It’s porch season.
A well-dressed porch is an important part of both the house and the garden: It’s a transition area, neither inside nor out, that offers the best of both. A porch is a place to escape from your desk, and from which to admire all your hard work on the flower beds. Porches are made for savoring life.
“It feels good in our busy lives to take a moment and get a breath of fresh air,” says Barbara Westbrook, owner of Westbrook Interiors in Atlanta. “That’s what sitting on the porch is all about,” she says. “It’s nice to just relax and feel the breeze.”
Every porch has potential — even a tiny stoop is probably big enough for you, a glass of lemonade and a bright red geranium in a pot. Comfortable chairs, plump cushions, perhaps a glider, a small table and lots of pretty plants turn a porch of any size into an inviting refuge.
City porches tend to be furnished a little more formally than porches at weekend homes, where rockers and porch swings prevail, Westbrook says, but there are no rules. On the porch at her own small house, she has a combination of wicker and iron furniture.
“The front porch is often about enhancing the first experience of a home,” Westbrook says. It might have a pair of beautiful benches and just a few well-chosen and well-placed pots of plants. Back porches, on the other hand, are spaces for entertaining for many of her clients, with furnishings to match. “Almost everyone wants a dining area of some sort,” she says. A bistro table and three or four chairs works fine on small porches. Larger porches will have room for elegantly long, comfortable, farm-style tables. Westbrook suggests versatile seating: a bench on one side and chairs on the other.
Colorful pots of plants on the porch or on the porch steps seem to bring the garden up into this summery space and contribute to a lively, natural mood.
“All the plants are going to be in containers, so have fun with them,” says Nicholas Staddon, who works with Monrovia on new-plant introductions. “I like the idea of having a collection of containers,” he says. The pots should be big enough to have a presence, but they’ll have to be placed so they aren’t always getting in people’s way. Hanging baskets full of ferns or trailing flowers look pretty and do not take up valuable space.
It is a lot of fun to work with combinations of plants in flowerpots. Choose plants that will thrive in the light and exposure on your porch. Sun-loving plants are appropriate for a south-facing porch, and shade-tolerant plants are best on the north side. In the morning light from the east, you can grow just about anything. A western exposure will demand sun- and heat-tolerant plants: this is a good place to train morning glories, mandevillas or other vines planted in pots up a trellis. They will thrive in the sun, and as they grow they will cast pleasant shade.
For a party, you can dress up the porch with fresh pots of bright annual flowers, placing them on the stairs, by the door, and even on the dining table, like a bouquet. When you’re decorating a porch for a party, look for unique plants, says Danielle Ernest, a spokeswoman for Proven Winners. Pretty Much Picasso petunias, which have pink flowers edged in flashy chartreuse, or sparkling Cherry Star superbells, with yellow-striped pink blooms, are even more spectacular in a pot than they are in flower beds. Up close on a porch, “people can really see them, and they’ll set you apart because you have a really unique-looking flower,” Ernest says. The flowers can be planted in the garden after the party, or if conditions are right, they can stay on the porch for the rest of the season.
Ornamental grasses, shrubs with interesting foliage, and long-blooming perennials look elegant — and a little unexpected — in pots on porches, Ernest says.
Staddon recommends a drip irrigation system for pots on a porch. Drip systems make watering easy, especially if you have a lot of pots, but keeping a watering can on the porch is a homey touch, and giving plants a splash of water while you admire the flowers and pinch off spent blooms isn’t really hard work.
The flowers or shrubs in pots on a porch can and should change with the seasons. Start afresh from time to time, and don’t waste time with played-out plants. Big blue or pink hydrangeas flourish on shady porches through the summer, and need little care. Pots full of herbs on a porch are handy for the grill chef or the cook in the kitchen, and guests enjoy pinching the leaves and releasing the fragrance as they sit and talk. Evergreen boxwoods or dwarf conifers look very serene, and bridge the seasons from summer through fall. The possibilities are as endless as summer.
By Marty Ross