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How to choose the shape of the pot to that of the plant

“There is no civilization in the world that has not felt the need
to have its own gardens ".

In this way Pierre Grimal, in his book "The Art of the Gardens", seems to define our innate human need to represent ourselves in the world, to express our personality, in a way that evolves over time with men's culture changes. 

How have people's needs changed to date? The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has in fact awakened in each of us a particular bond with our home, and the desire to recreate small natural habitats, where you can dream, closing your eyes, of being in a large meadow, or in a park, in contact with plants and flowers. All this, adding the desire to take care of something alive and give it a shape suited to our taste, has led to rediscover the beauty and importance of a garden, or a terrace, or even a window sill.


In this rediscovery, the potted plant is of a particular importance, not only because, at different scales, it can be found in an outdoor garden, on a terrace or inside, but also because it brings together two different elements: a living plant (with its appearance) and the vase (which is a product of man, with its shape, material and finish) .

What factors can we consider to choose the plant for a specific pot (or the opposite)?

I believe it is necessary to make a couple of premises. The first one is related to the plant itself: a right architecture of the root system, which is different for every plant and require the right shape and size of the pot . The second concerns is related to the shape of the aerial part of the plant, which does not always coincide with its natural appearance. In fact, many plants lend themselves to “shaping pruning”, a term that recalls the topiary art of the ancient Rome gardeners, as explained in the Grimal's book, and which consists in attributing to the plant, through pruning, particular shapes and geometries .


The following considerations will involve the natural bearing of the plant , keeping in the background the possibility of giving it a different form.

In examining the shape of the vase , three main guidelines can be identified: the ratio between width and height, the type of lines (curved or squared), and the distribution between full and empty spaces.

forme di vasi.jpg

The above figure shows various types of pots in a square reference grid.

Observing the vases, which have been reproduced "in negative" and divided by height classes, the entity of the void compared to the full is clearly visible; this balance must be completed by the full and empty spaces of the plant we will choose . 

The difference between the vases with more curvy and sinuous characters and the more square ones and clearer lines also clearly emerges. The height and conformation of the fully developed plant must therefore be commensurate with that of the pot .

Turning now to examine the types of plant , let's consider two categories: tree and bush , which can be erect or drooping. It is also possible to mix in the same vase plants with a different bearing, to create interesting balances, or use a single plant to emphasize certain lines over others.

One of the first key points for the choice is the harmony with the characteristic lines of the vase . Thus, for example, a vase with sinuous lines such as the Medici vase can host a plant with an erect bushy habit, perhaps with a "radial" arrangement , in order to
accentuate the opening of the vase towards the top . Some hanging plants can also be added, arranging them on the sides, making sure that they do not completely cover the prospect of the vase (figure 2).

Similar considerations can be made for the Orcio (Italian jar), which, does not have a slender shape like the Medici Vase and has a predominance of solids over voids ; it will therefore be possible to choose a plant with an erect bushy habit, preferably associated with a drooping one (figure 3).

vaso medici e orcio.jpg

The Anduze Vase is not characterized by such sharp curves as the two vases considered above, and lends itself to multiple compositions , with plants with an erect bushy habit (figure 4) or even tree-like , given the proportions of the vase. In this case it is possible to think about inserting a “filling spot” at the base to give a better balance of solids and voids to the overall elevation (figure 5).

vasi di anduze.jpg

Tall pots such as those belonging to the third group of figure 1 lend themselves, given the proportions, to the insertion of tree plants , or, if placed next to a wall, of climbing plants .


Low pots are suitable for  bushes with erect posture or succulent plants with small size ; cacti and plants with a columnar structure, on the other hand, need pots with adequate height.  


If we reduce the observation scale and move from the external environment to
the internal one, today we are witnessing an evolution of the vase, almost its disappearance.

We are talking about the Japanese art of Kokedama , which consists in raising the plant by replacing the vase with a soil ball covered with moss , creating suspended compositions with various types of plants, real plant scenographies and ornamental elements (figure 6).

Another furnishing trend is that of "plant heads" , vases that reproduce faces in ancient or modern style, in which the plant elements become part of human features , simulating thick drooping foliage or, sometimes, large flowering hats (figure 7) .

Returning to the initial question of how people's needs have changed today, perhaps a "plant head" may partly represent the answer. The plant and its vase starting from the garden are increasingly entering the environments of our daily life , as our desire is no longer just to admire them, but to draw vital energy from them and live with them in great harmony .

kokedama e testa vaso.jpg
adriana scarponi.jpg

Adriana Scarponi , from the Marche region, has a degree in construction engineering - architecture and a master's degree in landscape and garden architecture. She is passionate about floral design and has put her expertise and graphic skills at our disposal for this unpublished article. 

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