I'm tempted to call Ray Rogers a P__head, but there are certain kinds of people I don't particularly want to attract to the site. However, Ray is just that: a man driven by pots and gardens, and who unlocks all the mysteries of how they go together in his new book, Pots in the Garden (Timber Press, 2007).
The main thing you'll learn from Ray is that you simply cannot have a successful garden without pots. So read up. I love the front cover of this book: a container garden at the Scott Arboretum overflowing with color, texture, form, and dynamism. And I love the back cover, from the garden at Chanticleer, a single plant in a plain pot, a spare setting, and impact that you couldn't get any other way.
Ray takes you through all the basics on containers: soil requirements, pot size, and basic design elements: color, line, form, repetition, texture, space and placement. And then he throws out all the rules. When I met Ray recently in Washington DC, when he was speaking at the US Botanic Garden, I asked him how he'd use pots in the garden. He replied that containers can be viewed like objects inside the home and used as "lamps, a piece of art, an end table in the living room." The possibilities, he said, are simply endless.
In the book, illustrated with hundreds of photographs by Richard Hartlage, you'll learn about the power of novelty: a simple terracotta pot planted with Buxus microphylla var. japonica 'Morris Midget,' and placed in the middle of a brick pathway. You'll see several examples of empty containers placed singly, as focal points, or in groups, for visual effect. You'll learn how to use pots to direct the eye, and how to place them to direct the feet along a path, or on a journey around the garden.
When asked about good plant combinations, Ray simply said that "there aren't any horticultural police out there." In other words, anything works as long as you yourself are happy with it, and anything goes.
Ray does have some favorites, however. He likes the new glazed containers produced in Asia, the new pots made from resins and composites that are both lightweight and inexpensive. And as for plants, he often uses coleus, lantanas, scaevola, cacti and succulents. Those last two, he says, often "look like sculpture ... and really make an interesting container."
For the record, Ray Rogers is a lifelong gardener who regularly enters exhibits at the Philadelphia Flower Show (and regularly wins blue ribbons -- 300+ and counting). He's an amateur breeder of amaryllis, and has worked as a garden editor and writer for many years.