Smokin’ Hot Public Plantings

I am a sucker for well-designed and well-maintained plantings in public places. When the plant choices are thoughtful, inspired, evocative, and sustainable—I find myself wanting to shout, “THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT, PEOPLE!” to any poor soul in earshot. I want to send love notes and brownies to the responsible landscape companies and city officials.

Recently I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and while I drooled over the sea dragons and jellyfish, I was even more smitten with the plantings that I encountered on my walk from the aquarium to the parking garage (true sign of a plant nerd).

Everywhere you look, there were stellar plant combos and signs of good maintenance practices. Here’s a shot of one sidewalk planting that caught my eye: is there anything hotter than rows of galvanized livestock troughs brimming with yummy foliage plants?These are run-of-the-mill plants, but grouped together—they create pure alchemy. The deep plums of the Cordylines contrast beautifully with the blues of the Senecios, the golden green of the Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold,’ and the pinky brown of the Coprosma. Besides looking fabulous, all of these plants are tough as nails and easy to maintain, requiring very little fuss and muss to keep them looking this sexy. And kudos to the maintenance crew for keeping their filthy paws off the hedge clippers and pruners.

Here’s a raised planter that had me squealing like a little girl. Again, these are basic plants that have been grouped together in an informal, naturalistic (yet structural and beautiful) way. The best part: everything has been left to do it’s thing. The plant butchers haven’t mown down the fescues, chopped the phormiums down to nubs (never freaking do that, by the way), or sheared the Erysiumum beyond recognition. I felt like kissing somebody.

Later, I ran into this sweet little raised planter. Same deal (common plants done really well). This time, they upped their game by including some naturalistic berming, locally sourced boulders, and even a California native or two (the yellow Achillea and Festuca californica). Happy little bees buzzed all around. How often do you see habitat-friendly landscapes in a busy tourist district? Well played, Monterey city officials, well played.

Lastly, I encountered this pitch-perfect explosion of texture, subtle color variation, and gorgeous structure. Note how well this area has been maintained: the weeds and dead stuff are gone, but the plants themselves have been allowed to billow and weep to their heart’s content. This is a primo example of the right plants, in the right place, with just the right amount of care.

It’s mind-blowing to me that this kind of serendipity happens so rarely. I wish it was the case more often, especially in public spaces. These well-designed and well-maintained landscape areas serve as positive inspiration for visitors and residents alike.

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