Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Urns of Darlington: Winter

A well-appointed property includes garden furnishings that help establish and augment the natural beauty and architecture of its grounds. At Darlington we have accumulated a collection of such furnishings that we place around the property with pleasing effect. This includes metal and wooden chairs and benches, sundials, and birdbaths. It also includes a number of large metal urns that we plant with a rotating display of seasonal flora.

The urns on our terrace planted for the winter

We bought our urns from dealers that specialize in selling interesting, large-scale outdoor furnishings and containers. Ours are not old, but rather are recent reproductions from China (or was it India?), made from scrap metal. They look convincing but require additional maintenance and care because they are prone to rusting quickly. That means regular painting.

A number of years ago we decided to paint all of the metal furnishings on our property in the same color paint, and selected Farrow & Ball’s "Off-Black” No. 57. The results are very satisfying but it was quite the task indeed as it included stripping, priming, and painting the seating, birdbath, and four urns and their stands.  It took Boy and me more than a month of weekends devoted to this project to complete it.

We change the contents of our urns every season to display plants that embody the season. In the spring we fill them with masses of violas; in summers we plant blowsy grasses, large succulents, or coleus; in the autumn we usually fill them with chrysanthemums, and one year we crowned the largest ones with enormous pumpkins; in the winter we plant them with evergreens. Every season is different, and we rarely repeat the same planting or color combinations from year to year.

Boy takes charge of selecting what the urns will feature each season, and does the actual planting. This year we bought the winter’s contents from a nursery that we like and that was having a 50%-off end-of-season sale of shrubs, perennials, and trees.

We planted the two large urns on our property with junipers, and the two urns leading up to the door with conical firs. Not exactly heirloom varieties, but handsome nonetheless. Boy was able to plant them ahead of the first of the winter's snow, and they look marvelous when crowned with white caps. 

Here is Reggie’s advice for successful planting of urns:
  • Wait until the end-of-season sale at your local nursery to buy shrubs to plant in your urns for the winter, and be sure to plant them before the soil in the urns freezes for the duration; otherwise you'll find yourself chopping out frozen dirt to make way for the shrubs;
  • When planting annuals in the spring or summer buy more than you think you’ll need and stuff them in. They’re only going to be in there for the season, so make the most of it;
  • Regardless of season, limit the varieties you plant in each urn; plant no more than one or two types of plants in a limited color palette; keep it simple;
And that's how we do it at Darlington. 

What did you plant in your urns this winter?

Photos by Reggie Darling


  1. I'm short on urns out here in California. We tend towards terra cotta. The Spanish influence, you know. Mine right now have some volunteer, um, whatdayahcallems. I am hoping you will plant zucchini one summer. Now that's the sign of a season.

  2. It looks as if the grounds are the perfect complement to Darlington House! I have the same urns on my brick front porch/stoop on a Federal city house (only yards from the sidewalk, so no lovely approach like yours.) We fitted our urns with conical topiary forms and planted creeping wire vine, which I love. I change the annuals around the base. We have only been here three years, but my favorite combination with the vine has been red and dark pink impatiens in the summer. The urns are painted Charleston Green, which to be authentic is nine parts black, one part yellow or light green. However, I've been quite happy with the Sherwin Williams equivalent. I'm enjoying your blog so much!

  3. Now Reggie, I have no answer to YOUR question, I was going to ask YOU what to plant.
    We live in Zone 4, Upper Midwest/Great Lakes area - 2 weeks ago, emptied the porch containers of holiday foliage & folly (greenery, fruits & pinecones) now must fill 'em up for the duration of the dreadfully brisk next couple months.
    What to do, these empties look dreary and we need a shot of razzle or at the least, a sign of life!!
    Thank you in advance.

  4. Hello LPC: most amusing!

    T&C Mom: Your urns sound enchanting, thanks for your feedback.

    Anon: This is a tough one, not knowing what your containers are, also now that the nurseries are shut tight for the winters, at least for outside plants. Perhaps some branches from the woods, artfully arranged? Perhaps other readers might have better suggestions.

  5. My urns are filled with the desire to be your urns!

  6. No urns at the Spanish hacienda, but I lean toward adding in red geraniums to the clay pots and orange day lilies to the front yard. Also, every year I replant a scarlet bougainvillea in a pot with a trellis. One of these days I hopefully will not kill the poor plant.

  7. Oh I do love your home. I plant with the seasons too, I think I'll wait to see what Boy does this Spring, I've gotten a bit stale.

  8. Dear Reggie,

    Pardon a late comment on this post. I just bought a house with a lovely established garden and two lovely urns. They don't match, so will go in different areas of the garden. They're now painted white, which is all wrong. Your color is ideal. Is there a hint of green in it? Thank you for giving me the paint color I need!

    1. We are very happy with Farrow & Ball's "Off Black," number 57. I highly recommend it! If you choose to use it, I hope you will too. BTW no longer available here in the US in oil-based paint, only acrylic, so don't know how the "new" paint holds up to the elements... Thanks for your comment. Reggie

  9. Thanks, Reggie. I'll run the color past the design committee (my other half). Hoping for approval!


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

Related Posts with Thumbnails