The {Farmer} & The Florist Interview: Claus Dalby

I am so excited to share my latest interview with Claus Dalby (you can read my very first interview with him here). Claus is described as “Scandinavia’s Martha Stewart,” and his books and television show appearances have made him a household name. Claus has been a constant source of inspiration for me and I always love seeing what he’s up to next. 

His newest book, Containers in the Garden, is filled with creative ideas for small garden spaces. It is one of the best I’ve seen on container gardening and is packed with stunning displays of texture and color. If you’re pressed for garden space, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy! I asked Claus to share more about his book and some tips for growing in pots and planters. 

You’ve written more than 30 books and I’m so excited that your latest, Containers in the Garden, is the first to be published in English! Beyond the incredible photos, it offers such an honest, behind-the-scenes look at how you craft your beautiful garden displays and takes so much guesswork out of the process. With so many topics already covered, how did Containers in the Garden come about and what are some of the ways it differs from your other books? 

Containers in the Garden differs from some of my other books in that its entire focus is on this particular type of gardening. 

I find it a fascinating way in which to garden, as you can make something beautiful whether you have a balcony, a small garden, or whether you garden on a larger scale.

As you so rightly point out there are what you call behind-the-scenes photos in the book, because my aim has been to take the reader through the entire process. To make it not just a beautiful book, but also a practical book that people can learn from.

When thinking about container gardening, so many people are used to using multiple plant varieties in a single pot that would typically last throughout a season. Can you talk more about what you see as some of the benefits of planting just one variety in each container and grouping them together? 

One of the biggest advantages of growing just one variety in each pot is that I can always keep all my displays looking at their best. By this, I mean that as soon as a plant starts to fade, I can replace it with a new one. 

If I were to compose a group of approximately 20 pots, I would not use the same number of different plants, but perhaps use 3 of each plant, so I ended up using 6 or 7 different varieties. This way there would be a form of repetition in the grouping that I find very pleasing. 

Another important thing is that I use a lot of foliage plants. I am very aware to have one type of plant take centre stage. In the spring that is all the daffodils and tulips, and in the summer many annuals are the main focus of attention, to be replaced during late summer by many dahlias. 

Around these ‘main actors,’ I place a lot of plants with smaller flowers and as already said a lot of foliage plants. 

I would like to mention what is perhaps an obvious fact, but container gardening allows you to move your pots around, and in this way, you can keep on fine-tuning and perfecting your displays.

Can you share a few tips on how you keep your containers looking their best for the longest amount of time? 

Adequate water is very important. I very often get asked, if we have an irrigation system in the garden, and we do not. Everything is watered by hand—we use a hose—and I am asked if that does not take an awfully long time. It does take time, yes, but if you make sure to thoroughly water each container every time, many of the plants can actually tolerate to dry out slightly between each watering.

A very useful tip to always have your plants look their best is continuous deadheading. Doing so has two huge advantages—firstly, it keeps your plants looking tidy at all times, and secondly, it encourages the plants to keep producing new flowers. Once a plant has set seeds, it has secured the next generation, so to speak, and then it will stop flowering. 

Your book takes us through all the different stages of each season and shows readers how they can create their own container displays all year long. You share such inventive and well-composed groupings. Do you have a favorite right now?

It would probably be more accurate to say that I have some all-time favourites, amongst which you find plants with lime-coloured foliage, and to name but a few I am very fond of, the perennial Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’—especially because it keeps its fresh colour all season long—and the shrubs Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Dart’s Gold’ and Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’.

An annual I would not be without is Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’, also because of its lime-green foliage.

Most of your displays achieve a wonderfully grand effect that makes use of stairs or benches to provide varying height. What are some other ways to create this impression if you don’t have these things or might be putting something together on a smaller scale?

You can use anything, really, to achieve a similar effect. If you have a row of apple crates or any other very sturdy boxes you could use those, and if you do not like the look of your boxes, you could cover them in sackcloth or some such material. 

I have also seen pallets used to create a tiered display. 

Over time, you could perhaps build some sturdy benches in varying heights and place them in front of each other to imitate stairs.

It is important to remember that a garden evolves over time. Very few people go from having no containers to having several hundred or even several thousand in one go. I still add pots, bulbs, and plants to my garden too. 

I know your passion is color and Containers in the Garden is filled with it. When you’re dreaming up your arrangements, do you typically get inspired by a single flower and build from there? Are you influenced by current trends? I’d love to hear more about how you “paint with flowers.”

My focus is on colours, shapes, and textures, and my work already begins when I order my seeds and bulbs the previous autumn. I always keep my eyes open for new ways of combining plants, and I actually keep a notebook with me, when I am in the garden, and here I write down any ideas that I may get. 

As already mentioned, I always keep my focus on the entire composition. If I use a plant with variegated foliage, I make sure that the colour in that variegation corresponds with the colours in the surrounding flowers.

Your gardens are absolutely breathtaking and there are so many ideas to take from the pages of your book. I notice you thoughtfully tuck containers into and around your permanent garden areas. Do you have any advice for working pots and boxes into these spaces?

I always place my containers on the hard landscaping in the garden. We have a lot of paved areas around the house and here I fill every nook and cranny with my displays. If you live in a house, you will typically have some nice corners—and maybe stairs—where you can make your displays, and even on a small balcony you can probably find room for a grouping of pots.

Like many of your books, almost all of the inspiring photography featured in Containers in the Garden is taken by you. That’s quite a feat! What’s the process of both writing and photographing a book like?

Because I do my own layout on all my books, this is where the process begins. I am very aware of the importance of showing varying spreads to create a nice visual experience. I make sure to show both close-ups, wide shots, and semi-wide shots. Also when making a book, my focus is very much on design, so I make it a priority to include quite a few wide shots. 

What led you to start taking your own photos? Can you share any tips on how to best capture the magic in the garden? 

Light is (of course) so important for taking good photos, and I soon realised that it would be difficult for me to get photographers to come here at all hours, at the exact moment when the light was perfect, so I thought—why not do it yourself? 

Now photography has become a great passion of mine, and I grab the camera whenever the light is there. 

It seems like you always have a new project or two in the works. What else are you focused on or looking forward to this year?

I am always keen to see the results of the previous autumn’s efforts. Here I plant a lot of exciting new tulips from Holland, and I am of course looking forward to seeing how they turn out. 

I often go to Keukenhof in Holland twice a year but due to Covid, it has been impossible the last two seasons. This year, however, I will be going in April and in May. I go both for inspiration, and also to find new bulbs for my selection of plants and bulbs that are sold in my name in garden centres here in Denmark. I have a really good connection with the Dutch growers.

Dahlias are another of my great passions and I am always testing new varieties here, too. I am very fond of dahlias, and I have gathered quite a few over the years. They add so much colour to the garden in late summer and early autumn, and they keep on flowering and flowering. That is such a treat …

Thank you so much, Claus, for taking the time to share about your new book. I know so many of our readers will be inspired by your approach to gardening and just how much can be achieved in a very small space. 

To celebrate the release of Claus’s new book, Containers in the Garden, we’re giving away 5 copies. For a chance to win, simply post a comment below. In your comment, tell us what you’ve enjoyed growing in containers in the past or what you’re excited to try this season. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, April 19.

A big congratulations to our winners: Violet Garson, Kathleen Jackson, Jennifer Shuler, Jessica Antonyuk and Michelle Garcia.

Learn more and connect with Claus:

Book: Amazon, Waterstones, Book Depository

Website

Instagram

YouTube

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