Containers With Pizazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!

Same container grown in

Finesse With Containers

Anyone with a flower pot can put together a container in an afternoon with a trip to the local big box store or nursery. But here are a few pointers which help with the final result that will turn your finshed product from the pedestrian geranium with vinca vine to a showplace masterpiece with Wow factor.

Succulents in containers
More succulents – you rarely have to water these containers

Artful Containers

The best piece of advice that I picked up over the years was the secret to coordinating your colors in a container.  Choose a piece of fabric or piece of art that you really like and take it with you when you plant shop.  Of course, you can’t take a painting with you so grab refrigerator magnets with famous paintings on them from museums, or cut out paintings from magazines.  My most successful container was inspired from a Van Gogh magnet obtained from my many museum visits. Van Gogh’s iris painting has that intense blue which is hard to get with flowers – also orange, greens, a touch of white and yellow. If you like it in a painting, you will like it in a container!

Beautiful colors from Van Gogh painting
Vase with Red Gladioli, 1886, Private collecti...
Vase with Red Gladioli, 1886, Private collection (F247) This painting represents some of Van Gogh’s early Paris still life, where he introduced brighter, contrasting color. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have plenty of room to plant in my beds but I really enjoy planting in containers because they become a piece of art in miniature. This is my opportunity to try new annuals that look good in the nursery  and go wild with the color combos. I also do it professionally for clients who don’t have the time or expertise to put it all together.

Musical Plants-Rearrange for the Season!

I rarely keep my flowers in the pot all season.  They just fizzle by the end of the summer and I get tired of them. Sometimes I have three seasons of containers –  a winter one with an evergreen and some pansies, then I move on to petunias, supertunias, cannas, lantanas -everything that likes heat, and finally to fall plants –  mums, asters, grasses, cabbages, and ferns. I mix and match perennials, shrubs and annuals to get the most versatility and longevity out of my pots.

Seasonal container

Large Containers Are Best

Choose a large enough container to avoid constantly watering it during our hot Maryland summers.  A pot with a circumference of at least 15 to 18 inches is enough to get you going with a selection of different types of plants, plus enough room for them to grow throughout the summer. I like the light faux pots that look like real pottery,  but will not crack and will retain water better than terra cotta ones. These faux pots will last for years and you can leave them out all winter, plus they are inexpensive and portable. There are even self-watering ones available which have a water reservoir built into the container.  Regardless of the type of container that you have, make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom.  If there aren’t any, drill some using a large bit on a portable drill.

Attractive composite containers planted with shrubs and flowers
A great little trailer- Silver Fall

Good Soil – Good Plants

The soil that you use should be an organic mix of compost, spaghnum moss, and perlite. There are a lot of commercial potting mixes on the market so be sure to choose one that has added fertilizer to it as container plants need a good boost of fertilizer to bloom all season long, plus regular applications. Make sure that you add a good dollop of compost in the bottom of the pot – a couple of inches at least.  This is where the roots are going to reach down and use up all those nutrients to produce flowers all season long.

Container in full summer glory

Plants – Dress It Up

Consider where the container will be located when you select your plants.  Notice if the site will get all day or part-day sunlight, or will be in mostly shade.  Shady container plants can be just as colorful as sunny ones with careful selection of colorful foliage. Go to the nursery and ask a knowledgeable employee for suggestions on varieties.  For any situation,  you want something tall for the back, like a grass or Canna or Caladium, something shorter for the middle area, and a spiller to cascade down the sides –  thrillers, fillers, and spillers! – I am sure everyone has heard this phrase.  It is an overused hackneyed phrase, but it really describes the process well. For a pot 18 inches in diameter, you would need approximately 5 to 6 plants. Of the 5 plants, use a tall architectural one, a couple of fillers, and a couple of spillers.

A favorite coleus for punching up the color
A favorite coleus for punching up the color

Window Boxes

Succulent window box
Succulent window box

Window boxes are planted using the same principles as containers. To create depth you really make use of those spillers.  Silver Falls, Dichondra, is a great asset for trailing down walls and planters.

Silver Falls at Chanticleer in the ruin


Whe selecting your plants, consider your textures. I see too many containers planted with flowers and foliage that are similar in texture and look too busy.  Try mixing it up with some broad sculptural leaves, variegated foliage, and deeply lobed leaf shapes. Using varying forms will help your plants stand out instead of blending together in an indistinguishable mass.

Good textural contrast and variety
More textural variety

Cannas and Caladiums

Canna indica 'Edulis'
Canna indica ‘Edulis’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cannas are good selections for sunny containers –  just make sure your pot is large enough.  I have seen cannas get 8 feet tall or higher! For shade, try Caladiums. There are beautiful Caladiums on the market with very colorful unusual markings and they will shine in the shade.

Canna Crozy Group 'Albèric', Pfitzer 1949
Canna Crozy Group ‘Albèric’, Pfitzer 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The foliage of Cannas is their best attribute but some varieties have beautiful flowers also.

One of my full shade containers-shade is not boring!
Plant canopy (Caladium bicolor 'Florida Sweeth...
Plant canopy (Caladium bicolor ‘Florida Sweetheart’) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The Coleus on the market now are not your grandmother’s Coleus! Most of these plants have been bred to thrive in full sun –  not shade –   though there are a few that prefer shade only. Literally, there are hundreds of varieties on the market and you could simply do lots of containers with just Coleus and have very colorful pots. Coleus are among my all-time favorites with beautiful strking foliage. I prefer not to let Coleus flower as the flowers detract from the foliage beauty, and when they appear, I remove them.

A beautiful Coleus – I forget the name!
Partial shade container in old fashioned lead pot

Maintenance-Nip and Tuck!

Snail Watering Can
Snail Watering Can (Photo credit:

Maintenance includes regular watering, at least once a day when it is hot, fertilizing with a dilute or granular fertilizer at least once a week, and pinching back plants as they grow to maintain their shape.  I call this nip and tuck.  If you don’t do this on a regular basis, your plants will get leggy, unattractive, and woody. It is also a good idea to elevate containers on bricks or “pot feet” so that they drain properly. If you don’t have good drainage, your plants will sulk and die!  Make sure that your drainage holes are large enough so they don’t get clogged up and don’t use gravel in the bottom.  I carry a long metal rod for unplugging drainage holes. The gravel just makes the pot heavier and does not help with drainage. Drip irrigation is an option if you have lots of containers that need regular watering and you don’t want to be a slave to your water can.  Drip is pretty simple to set up, with all the components available at a local nursery or hardware store and they just snap together. I compare it to playing with Tinker Toys!


Another helpful hint is to group your containers, especially if you have many small ones.  By grouping, you achieve a bigger impact and it is far easier to take care of them in one bunch.  If you do drip irrigation, grouping is essential as you use less tubing and you can hide the tubing in the adjacent pots.

A large grouping at the National Arboretum in D.C.
Great color combo
Don’t be afraid to plant just one kind of sensational plant in a container – here it is oleander

10 Replies to “Containers With Pizazz ! Not Your Ordinary Container!”

  1. Reblogged this on The Salem Garden and commented:
    I’m heading out to the garden to enjoy this absolutely beautiful day, but before I go I want to share this great post written by Claire Jones at “The Garden Diaries” about using containers. It has lots of ideas for your containers, with tips on how to choose and arrange plants that will really pop. I’m going to plant some canna tubers below the pansies on my front porch in preparation for summer. I’m sure that you’ll be inspired too! Enjoy! Love, Michele

  2. I loved all of them. I so want to get started. The watering can was too cute and I swear, I have never seen oleander in a container. I live in an apartment right now so this is a great way to garden small.

  3. This is a really well done guide to container plantings. I have a lot of containers, and follow a few of the suggestions here, though not many. I really like the idea of using fabric or paintings as a guide. The green and white caladiums are a favorite of mine, I like Coleus too, I wish though that there were more varieties with more subtle coloring. For sun, I really like Pentas and Salvia.

  4. I’ve really enjoyed your containers. They are so beautiful..The other day I saw the first container after it was just planted, the one with the caption on this page: ‘Same container grown in’. Can you please tell me where I can find the before picture again? It has been years since I’ve planted containers and this picture reminded me of the satisfaction just a few weeks bring with these plants. I am on my way to planting again thanks, in part, to your blog here. You keep going, it is a pleasure to see 🙂

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