When Van Binkley of Tudbink’s Farm creates a fall planter for his clients, no two planters will look quite the same.
Binkley thinks of himself as an artist with living works of art, as he composes a palette of deep and soft greens, silvery and golden tones, burgundy and magenta, autumn bronzes and fallen leaf sienna.
“I never do anything quite the same, even from year to year,” says Binkley, the master of creating planters for both residential and commercial use. “There are always new varieties of plants to discover.”
Binkley’s foray into creative container gardening began over two decades ago when he and his wife, Beth, opened a garden center at the Conestoga farm that’s been in his family since 1915.
You’ll find Binkley’s artistry at The Marriott on Penn Square and Lancaster County Convention Center. Planters of various sizes and shapes surround the iconic building, filled with plants of all colors and characteristics. Some are bold and colorful, others are soft and flowy, still others are grasses and vines that few people can identify.
Binkley says he is constantly exploring plants that will give his planters that unique look and create a subtle standout creation. The goal is to keep it loose and free. His planters are not formal, he says, and you won’t see any cliche fall items like bright orange pumpkins and gourds.
Residential customers count on Tudbink’s to keep their homes beautiful in every season. Most have Tudbink’s do their seasonal planters each winter, spring, summer and fall, with plants carefully selected to look their best for the full three months, until the seasons turn.
JoAnne Freidly has been having Tudbink’s do the planters at her Conestoga-area home for seven to eight years.
“I always love what Van does,” says Freidly, noting that her home is a large white house with a wraparound porch, lots of windows and no shutters, creating a clean white canvas with lots of opportunity to do various plants.
There are 12 planters outside Freidly’s home, including two large white ones on each side of the front door and 10 others in various sizes of teal ceramic. There are also hanging ferns along the porch.
“What I really love is that Van puts in an irrigation system for all the planters that is set up so I don’t have to water them,” Freidly says. “It would be very hard to keep them all watered, especially as dry as it has been.”
Freidly initially hired Tudbink’s to do landscaping at her home. When she learned that they did planters, she asked them to create some to complement the house and landscaping.
“I loved what they did, and now I don’t really tell them what I want. They already understand what I like,” she says, adding that the only exception is when they coordinate winter plantings with her Christmas decorations.
For fall she is always excited to see what Tudbink’s comes up with, noting that each year it’s different and even each planter is a little different than the other.
“I do my best work when my clients give me free rein,” Binkley says. “If they let me surprise them, they are always happily surprised.”
He will ask them about colors they like. Most of the time, people may not know the name of particular plants, but they will know that they like burgundy or pink or white.
The Tudbink’s style is rustic, with a variety of colors and textures. The shapes are irregular, with a look that seems like nature might have planted the mixture of seasonal plants. They don’t look planned out, because in truth, Binkley’s work is intuitive.
Like an artist who feels the need for a certain shade of green or a long wisp of variegated silvery tones or an unexpected pop of deep garnet or crimson, Binkley paints each planter with his heart and his hands — with the help of his staff that includes family members.
Each season, Binkley explores new ideas that might work in upcoming planters. He likes rugged plants, even tiny misshapen mums that are not perfect. He is especially fond of grasses, like a long sweeping grass known as feather falls. Then there are plants like ornamental kale that seem like they might belong in a salad. The purple and eggplant shades add rich color. Tiny sunflowers add a unique twist on golden tones.
“The misshapen mums are great because they can be squeezed into tiny spaces,” Binkley says. “They don’t look too formal and planned out. It is actually more challenging to do planters that look unplanned.”
He likes when clients give him a long leash.
“It’s always a wonderful surprise to see what Tudbink’s will do each season,” says Ryan Stadel of Lititz.
Stadel and his wife, Lauren, have lived in their home for five years and started having Tudbink’s do the planters four years ago. The house is a beige-gray with gray stone and charcoal gray shutters and door. It gives Tudbink’s plenty of opportunity to create planters that will complement the neutral palette.
There are six planters on the front porch of the Stadel home: two large ones on either side of the front door, two smaller planters one step down, and two medium ones at the edge of the walkway from the porch. The plants near the door look similar, but looking closely, they are all a little different.
“That’s what we like. They are all done a little differently, and each year, they are never quite the same,” Stadel says. “Van does an amazing job. He is brilliant.”
Two huge planters in the Stadels’ backyard accent the patio and pool.
“They are like sculptures created with plants and we always get so many compliments when friends are over,” Stadel says.
Stadel also likes the irrigation system that Tudbink’s installs, which makes it easy to care for the plants. And because they are planters, they rarely get weeds.