Gardens Illustrated
Pots of Style, designed by Jenny Barnes
© Richard Bloom

A container with architectural impact using Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’

Published: May 9, 2022 at 8:12 am

Head gardener Jenny Barnes creates a beautiful container display with architectural impact. Words Jenny Barnes, photographs Richard Bloom

I often use architectural, statement plants when I’m gardening and I especially love the drama that the large leaves of Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ add to a display. In this arrangement, I wanted to concentrate on shape and form as opposed to colour. In large gardens with large buildings, containers have to be in scale and by using bold foliage, the overall arrangement isn’t overshadowed by its surroundings.

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How to achieve the look

Container and composition

Pots of Style, designed by Jenny Barnes
© Richard Bloom

Dramatic plants require an equally dramatic container to ensure that the overall look is balanced, but I didn’t want the pot to become the focus of the display. This glossy, black bowl has enough weight and presence to hold its own without detracting from the plants within. I placed the tetrapanex central to the arrangement with the frothy thalictrums surrounding it, their dark stems adding a strong, vertical aspect to the planting. The vivid, purple alliums add another distinctive shape and pick up the defined lines of the thalictrum stems. I like to add a pop of colour to draw the eye and chose a thunbergia to scramble up through the arrangement as the season progresses, adding neon-orange highlights throughout.

Cultivation and care

  • Large plants need a nutrient-rich growing medium, so use a specific, loam-based compost designed for mature plants. It is best to plant this container in the autumn when the thalictrums are dormant.
  • Tuck them under the canopy of the tetrapanex and allow them to push through the giant leaves naturally as they emerge in the spring.
  • Plant the alliums at three times the depth of the bulb, between the rootballs of the perennials.
  • Allium schubertii, with its star-shaped florets on stems of differing lengths, is a great structural alternative to Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’.
  • Thalictrum ‘Elin’ is a particularly tall form and will need some support. Use twine to secure the stems to canes pushed into the compost.

Plants

Pots of style, designed by Jenny Barnes
© Richard Bloom

From left to right

Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’ Lacy foliage and dramatic, black stems. Fluffy, purple flowers in summer. 2m. AGM*. RHS H7, USDA 5a-9b†.

Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ Vivid, purple globes of star-shaped flowers on strong stems. Seedheads are equally striking. 1m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-9b.

Thunbergia alata ‘Superstar Orange’ A vigorous climber with large, bright-orange flowers and dark eyes. Tender, so grow as an annual. 2.5m. RHS H2.

Thalictrum ‘Elin’ A clump-forming perennial with steely, blue-grey foliage. Clouds of lilac and cream flowers held on wiry stems in summer. 2.5m. AGM. RHS H7.

Pots of style, designed by Jenny Barnes
© Richard Bloom

Second from left

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Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’ Large shrub/small tree with dramatic, lobed leaves up to 1m across. New growth is covered with fine, pale-brown hairs. 8m. RHS H4.

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