Garden Variety

A plethora of planters brightens a Brentwood deck year-round. Take a peek inside homeowner Catherine Walther's magical French-inspired container garden.

By Barbara E. Stefàno
Photography by Kim Dillon


Catherine Walther’s love for nature, travel, design and all things French after majoring in the language and living in France and Montreal, led her into gardening. The product of those passions — and 35 years of collecting, refining and tweaking the outdoor space surrounding her Brentwood home — is evident in the resplendent container garden that graces the large deck out back.

“The deck space somewhat dictated the necessity for container gardening. There was no capability to utilize soil for in-ground planting,” Catherine says. “Not being satisfied with so much hard wooden space, I set out to soften it by adding greenery.” The goal was not only to infuse the deck with warmth, but to create a natural retreat where she could gather with her husband and three adult daughters.

“We spend so much time in the summer outdoors, particularly in the deck gazebo…I am up early in the morning watching the birds from the gazebo with my cup of tea and finish the day there, when possible, with a cool drink and dinner with my husband.” Their vista includes bright annuals and perennials, lush boxwoods and charming ivies that invite any visitor to tuck into a chair and just “be.”

Designing a cozy container garden comes naturally to Catherine, but she admits it didn’t — and still doesn’t — come easy. She has scoured nurseries all over the country every year for decades in the St. Louis region and during travels, frequently picking up colorful planters at quaint, off-the-path gardening nooks. Once spring frosts are no longer a threat, she begins purchasing for the season and spends up to six weeks getting all the new and old pots, planters and vegetation arranged just so.

“Yes, it is somewhat laborious and does require considerable expense, but the beauty it provides to me, and the hummingbirds and butterflies that return every spring, make it worthwhile,” she says.

While twice-daily watering is still required during the hottest days of summer, Catherine now has an in-ground sprinkler system, a collection of self-watering containers and a hidden hose system installed to help ease the burden. These conveniences aside, she has learned “not to fight the elements.” She buys what “looks good and healthy,” and contents herself with what is available.

During cold months and periods when new flowers have not yet matured, boxwood interspersed with perennials act as a “place card holder” that will later anchor the vibrant annuals. “I want to look out of every window in my house and have a colorful view. I find containers that have a mix of annuals, perennials and ivies are the most interesting,” she explains. 

“Every year I pick a new spot I plan to cultivate within the yard and the process rejuvenates,” she says. “It is intellectually and physically challenging, an inspirational and creative outlet, and an endless opportunity to bond with nature.”