I found this Polygonatum verticillatum ‘Rubrum’ in a local nursery and wanted to use it as a starting point for a sleek, contemporary planter. When young, the flowers are a beautiful, smoky grey, turning dusky pink with age and this is the colour scheme I wanted to play with. This pot would be perfect next to the front door of a chic townhouse and using shade-tolerant plants is a great idea in an urban setting where buildings may restrict light and rainfall.

How to achieve the look

Container and composition

A contemporary chic planter by Jenny Barnes.
© Richard Bloom

When I was thinking about this container, I had envisaged a dark, sleek, tubular pot that would emphasise the elegant vertical stems of the Solomon’s seal. I had originally discounted this black, plastic pipe connector as it has no base, but to get around this, I’ve used a less attractive, practical container, slightly smaller than the pipe connector, which I’ve simply dropped inside. The inner pot could be dropped into any attractive surround, and a vintage umbrella stand would be another stylish, vertical option. By keeping the colour of the plants and container monotone, the focus is on the texture and form of the individual leaves such as the fronds of Athyrium niponicum.

Cultivation and care

  • All of the plants here are shade-loving woodlanders that cope well with partial shade. To replicate the woodland conditions, I added lots of leaf mould to the compost, which also improves moisture retention.
  • Pots placed close to buildings may be in a rain shadow and are therefore susceptible to drying out, so keep an eye on watering.
  • Adding sulphate of potash to the compost will increase plants’ resistance to drought. A home-made comfrey feed is an organic option.
  • I used grey, slate chips to trap in moisture and complete the sleek aesthetic.
  • The planting requires little upkeep, but cut off any shrivelled fronds of the athyrium and deadhead the polygonatum and actaea after flowering.


Contemporary chic planter by Jenny Barnes
© Richard Bloom

From left to right

Actaea simplex Atropurpurea Group ‘Black Negligee’ A herbaceous perennial with finely divided, near-black stems. Scented, creamy-white, bottle-brush flowers in late summer and early autumn. Great for bees. 1.5m.

Polygonatum verticillatum ‘Rubrum’ Commonly known as whorled Solomon’s seal, this upright perennial has narrow leaves arranged in whorls around strong stems. In spring, tiny flowers that are grey when young, ageing to dusky pink, hang below the leaves. 1m.

Contemporary chic planter by Jenny Barnes.
© Richard Bloomer


Athyrium niponicum f. metallicum A deciduous fern with delicate, steely grey fronds and a reddish-purple midrib. Requires little maintenance and is resistant to pests and diseases. 50cm.