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Masters of the Southwest - Green Thumb

Author: Linda J. Barkman
Issue: March, 2018, Page 26
Photos by Michael Woodall

A majestic rhapis palm in a metal pot that once belonged to the King of Morocco takes center stage in a client’s living room. “The palm softens the corner and balances the room, and the pot is a conversation piece,” says plantscape designer Craig Pearson. On the left side of the space, a Janet Craig compacta is at home in a Peruvian Shapibo pot, and on the right, a Chinese evergreen is paired with an old metal pot that Pearson found on his travels.
Plantscape Designer Craig Pearson Continues to Work Magic With Plants, Pots and Their Placement

When Craig Pearson opened his Scottsdale-based plant business in 1984, the industry had not yet caught up to his creative design sensibility. “I’ve always liked to do large specimen plants and to find unusual objects that can be used as containers, but I wasn’t able to find much variety back then,” he recalls. His solution was simple: “If I couldn’t find what I wanted, I’d create it.”

The designer relaxes in a sitting room off the master bedroom. A Greek terra cotta urn holds a Kentia palm.
To get just the right look he desired, he would faux-finish standard containers for a one-of-a-kind effect or repurpose found items, such as old baskets, a large commercial mixing bowl and wooden boxes for use as receptacles for plants. The technique worked, garnering him a loyal following among Valley plant enthusiasts. And in 1990, Pearson was recognized as a member of the inaugural group of Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winners.

Over the years, the plant industry caught on to what Pearson knew all along. “Everyone is craving unique pots,” he says, “and there are so many sources for them—and so many different shapes, sizes, styles and materials.” He points out that along with ceramic, terra cotta, concrete, metal and wood, newer options include resin and stone composites, which are lightweight but very durable.

Pearson placed a sleek white resin pot, complete with a vibrant ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia), in the master bathroom to complement the freestanding tub.
To continue providing clients with just the right piece that completes their decor, whether indoors or out, Pearson is always on the lookout for something different during his frequent travels—“I’ve been to 54 countries so far,” he reports—and he believes that new ideas and products play a vital role in keeping the business fresh. “It’s fun when you have a client who likes to push the limits. I love it when someone says to me, ‘Just work your magic,’” he notes. “It keeps my brain going.”

One Phoenix homeowner knew that Pearson would be able to create “that final piece that would complete our home” the minute she saw a commercial installation he had done. The interiors of her ranch-style house feature Chicago brick accent walls, light oak plank flooring, reclaimed beams from a factory in South Carolina and furnishings that are a mix of new pieces and family antiques. “It has a very organic, livable feel,” she describes.

“Craig quickly got our aesthetic sense,” she adds. To complement the design, Pearson brought in a selection of noteworthy vessels, including a French ceramic urn for the living room, an antique clay Peruvian Shipibo pot and a metal pot that once belonged to the King of Morocco. Contrasting the aged pieces is a sleek, white resin planter in the master bath. “I went with something more contemporary because the room called for it,” he notes.

Rustic Chinese ceramic pots underscore the organic feel of the master bedroom. Placed in a decorative urn to the left of the fireplace is a sansevieria, or or snake plant. On the right is an exotic Fabian aralia in a raku pot.
The homeowner agrees that all of Pearson’s choices are the right fit for her space. “Craig is truly a designer who lives and breathes plants. He has a great eye for scale, for what works together and for where each one should be placed,” she says. “He creates a statement with his plants, and you can feel it the minute you walk in. Every pot is unique and has a history, and that makes it so much more special.”

It’s been more than three decades since Pearson first opened up shop, and his showroom, located in Old Town in a former private home built in 1921, now includes a two-story-tall addition that accommodates his unusual pots from all over the world as well as his specimen plants—he specializes in large-scale and exotic species. Other offerings are a selection of art and “fun, affordable accessories,” as well as arrangements of faux succulents that are difficult to differentiate from the real thing. “They are great if you want succulents but lack natural light or want to use a great container than doesn’t have drainage,” he notes.

Although not currently ready to retire, Pearson admits that he does think about being able to spend more time at his mountain home in northeastern Arizona in the not too distant future. But for now, “I love what I do,” he admits. “When I’m creating, I’m the happiest.”

A lush antherium nestled in an eye-catching, distressed, blue-glazed French ceramic urn commands attention in the dining room. “Antheriums like filtered light and low-traffic areas,” Pearson notes.
Craig Pearson’s Top 5 Tips for Living With Potted Plants
1. Always consider how much light—natural, supplemental or artificial—a plant will need. In areas with no or low natural light, use low-voltage lighting on timers to ensure plants get the 6 to 8 hours of light they need.

2. When selecting plants, make sure they are of the proper scale so they will be in balance with the size of room, the furniture and the artwork.

3. It’s better to have one large, interesting plant in a room than several small plants. A big, lush plant in a great container will offer much more visual impact.

4. Never put a live plant directly in a pot without proper drainage. If a pot does not have a drainage hole, keep the plant in its nursery container and put a saucer under it before placing it in the pot; then, set the pot on a cork pad. Cover the nursery container with Spanish moss to provide an attractive finishing touch.

5. Plants should also remain in their nursery containers if displayed in metal containers outdoors. Also, to avoid spider mites and mealy bugs, don’t place plants in tight areas without a lot of air circulation. Plants need to breathe.

Pearson says the style of the home is what guides his selection of containers. For the dining room, he chose plants and pots that would complement the home’s European feel and the owners’ collection of art and antiques.

A grouping of plants in Chinese ceramic pots softens a corner of the front courtyard. Among the greenery is a sword fern, a tall rhapis palm and a pittosporum.

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