Fire and Ice

The winners of our 2009 Container Challenge provided plenty of hot and cool designs

Fine Gardening - Issue 133

For the 2009 Container Challenge, we asked our readers to create a container design based on a theme of either ice or fire. The idea was to show that plantings can actually change not only the look but also the feel of a space. A collection of silver plants, for example, can make a patio seem cool and calming, while an explosion of hot colors can turn up the heat and excitement. The winner and finalists featured here successfully demonstrated this theory. Thanks to all who entered. The readers of Fine Gardening continue to astound and impress us.


Going up in flames

Todd Holloway,  Vancouver, British Columbia

We chose this design for our winner because it’s tastefully flashy, evocative, and simply stunning. Tropicanna® canna is a no-brainer for a hot container: Its flame-shaped, orange- and red-striped leaves and hot tangerine blooms are a blaze of fire. The leaves of ‘Sky Fire’ coleus are just as hot, while the deep red mass of the sweet potato vine is the perfect choice to add some weight to the combo. The creamy tips of the plectranthus leaves can be seen as either a cooling influence or a white-hot accent. Congratulations, Todd!

1. Tropicanna® canna (Canna indica ‘Phasion’, USDA Hardiness Zones 8–11)

2. ‘Sky Fire’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Sky Fire’, Zone 11)

3. Leatherleaf sedge (Carex buchananii, Zones 6–9)

4. ‘Lemon Twist’ plectranthus (Plectranthus ‘Lemon Twist’, Zones 10–11)

5. ‘Blackie’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’, Zone 11)


Icy plants can take the heat

Sheila Schultz, Denver, Colorado

Metallic containers can look cold or hot, depending on how you use them. Sheila turned down the thermostat in this bronzed container, using cool silver succulents and a deep black aeonium peeking through the middle like a cold black hole in outer space. These tough succulents, ironically, thrive in the heat.

1. ‘Touch of Class’ Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans ‘Touch of Class’, Zones 3–8)

2. ‘Icicles’ helichrysum (Helichrysum thianschanicum ‘Icicles’, Zones 10–11)

3. ‘Cape Blanco’ sedum (Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’, Zones 5–9)

4. ‘Zwartkop’ aeonium (Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’, Zones 9–11)

5. ‘Tricolor’ sedum (Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’, Zones 4–9)


Pair a pot with its setting

Kat White, San Luis Obispo, California

Kat not only created a gently smoldering planting but also made sure it coordinated perfectly with its backdrop. The strong color contrasts, along with the heuchera that matches the wall behind the combo, make for an electric scene.

1. ‘Royal Purple’ smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, Zones 5–9)

2. Festival Grass™ cordyline (Cordyline ‘Jurred’, Zones 9–11)

3. ‘Southern Comfort’ heuchera (Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’, Zones 4–8)

4. ‘Henna’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Henna’, Zone 11)

5. ‘Profusion Fire’ zinnia (Zinnia ‘Profusion Fire’, annual)

6. ‘Blackie’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’, Zone 11)


Muscle-car colors

Moira McQuarrie, Hanson, Massachusetts

Moira entered both fire- and ice-themed containers, and when we looked at her photos, we were impressed that she had coordinated her designs with a couple of her husband’s vintage cars: an orange crush pearl 1969 Mustang Mach I and a royal turquoise 1966 Chrysler 300. We couldn’t decide which we liked better, so they both made the cut.

1. Tropicanna® canna (Canna indica ‘Phasion’, Zones 8–11)

2. ‘Indian Dunes’ geranium (Pelargonium ‘Indian Dunes’, annual)

3. ‘Dancing Flame’ salvia (Salvia vanhouttei ‘Dancing Flame’, Zones 9–11)

4. Bonfire® begonia (Begonia bolivi­ensis ‘Bonfire’, annual)

5. ‘Gold Lace’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Gold Lace’, Zone 11)

6. ‘Kingwood Torch’ coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Kingwood Torch’, Zone 11)

7. Trailing abutilon (Abutilon megapotamicum, Zones 8–10)

8. ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’ fuchsia (Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’, Zones 9–10)


1. Silver sage (Salvia argentea, Zones 5–8)

2. ‘Shorty’ euphorbia (Euphorbia ‘Shorty’, Zones 7–10)

3. African mask (Alocasia amazonica, Zone 11)

4. Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus, Zones 9–11)

5. ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’, Zones 10–11)

6. Silver plectranthus (Plectranthus argentatus, Zones 10–11)

7. Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata cv., Zone 11)


Neat and tidy

Heather Geiser, Charlotte, North Carolina

We like the tight, defined nature of this warm combo. The plants have clear boundaries but blend together seamlessly. Crocosmia is always a hot commodity in a container, and this orange cultivar sizzles with its rosy red and creamy yellow neighbors.

1. ‘Bright Eyes’ crocosmia (Crocosmia ‘Bright Eyes’, Zones 6–9)

2. ‘Tricolor’ St. John’s wort (Hypericum moserianum ‘Tricolor’, Zones 7–9)

3. Painted Paradise™ Pink Improved New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens Painted Paradise™ Pink Improved, annual)

4. ‘New Look’ cockscomb(Celosia argentea ‘New Look’, annual)

5. Rapunzel® Red verbena (Verbena hybrida Rapunzel® Red, annual)

6. ‘Rumba Fire’ geranium (Pelargonium ‘Rumba Fire’, annual)


Icy in looks and name

Michael Leonard, Pismo Beach, California

We love how Michael chose plants with icy looks and icy names. Even his pot looks like it just came out of the freezer. This frosty combo is just the right blend of blues, grays, and silvers.

1. Icee Blue® podocarpus (Podocarpus elongatus ‘Monmal’, Zones 9–11)

2. Diamond Frost® euphorbia (Euphorbia ‘Inneuphdia’, Zones 10–11)

3. ‘Glacier Blue’ euphorbia (Euphorbia characias ‘Glacier Blue’, Zones 7–10)

4. ‘Jade Frost’ sea holly (Eryngium planum ‘Jade Frost’, Zones 5–9)

5. ‘Silver Falls’ dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’, Zones 10–11)

6. ‘Frosted Curls’ sedge (Carex ‘Frosted Curls’, Zones 7–9)


Michelle Gervais is an associate editor.

Photos: courtesy of the contestants

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