an effort to blend the stems of adjacent plants too, which creates an enthralling tapestry of textures and colours.

Small is beautiful

5. Modern Meadow Mix

I made up this container as part of the live demonstrations, and really enjoyed pulling together its black planting look. I chose to use only 4 different plants; celosia, alternanthera, marigold and carex, and planted them informally, as if it was a meadowland. However, the mix of plants is certainly not meadowland, being a blend of sunset tones, against metallic purples. Probably my favourite creation of the show.

Modern Meadow Mix
Michael Perry

About Michael Perry

Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan. Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media - so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook.
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