I’m very excited to share my latest interview with Klaus Dalby (you can read my first interview with him) here). Described as Klaus “Scandinavian Martha Stewart” and her books and television show appearances made him famous. Klaus has been a constant source of inspiration for me and I always love to see what he comes up with next.
His newest book, Containers in the garden, full of creative ideas for small garden spaces. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in container gardening and is full of amazing displays of texture and color. If you’re pressed for garden space, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy! I asked Klaus to tell me more about his book and some tips for growing in containers and planters.
You have written over 30 books and I am very excited about the last one Containers in the garden, the first to be published in English! In addition to incredible photos, it provides an honest, behind-the-scenes look at how you make your beautiful gardens and takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process. How about with so many topics already covered Containers in the garden appeared and how is it different from your other books?
Containers in the garden differs from some of my other books in that it focuses entirely on this particular type of gardening.
Whether you have a balcony, a small garden, or a garden on a larger scale, I find it an interesting way to garden because you can create something beautiful.
As you rightly point out, the book contains what you call behind-the-scenes photographs, because my aim was to convey the whole process to the reader. Making it not just a beautiful book, but a practical book that people can learn from.
When thinking about container gardening, many people usually think of using more than one type of plant in a container that will last for a season. Can you talk more about what you see as some of the benefits of not planting just one variety in each container and grouping them together?
One of the biggest advantages of growing just one variety per container is that I can always keep all of my displays looking their best. By this I mean that as soon as the plant starts to fade, I can replace it with a new one.
If I were to make a group of about 20 pots, I wouldn’t use the same number of different plants, maybe 3 of each plant, so I used 6 or 7 different types. Grouping in this way would be a form of repetition that I really like.
Another important thing is that I use a lot of leafy plants. I am very conscious of having some kind of plant take center stage. In the spring, all the daffodils and tulips are the focus, and in the summer, the perennials are the focus, to be replaced by lots of dahlias in late summer.
Around these “main actors” I place many plants with small flowers and, as already mentioned, many leafy plants.
I’d like to state the obvious, but container gardening allows you to move your containers around, so you can keep tweaking and improving your displays.
Can you share some tips on how you keep your containers looking their best for the longest time?
Adequate water is very important. I am often asked if there is an irrigation system in the garden, but we do not. Everything is watered by hand – we use a hose – and I’m told it doesn’t take long. It takes time, yes, but if you make sure to water each container thoroughly each time, most plants can tolerate a bit of drying out between each watering.
A very useful tip to keep your plants always looking their best is a permanent deadhead. Doing this has two great advantages – firstly, it keeps your plants looking tidy at all times, and secondly, it encourages the plants to produce new flowers. After the plant sets seed, it provides for the next generation, so to speak, and then stops flowering.
Your book takes us through the different stages of each season and shows readers how to create their own container displays all year long. You share such inventive and well-organized groups. Do you currently have a favorite?
It would probably be more accurate to say that they are my all-time favorites, among them are plants with lime-colored leaves and perennials to name a few. Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’—especially because it keeps its fresh color all season—and shrubs Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Dart’s Gold’ and Coroner of Philadelphus “Aureus”.
I wouldn’t be without Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’, but also because of its lime-green leaves.
Most of your displays use stairs or benches to provide different heights for a stunning grand effect. If you don’t have those, or if you’re putting something together on a smaller scale, what are some other ways to create that impression?
You can really use anything to achieve a similar effect. If you have a row of apple boxes or any other very sturdy boxes you can use them and if you don’t like the look of your boxes you can cover them with burlap or similar material.
I have also seen pallets used to create a level display.
Over time, perhaps you can build several sturdy benches at different heights and place them in front of each other to mimic stairs.
It is important to remember that a garden develops over time. Very few people go without having several hundred or even several thousand containers at a time. I am still adding pots, bulbs and plants to my garden.
I know your passion is color and Containers in the garden full of it. When you dream up your arrangements, are you usually inspired by a flower and build from there? Are current trends affecting you? I would love to hear more about your ‘how to paint with flowers’.
I focus on colors, shapes and textures, and when I order my seeds and bulbs the previous fall, my work already begins. I’m always on the lookout for new ways to combine plants, and in fact, when I’m in the garden, I keep a notebook with me and jot down any ideas I come up with.
As already mentioned, I always pay attention to the whole composition. If I use a plant with variegated leaves, I make sure that the color in that variegated color matches the colors of the surrounding flowers.
Your gardens are absolutely breathtaking and there are so many ideas to take from the pages of your book. I imagine you’ve been thoughtfully putting containers in and around your permanent garden areas. Do you have any tips for working pots and pans in these spaces?
I always put my containers in the hardscaping area in the garden. We have lots of paved areas around the house where I fill every nook and cranny with my displays. If you live in a house, you will usually have a few nice corners and maybe stairs – where you can make your displays and even find a place for a group of pots on a small balcony.
Like many of your books, almost all of the inspirational photography is featured Containers in the garden taken by you. This is a huge success! What is the process of writing a book and taking photos?
This is where the process begins, as I do my own planning in all my books. I am well aware of the importance of rendering different spreads to create a beautiful visual experience. I make sure to show both close-up, wide and semi-wide shots. I also pay a lot of attention to design when making a book, so I make it a priority to include some wide shots.
What made you want to take your own photos? Can you share any tips on how to best capture the magic in the garden?
Light (of course) is very important for good photos, and I soon realized that it would be difficult for me to bring photographers here every hour, when the light is perfect, so I thought – why not DIY?
Now photography has become my great passion and I pick up the camera whenever there is light.
It seems like you always have a new project or two coming up. What else are you focusing on or looking forward to this year?
I always want to see the fruits of last fall’s hard work. I’ve planted lots of interesting new tulips from Holland here and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how they turn out.
I often go to Keukenhof in the Netherlands twice a year, but due to Covid it was not possible for the last two seasons. This year I will go in April and May. I go both for inspiration and to find new bulbs for my selection of plants and bulbs sold on my behalf at garden centers in Denmark. I have a really good relationship with Dutch farmers.
Dahlias are one of my big passions and I’m always trying new varieties here too. I love dahlias and have collected quite a few over the years. They add so much color to the garden in late summer and early fall, they continue to bloom and bloom. This is such a treat…
Thank you so much, Klaus, for taking the time to share about your new book. I know many of our readers will be inspired by your approach to gardening and how much you can achieve in a very small space.
To celebrate the release of Claus’ new book, Containers in the garden, we are giving away 5 copies. Just comment below for a chance to win. Let us know in the comments what you’ve grown in containers in the past or what you’re excited to try this season. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, April 19.
Huge congratulations to our winners: Violet Garson, Kathleen Jackson, Jennifer Shuler, Jessica Antonyuk and Michelle Garcia.
Learn more and contact Claus:
Book: Amazon, Water stones, Book Depository
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