It’s early morning in late fall; and as you sprint to the car, your eyes are caught and held by the incredible holiday container display sitting by your neighbor’s front door – a display you know was all about the beauty of autumn just yesterday morning.
Berries, pinecones, magnolia leaves and a huge variety of evergreens spill out of the large ceramic pot and create a sophisticated scene on the doorstep. Glancing at the half-dead Alberta spruce and very-dead mums on your own, you add yet another ‘to-do’ to the unending list; but can’t help wondering as you pull away how your otherwise un-creative neighbor keeps pulling off these displays without a hiccup.
A new kind of self-care
What you don’t know is that there’s a very good possibility your neighbor may have hired the creative genius behind a subscription container garden service – a company that comes to your home or business on an agreed upon schedule and changes out your window boxes, containers or hanging baskets to reflect the beauty of the season.
Subscription container services are a fast-growing, best-kept secret of the horticultural and landscape design industry, and many successful companies still rely primarily on word-of-mouth between happy clients. That clientele – once primarily composed of businesses and the very rich – has significantly increased its demographic in the last decade to include middle-income clients who may also have subscription services to conveniences such as clothing or freshly prepared meals. They’re looking for ways of energizing their entrances throughout the year, and recognize they probably need a little help.
Paul Kawozka of Enliven Planters, a Philadelphia-based subscription company, can testify to this market shift. Six years ago, he and his business partner Dan Nichols recognized the trend and began Enliven out of the back of a car. Today it’s a business employing 20 gardeners and servicing over 1000 clients. This holiday season alone they will create over three thousand gorgeous arrangements which will magically morph into vibrant spring containers come March.
Though many of us have the best intentions of spending an afternoon putting together an elegant display with freshly sourced high-quality material, we often find ourselves undone by time, energy and sometimes the limits of our own creativity.
Container garden services bridge the gap between what we want to see and what we can actually pull off – granting us that ‘Ahhh’ effect each time we walk through our front door.
When you consider a container garden subscription as an investment in everyday happiness, it starts to make a lot of sense.
What do subscription container services provide?
A classic subscription service usually changes your containers quarterly – for spring, summer, winter and fall; but not all companies are the same. Some design with the holidays in mind – like the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving, or can be commissioned for special events such as a birthdays or baby showers. Quarterly displays are usually installed in the last days of the preceding season so the client can go into the new season with a fresh look.
The specific site is carefully considered – shady situations will require very different choices than those that stay sunny all day. Designers work actively with the client, discussing important dates, favorite colors and colors to avoid to make sure they’re getting exactly what they want.
“Many of my clients are Jewish,” says Julie Friedman of Exteriors Landscape Design, a Rockville, Maryland-based company, “and they’re looking for something other than the typical red and green holiday theme typical of most winter planters. I give them arrangements that beautifully reflect their life.”
Though evergreens are always a base, Friedman also works with the warmer earth tones of materials such as magnolia and willow, and the greys and blues of eucalyptus to last throughout a cold winter.
If you don’t have your own containers, you don’t need to worry. Most designers provide containers with the first installation which are then owned by the client. Plant material, whether living or fresh cut, is also typically bought by the client and theirs to do with as they wish at the end of the display – though Leigh McGonagle of Poplar Point Studio in Moravia, NY says her clients rarely wish to keep anything and are grateful that it will be composted responsibly.
Are subscription container gardens really that easy?
During the growing season, owners are expected to water those stunning creations, but as planters and window boxes are usually right by the front door and enjoyed every day, this isn’t too difficult. Some container gardening services additionally offer their clients a maintenance package that provides light pruning, deadheading and fertilizing.
At this time of year, fresh cut material is primarily used for displays as it keeps well and provides the most versatility in holiday arrangements. It also requires little to no care from the client. For Friedman, this is a huge selling point for annual subscriptions, as clients who initially hire her to create gorgeous living containers during the growing season are even more entranced by winter containers that look beautiful for months without any care at all. ‘Most of my clients are busy moms and working professionals,” she tells me – “They love maintenance-free!”
What do subscription containers cost?
As with most things, this depends a great deal on the area in which you live and what you want. Urban customers might pay $80-$250 for an arrangement, while the same arrangement in a suburban or rural area could run from $50-$150. Initial installation will be always be a little higher, reflecting the client’s purchase of a new container.
Finding a subscription container service
As the idea of subscription container gardening becomes more popular, large and small companies are still figuring out how to move beyond word-of-mouth and reach potential clients with a service much of the public never knew existed. Google ‘subscription container service’ and you’re just as likely to end up with computer application services as a professional container designer.
“It can be tough to find great professional designers who specialize in containers, so we’re putting together a state-by-state database of designers to help the public see who’s working in their area and view examples of their work.”
Gasper hopes to have the service live before the next autumn season. Until then, the best way to find a subscription service near you is to ask nearby garden centers and landscape designers if they offer it or can recommend someone. The service is often offered as an extra by both types of businesses.
I’m a DIYer. Why should I use a container subscription service?
Despite the showy, luxurious nature of these arrangements and their front-and-center position, many container designers would tell you that purchasing a subscription is not just about impressing other people.
“Instead, people should see it as a way of creatively enhancing their lives – about giving themselves a gift every time they walk through their front door.” says Gasper.
She and other container designers know that what you experience each time you approach that entrance can change your entire day – but they also know that with increasingly busy lives, too many of us are staring at that half-dead Alberta spruce, despite our best intentions.
They want to change that – rescuing us with a red cape and a pair of pruners.
“I tell my clients, it’s a piece of jewelry.” Says Mardi Letson, container and garden designer in Asheville, North Carolina. “It’s a beautiful welcome home.”