Landscapes, Streetscapes, Parks & Garden Fixtures

Perennials

Known for their beauty and durability, planters and urns made of traditional materials such as terra cotta and lead are becoming more popular in this country.

Click here for a list of companies that supply planters and urns

By Martha McDonald


When renovating or building a home, one of the last items on the to-do list is often the garden. But as people realize that the outdoors is an extension of their homes, this has been changing. At the same time, there’s a growing interest in traditional materials, such as terra cotta.

Today a number of companies offer planters and urns made of terra cotta from Impruneta, Italy, but that wasn’t always the case. Seibert & Rice of Short Hills, NJ, started shipping these pots to the U.S. 14 years ago. Another company known for its Italian terra-cotta pots is Tuscan Imports of Florence, SC. Meanwhile, for Florentine Craftsmen of Long Island City, NY, it’s business as usual. This firm has been making custom lead planters for 90 years.

Timeless Pieces
A vacation trip to Italy and a tour of the pottery workshops at Impruneta – that’s how Mara Seibert and Lenore Rice got started. “We fell in love with the Italian terra-cotta pots,” says Rice, co-founder of Seibert & Rice. “We ordered a lot and had them sent back. Then we photographed our own pots and started driving around and showing them to people. There are a few other companies selling Italian terra cotta now, but we were the first; and we still sell only pots made of terra cotta from Impruneta.

“It was a very different market then,” she adds. “There were no good pots available. Today, there are many more options for planters and urns and garden furnishings than we had at that time.”

Seibert & Rice’s line currently includes five collections – Artisan Rolled Rims, Ornamental, Boutique, American and Molded Rolled Rims – plus a new line of gray terra cotta. “It’s still from Impruneta and it’s still handmade and it’s still frost-proof,” Rice states. It’s just a different color.” The difference between the Artisan Rolled Rim pots and the Molded Rolled Rims is that the latter, though still handmade, are pressed into molds and can be made more quickly and therefore are more economical.

She adds that Seibert & Rice buys from a number of workshops in Impruneta and that most of its pots are exclusive. “There is currently a trend toward bigger pots and more interest in cleaner, more contemporary lines,” says Rice, “Terra-cotta boxes are also popular now. It’s hard to get the large boxes, because they often crack during the drying process, but we are selling a lot of 20- and 32-in. cubes.

“My main message is that these terra-cotta pots are frost-proof to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Rice. “They can really be left outdoors all year round. With proper drainage, they will last forever. Impruneta terra cotta is an organic material that will last for generations. These are timeless pieces that go with any style of architecture and that will survive trends in the garden.”

Refined Imports
Kirk Laing, founder of Tuscan Imports, also specializes in planters and urns imported from Impruneta, and he also offers two Siena collections that are made in workshops near Siena, Italy. He describes them as having a smoother, more refined, finish. The Siena pots can withstand temperatures down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, so they are recommended for warmer climates or indoor use.

Laing founded his business in 1998 after living in Italy with his wife, who is from Florence, for eight years. “We lived in Florence, near Impruneta, and my wife loved the terra cotta. When we moved back to the States, we decided to bring some back to see if a market existed for high-end terra cotta,” he notes. “I started selling out of the back of my truck and the business has developed from there.”

Tuscan Imports currently offers six Impruneta collections, plus the two Siena collections. The Antique Siena collection has a finish designed to make it look like it has been around for centuries. “We try to keep a wide variety because every project is unique,” says Laing. “Some projects, for example, lean toward a contemporary look, but mostly we sell traditional styles that have been around for centuries.”

Like Seibert & Rice, he notes that the clay from Impruneta is known to be the best in the world. “It is frost-proof – all of my Impruneta products are guaranteed for life against frost,” says Laing. “My wife grew up in Italy, and her parents have pieces that are 200 to 300 years old. The only potential issue is poor drainage, so it’s important for the water to flow freely.” Laing makes annual trips to Italy to speak to the artisans in Impruneta. “Every year we get new items from the suppliers. We also carry many of our own designs.”

Authentic Work
Florentine Craftsmen, a third-generation family-owned and operated business, has been making planters and urns for almost 100 years. Company president Michael Ciriello explains that the firm offers custom planters, statuary and fountains in lead and also does aluminum casting. “The majority of our work is lead,” he says. “We do a lot of high-end work. Our customers want the real thing.”

The price for a lead planter can range from $1,500 to $8,000; aluminum is one-third less, according to Ciriello. His planters are available in sizes from 2x2 ft. up to 5x5 ft., and urns go up to about 3 ft. in dia. and approximately 4 ft. tall.

As for trends, he says: “We have never followed any trends. We do custom work. Our customers are not shopping for prices, so it’s hard for us to say what the trends are. I am finding that people are more interested in the real materials. One reason they want lead is because it’s heavy and no one can steal it. People are starting to like more authentic work. It’s timeless. It’s an heirloom that you can pass on in the family.”

Click here for a list of companies that supply planters and urns