Friday, February 24, 2012

Create, then Edit = Design

Once upon a time I would stand in front of a classroom of high school students and say, "You are going to write for ten minutes.  You're going to put your pen on your paper and write without stopping.  If you cannot think of what to write next, just repeat the last word you wrote until you think of the next word.  Remember, the point is to keep writing, to keep creating.  You're not going to stop and think about what you've already written, or stop and think of how you want to write the next sentence.  You're not going to edit.  For ten minutes you're going to write without stopping.  You're going to create."

There are times, when I first talk to a Design client, that I'm reminded of this writing exercise.  During our first conversation a client might say she knows she wants things in her garden that she cannot have.  She doesn't have the money, or she doesn't have the room, or she wants something that probably won't grow here.  And I hear editing interfering with creating.
The best Garden Design, just like the best writing, happens when one creates and, then, edits.

When I begin a Design collaboration with a client I encourage her to tell me everything she wants in her garden, everything she has ever wanted, everything she can imagine wanting in the future.  At the beginning of the creative process we need to be uncensored.  We need to imagine what we want--a water feature, multiple roses, a secret garden.  We can eat and entertain in our garden, we can find a quiet spot to sit and read, we can grow a climbing rose outside the dining room window, we can find space for a red-stem dogwood with winter-blooming hellebore tucked beneath the branches.

Before editing begins there is the dream garden.  And good Design will result in that dream becoming reality.
(David Olinger took the pictures in this post.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

After the Show

Thirteen years ago, the first year I did the Flower & Garden Show, I woke up sick on Monday, the day of move out, and had to stay home in bed while others took down the garden.  I was so sad at the thought of tearing out the garden I had made myself sick.  
Moving out lacks the excitement and creativity of moving in.  Everyone is tired and dreading any surprises or delays.  One year we realized all the CLEMATIS, which we had borrowed and would now have to buy, had died after eight days in steer-co.  Another year we discovered the water feature had not worked throughout the Show because it had been unplugged. (of course we felt foolish we had not thought to check that).  Last year those of us who had gardens in the lobby learned, during move out, that we had to haul the sawdust and steer-co used to build our gardens into the convention hall--luckily the Show found us a wheelbarrow.
During the Show there were lots of comments about the stone, the glider, and the screens.  People liked the black hellebore and black catkins, which look like fat black caterpillars.    
By far the most raved about and asked about plant in my garden was the almond-scented ABELIOPHYLLUM roseum, or white forsythia, although it is not in any way related to forsythia and, in this case, is pink.  Most of us enjoy scent in the garden at any time, but in the middle of the winter--to see a plant that blooms and smells good in January and February is a treat.
Another scented, winter-blooming plant is RIBES laurifolium, the evergreen currant, which shared a container with a green-flowered hellebore.
Many people had and shared an opinion of the container lying on the patio.  One of the reasons I liked it was that it extended the levels of plants in the garden:  the conifer and black-leafed HEUCHERA (coralbell) are on the patio floor, the white hellebore grow in a short container beside them, and overhead bloom pink hellebore.  
  This year move out went smoothly.  Our truck could not get on the floor until four.  We had it loaded and our area swept in probably forty-five minutes, and we left  just in time for rush hour in the middle of downtown Seattle!  So we finished unloading the truck in the dark.
I like the look of dissolution in the picture below.  The containers have been emptied and dirt spilled on the stone.  Many of the cobblestones have been removed.  The paper towels and empty black plastic container and coke can are ordinary.  
The pink-frosted cupcakes made it through the Show.  In years past people have entered the gardens and helped themselves to some of the food.  This year a little girl walked in and stuck her finger into the frosting on one of the cakes.  And then she walked back to her mother, sucking on the frosted finger.   


Monday, February 13, 2012

F & G Show, day 9

I called this "A Garden of Fragments" because I think of it--a small patio garden--as a collection of plants and plantings, of furniture, of "things" from other, or previous, gardens.    I imagined a gardener, a woman who is about to enter her garden and sit on the glider and sip tea and eat a cupcake and read some poetry.  She has put together this garden from bits and pieces, from what she already owned and from what she got new. 
So, silvery in the container beside the glider is an old Christmas tree ornament with a scratched pink surface that picks up the pink of the hellebore flower hanging above it like a tiny umbrella. 
The white pillow and the shawl draped over part of the glider are a few years old, and the green cloth and teapot on the wooden bench belonged to her grandmothers.  The bench, covered with a thick layer of peeling green paint, looks ancient and has been in her family for two or three generations.  
Above, a celadon creamer embellishes a celadon container planted with greenish-white flowers. The creamer is part of a set dating back to the thirties.  The plant combination has been used before:  there is a cluster of HELLEBORUS 'yellow lady,' more green than yellow, paired with RIBES laurifolium, an evergreen laurel currant, with sweet, pendant, greenish-white flowers.  (Also visible are the surprising leaves of ASPLENIUM scolopendrium, the hart's tongue fern.)
A white creamer, and a dusty rose sugar bowl and creamer decorate other containers.  And old white door handles nestle beside the hellebore and sweetbox in the rusted so-old-it-is-collapsing bucket. 

The screens, rusted and even bleached by exposure to the weather, have been used in other gardens.  The camellia is new, but the same one grew in another garden and brightened many gray winters.
And so the garden comes together.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

F & G Show, day 8

A Garden of Fragments
Aged furniture.  Fabric from a grandmother's trousseau.  Another grandmother's tea cup.  The order of black and white.  Romancing pink.  A delicate conifer, black coralbell and unusual fern tumbling from a container, re-creating a fondly remembered combination from another garden.  An outdoor room.  Afternoon tea.  Bit and pieces.  The leisure to enjoy the history creating the garden's story.

Friday, February 10, 2012

F & G Show, day 7

The hellebore and SARCOCOCCA above are planted in an old rusted bucket my sister has owned for years.  Because the screens running across the back of the Show Garden are a rusted metal I felt there needed to be something rusted elsewhere in the garden.  My sister's garden offered this bucket.
Clearly the bucket is quite old.  Above is a spring planting:  pansy and a lime HEUCHERA and a brown CAREX--I think it might be 'cappuccino.'  Part of the side has rotted away, so any planting has to be seasonal.  
Because the SARCOCOCCA, or sweetbox, is scented--it smells of vanilla--I wanted it at the front of the Show Garden, so I knew that would go into the bucket.
 I always have liked white hellebore and sweetbox planted together.  The tapering leaves of the sweetbox are a good contrast with the larger, wider hellebore leaves.  And the anemone-like hellebore flower is nicely substantial next to the white wisps of sweetbox flower.
The moss covering the surface of the soil in the bucket is a lighter green than the leaves of the two plants, and the old white doorknobs I placed around them lighten the dark green and the rusted bucket.
The HELLEBORUS is 'winter song, a niger, that started blooming in December.  The flower is quite upright, unlike the usual drooping hellebore flower.
A number of people have commented on the sweetbox scent, and a few have asked for the name of the hellebore.  No one has mentioned the connection between the rusted bucket and the rusted screens.  Yet I think that link is part of what allows people to enjoy the garden.


F & G Show, day 6

Thursday, the second day of the Show.  I've done it for thirteen years and for some reason Thursday is always the day I feel tired.  There are moments when I want nothing more than to be curled up at home with my cat, under a warm blanket, falling asleep watching Food Network on tv.
Yesterday and today the Display Garden area has been crowded.  Lots of people taking pictures, asking questions:  where does the stone come from, is this plant hardy, will the container break during the winter.
Above is a picture of the glider in my garden seen through the twiggy branches and pink flowers of an ABELIOPHYLLUM roseum.  Everyone walking by wants to know what this plant is.  
Abeliophyllum blooms in January and February.  When we brought it into the Center on Saturday each branch sported minute pink buds.  By Wednesday morning, the first day of the Show, every bud had opened and become a small, sweetly scented flower.  It looks delicate, almost wispy, but this is a winter blooming shrub, standing up very well to our winter rains and wind and gloom.
At the Show the plant shares a pot with some mondo grass and AJUGA 'black scallop,' which looks like miniature black cabbage.  In the garden, black-leaved HEUCHERA (coralbells) and black flowered hellebore planted beneath the shrub would create the drama of black and pink together, and some green and white variegated foliage--in an ornamental grass or shrub--would lighten the vignette.
I like to plant a small summer-blooming CLEMATIS to climb on the shrub.  In that way, Abeliophyllum becomes a plant with two seasons of bloom. 


Thursday, February 9, 2012

F & G Show, day 5

The bench--actually a glider--in my garden at this year's F&G Show.  Jim Honold of Home & Garden Art in Seattle made it.  This is substantial seating, metal that looks like wood until you try moving it.  Surprisingly comfortable, with an easy glide.  We have chenille and flannel pillows and books and a green apple sitting on it.
The first garden I did at the Show included a child's chair with a picture book lying on the seat.  One little girl ran into the garden and had to be retrieved by her mother.  "I wanted to sit down and read the book," she explained as her mother carried her away.
Since then her dash into the garden and her desire to sit and read are both the impetus for and the explanation of the best gardens I have designed.  We begin outside the garden and then are drawn in.  It is seating--a comfortable chair or bench and the setting--that tugs at us.


On Sunday, during move-in, once the patio was finished, we set the glider in place.  That and the containers on either side of the entrance determined where everything else in the garden would be placed.

The small, old bench in front of the glider holds a teapot, and teacup and saucer and two miniature cupcakes.  The pitcher of tulips crowded the bench so we set it on the floor.  Beside the glider are small containers with one pink hellebore in each, and the tiny, scented pink flowers of the ABELIOPHYLLUM in the container on the left reach out to the glider.
On a patio this size everything is--and needs to be--visible from the seating.  The beauty of each plant, the scent of the ABELIOPHYLLUM,  the sheltering height of the screens draw one to the bench to sip tea, to read a poem and to enjoy being part of the garden. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

F & G Show, day 4

A few years ago the F & G Show began including small patio gardens under the title Living It Up as Display Gardens.  Last year and this year I have designed one of these.  Condominiums and townhouses offer small spaces for gardens, and the idea of Living It Up is to offer some of the possibilities of what can be done with perhaps 150 square feet.
Above is last year's garden:  Phoebe's Opening Night.  To me there is an extravagance in the look:  the draped cloth, the pleated pillows, the green spilling out of the stone, the small white rock mounded in the containers and on the floor.  I decided this year I wanted a simpler look, and one that would focus on the plants.  
So this year there is less.
This year the focus is the plants, and their combinations, and the containers--in various shapes, some pale green, others in shades of cream.  And on the very striking floor.  This year the plants must do the work.
And I think they do.  There are black as midnight AJUGA and mondo grass and willow catkins.  There are greens:  shiny camellia leaves and pale ferns and hellebore flowers.  There is pink:  the tiny but powerfully scented ABELIOPHYLLUM flowers and coralbell leaves swirled with black and pink.  There are two wonderful pink hellebore, each plant bearing about five flowers, and not one flower of the ten looking exactly like any other.
The theme of this year's Show is "A Floral Symphony."  The symphony in my garden is very much made up of the plants.


F & G Show, day 3

The reality of Garden Show construction.  A broom--one of the most prized tools to have during move-in--leans against a stunning metal glider.  Necessities such as paper towels, coke, and bananas litter the floor next to the patio.  A flat of primroses sits ready to be planted.
Move-in is messy.  Usually there is not enough room for the plants, the stone, the containers, the furniture, the tools.  A mundane problem for our February Show is where to put the coats and bags of everyone working on the garden.  The garden space needs to be kept as clear as possible, so most of what will eventually be in the garden ends up in the spaces between the gardens, and everyone is using that space.  The trucks that bring in everything that goes into the gardens sit there to be unpacked.  Vehicles that do the heavy work, that set down stones weighing a few tons or carry pallets of stone or bring sawdust and steer-co to the gardens, drive through this space also.  A lot of move-in time is spent moving things (plants or containers or furniture) from one place to another. 
I like using containers as architectural features as well as places for plants.  So we laid down one of the containers on the patio.  A drawback to this is that the container's inside is black and not really appealing.    The pot needed to be planted.  
We started with a sweet little CHAEMAECYPARIS 'barry's silver,' which has almost white foliage when young, and added a black-leafed HEUCHERA for contrast.  They are on the rim of the container, with their roots inside and their foliage spilling out, onto the patio floor.  Corey, a horticulture student helping with the garden installation, packed them down with sawdust and then carefully laid a fern, a CYRTOMIUM  caryotideum, on top of them.  The fern's common name is fish-tail holly fern, and it does not have the typical "ferny" foliage but instead the fronds are wide and do (somewhat) resemble a fish tail.  The color is a pale green.
Once the three plants were packed in and made secure with sawdust my daughter Phoebe patted some moss onto the planting medium.  Even though the plants are not piled up the top of the rim, they obscure the blackness inside the container.  The color and shape of each of the three plants is unusual and appealing.  Together the three are dynamic.  And, it's all due to folaige!   

Sunday, February 5, 2012

F & G Show, day 2

This is the tiny floor of my tiny garden.  The size was determined by the number of white stone squares available.  Tom  Fitzpatrick, of Seattle Hardscapes, and I liked the stone and wanted to use it, even though it meant reducing the patio.  (If we had used an additional stone in each row the garden would have been too large for its previously agreed to space in the Show.)
The pattern is lovely, large creamy slabs of brushed India Sandstone set off by cobblestones.  Tom laid this directly onto the Convention Center floor, using sawdust to raise the height of a few of the cobblestones.  As soon as the patio was finished we covered it with a dropcloth--the white stone shows every bit of dirt that settles on it.  Tomorrow, once everything else is done, we will wash and brush the stone and then stay off of it.  When my daughter Phoebe waters she will walk on the stone in her stocking feet.
Once the patio was done Corey, the Lake Washington Technical College horticulture student who is helping install the garden, and I planted a few containers.  First he filled them about 3/4 full of sawdust.  Then we put cardboard down on a slab of stone and Corey somehow moved a very heavy pot onto it, and we started planting.  We were laughing about how strange it is to plant in sawdust and steer-co, and to put in so many plants that (hopefully) all the steer-co will be covered.
The Show is fantasy and yet it is packed with information about and ideas for actual gardens.  Show visitors will look at the pots and perhaps discover a "new" plant or new plant combination.  They will understand they can re-create the patio at home, just not in the two hours it took Tom at the Show.  Both garden creators and the public love the Show because it is practical and imaginative.  


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Northwest Flower & Garden Show 2012, day 1

Above is a Gold Medal Garden I designed for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in 2003.  I have designed twelve gardens for the Show, and this remains one of my favorites.  Looking at the picture I am amazed at the amount of sphagnum moss we used; the moss has become quite expensive because it is  not renewable.  Planted in the moss beside the orange-painted bowling ball is a small bulb (I no longer remember what it was) planted late on the last night of move-in by my daughter and her best friend.  By the end of the Show, after being under lights twenty-four hours a day for six days, the bulb had metamorphosed in color and shape.

Here Phoebe sits, waiting.  She and I got to the Washington Convention Center at eight in the morning, and then waited for two hours for our truck to arrive.  All around us gardens were under construction.  Our neighbors built stone walls and began erecting the facades that are the backs of their gardens.  Phoebe and I sat inside our space outlined with thin lines of red tape, and speculated about what had happened to our truck.
It finally arrived.  (The truck drives up a long ramp from the street and onto the floor and to the garden space.)  We unloaded plants and containers and garden tools, and then Phoebe and my nephew Josh left to collect the second load.
I took the second picture while waiting the second time for the truck.  The Show provides the black curtain, which hangs directly at the back of the garden.  Between the curtain and wall are six feet, which we use for staging during move-in and storage during the Show.
This last, very blurry picture was taken as we finished up for the day.  This year the garden is a tiny patio  supporting containers, so the day was short.  (Most years I've done a large garden and it is dark outside when you leave the Convention Center.  This year we left before two in the afternoon and joined what seemed like most of Seattle driving their cars on a beautiful, unseasonably warm winter day.)
Phoebe and Josh and Corey, a student of the horticulture program at Lake Washington Technical College and a volunteer to help with garden installation, have laid down some of the stone and brought in a bit of sawdust, and steer-co.
Just before we left Phoebe watered the plants, using an empty coke can dipped into a bucket of water.  When I got home this afternoon I made a note to take in a watering can tomorrow.  



A 60 Degree Winter

Today it was 60 degrees in Seattle.  February 3, but a spring day:  warm, sunny, buds on branches.  My daughter and nephew and I spent the day in a boldly yellow Handy Andy rental truck driving around, getting ready for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.  Tomorrow I'll start writing about the Show; today I want to write about our winter.

Yesterday I visited a client's garden.  I had been there the week before, on a miserably wet and gray day.  Yesterday it looked as if more than seven days had passed.  GALANTHUS (snowbells) were blooming; last week they were tiny green tips sticking out of the muddy dirt.  Now they are full size, all of five or six inches tall, white flowers touched by green hanging over black soil.  I like them with the white hellebore above; the larger hellebore plays up the delicacy of the bulb and the white flowers of each plant draw them together.  Snowdrops, usually the first bulb to appear here, often begin blooming in January, a sign winter will end and spring will come. 

Another early bloomer is this small IRIS reticulata.  The one above grows around the base of a cherry tree and usually starts blooming about a week after the snowdrops.  Planted three years ago the IRIS has multiplied considerably.  Some of them are scented;  in the first garden I designed for a client we planted IRIS on either side of the steps leading from the sidewalk up to her yard,  so in early February one walked through their sweet scent.

The picture above was taken not in the winter but fall.  However, SCHIZOSTYLIS coccinea, my favorite winter interest plant, begin blooming in September and continue through January.  I think the pink flowers--for this garden they were supposed to be coral--look more like spring, than winter;  they are small with pointed petals and fresh looking, the evergreen foliage is grass-like.  Unfortunately the plant is invasive; I recommend cutting it back severely at the end of January.  Some clients divide them and give them as gifts to friends who have asked about this delightful plant.
SCHIZOSTYLIS need sun, and the ones seen above had to be taken out of this garden.  They were growing beneath a maple--the trunk can be seen--and the tree has spread and grown dense in the five years of the garden.  Almost all the plants above have died or been removed because of the increasing shade created by the tree.
Gardens are mutable, which is part of their charm and why the work in them never ends.  In the garden where I took these pictures the growth of three mature trees in the front yard has altered its content and shape.  Ferns and solomon's seal have replaced the SCHIZOSTLYIS, and beds have been expanded to overtake dying lawn.  
In the winter changes in the garden are obvious.  Bare branches suddenly sprout diminutive buds, flowers appear, bulb foliage pushes through the soil into the light.  In the top picture the frothy white and green flowers of a HELLEBORUS 'mardi gras' bloom beside the strands of a coppery CAREX.  I like the juxtaposition of the two, one like a little girl's party dress and the other austere.  This look will last through winter, and then the hellebore will stop blooming and the ornamental grass foliage will dull slightly and winter will have ended.   



Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hugging Trees

When I began gardening my interest was flowers and colored foliage.  Then, about a year after I started my garden, I went on a guided walk through Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum. The man leading the tour (unfortunately I have forgotten his name) met us at the Graham Visitors Center and began with a short talk, in which he confessed he sometimes spontaneously would hug a tree.  I discreetly rolled my eyes.  It was January and outside was cold and the sky was gray-white and by the end of the walk I had fallen in love.  I had become someone who might not hug a tree but certainly could understand the desire to do so.
The tree above is my favorite red barked maple:  ACER pensylvanicum 'erythrocladium,' (the common name is erythrocladium moosewood).  Cold weather turns the bark coral, and vertical white stripes (this is one of a group of striped bark maples) intensify the color.  Often, in winter's pale light, the coral becomes shades of orange and pink so that one looks longer at the tree, charmed by the shifting colors.
This maple is expensive and hard to find.  When I use one in a garden I plant it to be seen every day of the year.  It  will be eight to ten feet in ten years, and needs good sunlight.  The one above, planted on the east side of a house, gets light until mid-afternoon.  I accent the tree's color with both orange and pink; above you can see orange-centered daffodils blooming near-by, and pink-flowered hellebore would be a nice surround to add to the winter interest. 
Because of its exfoliating orange, green and gray bark some believe STEWARTIA pseudocamellia is the loveliest deciduous tree.  Above you can see thick pieces of peel and the colorful patches left behind.  This is a tree to plant near the front door of a house where you plan to live awhile; the peeling gets going by year five and gets better as the tree matures.  Orange flowers and foliage--perhaps an orange-leafed coralbell or orange daffodils or the sedge CAREX testacea with brilliant orange highlights--would nicely play up the tree's orange.   
My favorite exfoliating tree is the birch, partly because it starts peeling as it starts growing.  BETULA nigra 'heritage,' or the heritage river birch, has cinnamon, salmon and light brown bark that peels off in curly or wavy sheets to reveal creamy white bark.  Similar is BETULA jacquemontii, or the white-barked himalayan birch, with pure white peeling bark.
Birches grow fast, they grow in clay soil, they grow close together--a grove of birches is lovely--and they can be grown next to a walkway:  river birch, including the one pictured above, line the path through my sister's garden.  In a breeze the branches rustle softly, the sound of the wind offering a kiss.

The tree I use the most for winter interest is ACER palmatum 'sango kaku,' or the coral bark maple.  In the cold the bark is vivid, here in the Pacific Northwest it is like a fire throughout our gray winters.
This maple is vase-shaped and a moderate grower to fifteen or twenty feet.  It needs supplemental watering and can handle a lot of sunlight.  I had a client who planted one on the west side of her brick house, where it has been fine.
The maple above stands out brilliantly from the fence and the milky sky.  I like it beside the tall bleached MISCANTHUS, which will be cut down in spring.  I like the austerity, and the contrast of the colors and of the foliage beside the bark.  How can one not be in love when there is a tree like this, so red, so cheerful, in the midst of winter?



Monday, January 16, 2012

January II

HELLEBORUS is a a plant that would have to be created if it did not exist already.  Hellebore are evergreen perennials that bloom throughout the winter.  In Seattle HELLEBORUS niger, the Christmas rose, begins blooming in December.  HELLEBORUS orientalis, the Lenton rose, and its hybrids, bloom late January or early February through April.  The flowers are lovely, the leaves evergreen, maintenance easy.  
  Hellebore need shade in the summer, regular watering, and rich soil (however, mulch around them and keep the compost from touching the plants).  The leaves can become unsightly--they are susceptible to blackspot--but you can cut them off if they do not look good and the plant will be fine.  That is the extent of the work these plants need.
The hellebore above is planted under a bloodtwig dogwood (CORNUS sanguinea 'midwinter fire.').  Because hellebore like summer shade and are low maintenance they happily grow beneath deciduous trees and shrubs.
The hybrid hellebore is "black," (this particular black-flowering hellebore has quite a blue cast to it; I try to buy hellebore when they are blooming so the color doesn't surprise me). 
 I love black flowers and foliage, but one does have to be careful about placing them, especially in the winter, so that they don't disappear into the dirt.  Here the near-by orange leaves of a coralbell (HEUCHERA) and the upright foliage of a daffodil help the hellebore get the attention it deserves.  And the pale to vivid orange branches of the dogwood arching over the black flowers create drama.
This planting is beside the steps leading to a front door.  Black flowers cannot be seen from a distance so I always try to plant them near a walkway. 

This HELLEBORUS is niger 'josef lemper,' which usually begins blooming in December.  For many gardeners 'josef' is superior to the original because its flowers face out and are upright.  The five petals are really sepals, (which usually enclose the petals), and at the center are nectaries, (petals modified to hold nectar).
The above is one of three 'josef' hellebore planted just before Christmas at the corner of a front garden bed.  They will continue to bloom for two or three months.  The pure white flower is a good contrast to the plant's dark green leaves, and especially to the draped leaves of the rhododendron behind it.  And I love the soft green at the center.  The white causes the flower to stand out and the green softens the distinction and connects with the foliage all around the plant.   
For me hellebore are like a light drawing one into the garden, leading one through winter.  


Saturday, January 14, 2012

January I

January in the Pacific Northwest offers blooming flowers, scent, leaves in a variety of colors.  No matter how gray or drizzly or damp it might be we never stop gardening, and we never stop enjoying our gardens.
Above are two galvanized, and two aged pottery, containers that I planted and used in a garden at the 2011 Northwest Flower & Garden Show.  In one, an evergreen huckleberry (VACCINIUM ovatum) sets off a stunning CORNUS sanguinea 'midwinter fire,' a bloodtwig dogwood with orange branches:  at the base of the shrub the color is pale as sherbet, but as the color moves along each branch it becomes increasingly bright and vibrant, ending in a burst of red-orange.  
Beside this are a hellebore, fern and candytuft (IBERIS).  The five petaled flower and dark green leaves of the hellebore dominate, and the ferny foliage and the tiny leaves of the candytuft, which is just beginning to offer a few small white flowers, complement.  
Behind them the shades of white on the containers brighten the plantings, which are dominated by a dense green.  The peeling paint reveals deep orange clay, which connects with the dogwood.
This grouping could be set outside and would look almost the same.  There is a front and back to this planting, so it would be good at the entrance to a house, set against a wall, providing interest late fall through winter.
I would consider this a seasonal container planting.  The dogwood quickly would outgrow all but a quite large pot, so in the spring take out all the plants and put them in the ground and re-do the pots for summer.

These next two pictures are of the same grouping, one that is viewed from all sides as it sits in the middle of a garden in a parking strip.    
A fern fills the smallest container.  In the other two are brown CAREX, hellebores, winter pansies and a chartreuse coralbell, HEUCHERA 'lime rickey.'  The ruffled pale green leaves of the coralbell are a nice contrast with the dark hellebore leaves and both are "lightened" by the bleachy, skinny grass.
  The CAREX and hellebore are repeated in the garden, and beside the containers are more winter-interest plants:  an ABELIOPHYLLUM (white forsythia), covered in almond-scented flowers in January, and a dwarf quince, which will offer coral blooms in late February.  And climbing through both shrubs and into the containers is an evergreen CLEMATIS 'avalanche,' which will bloom in March.
The colors of the containers, orange and white, are the colors of the garden, and in winter, when many plants have lost their leaves or disappeared, the pots make a bold statement as an architectural feature.  They elevate the plants, making it much easier for us as we hurry through the rain or cold to see the plants, to appreciate the color of the flower, the shape of the leaf, the play of a bare branch against an evergreen.  We might even pause, even hesitate in spite of the weather, to enjoy.