Containers With Pizzazz…. !!

With more people staying at home because of COVID, the demand for bright colorful containers to decorate your surroundings is on the rise. As a designer, I have received a record number of requests for container designs this spring and found that there is a shortage of exciting plant sources that I normally would go to at this time of year. All the specialty plant sales have been cancelled and I am unable to browse nurseries like I usually do to find unexpected and wonderful combos.

Loading up a a plant sale last year

Whenever I see a fantastic container combo that stops me in my tracks, I study it and visually take it apart to figure out how a designer came up with the recipe. Each designer has their own way of putting together colors, textures, and styles, to come up with a winning formula, so I thought I would reveal my techniques. Some combos are serendipity but more than likely, I obsess and fiddle with a container until I come up with something that satisfies me.

Many times when I was able to shop, I put together plants until I find a combo that works

Choosing the Right Plants

But not deterred, I am ordering my plants and looking at pictures on line, as there all always new plants on my nursery availability lists that I am not familiar with. Different plants are always coming out, and instead of touching and oohing and aahing over them, I am reduced to looking at online pictures. One that caught my eye was Salvia Skyscraper which comes in orange and purple and I was hooked.

Salvia ‘Skyscraper’ comes in orange and purple

I ordered  a half dozen of each and I know they will make spectacular focal points in many containers, including my own. Monrovia has introduced  Skyscraper’ and says on its website;  “A true breakthrough in breeding, with beautiful coral-colored blooms on tall, sturdy stems that will enliven any patio or garden bed. This prolific bloomer has flower power from late spring until fall. Easy care, durable, waterwise, and tolerates summer heat”.

‘Skyscraper Orange’ Salvia in a container

Since this is a salvia, I am guessing that it is also deer resistant as salvias are the one plant I can count on that deer leave alone.

‘Skyscraper Orange’ Salvia in a container

When I was picking up my order at the nursery that included a bunch of the skyscrapers, one of the growers exclaimed , “You will be fighting off the hummingbirds with that one!”  So, I am excited about trying it this summer in sun loving containers. Orange is one of my favorite flower colors to use. Many people are afraid of it but it really adds some zing to any container combo.

The variegated Orange Sunpatien brightens up the shade; Orange Sunpatien, Coleus, Carex ‘Everillo’, Lysimachia, and Rex Begonia
The orange Croton in this simple container really stands out


For shade, the best technique is to showcase your foliage colors. Yes, flowers are important in the design, but foliage makes your container stand out from the rest. Caladiums are a very useful foliage plant as they come in an array of colors. Caladiums will languish if there is a bit of chill in the air, so make sure the chilly weather is gone before creating with Caladiums. Sometimes Caladiums will flop in a container and you need to prop them up a bit with a stake. Once they get going though they should behave.

This shade container benefits from its surroundings
The Tuberous Begonia is the only flower in this shade container; Rita’s Gold Fern, Tuberous Begonia, and Caladium

Actually, I prefer doing shade containers because of the variety of foliage that you can play with. The most commonly used flowers for shade are begonias, impatiens, torenia, coral bells, fuchsia, and lobelia. By far the most useful are the begonias, as they come in trailing, hanging, upright, tuberous, rex, etc. But one thing to remember for begonias, is they like it on the dry side. Any wet feet, and the plant will stop blooming and rot. So, be careful in planting it with other water loving plants.

The pink tuberous Begonia makes this container stand out from the crowd; Tuberous Begonia, Lysimachia, Norfolk Island Pine, Fern, Plectranthus, Blue Torenia, Diamond Dust Euphorbia, and Firecracker Begonia
Caladiums, Tuberous Begonia, Lysimachia, Philodendron, Plectranthus, Ivy, and Fern
Shade container with begonias, lysimachia, dianella, and fuschia
Another container with coleus, plectranthus, ferns, polemonium


For sun containers, chose very large pots so that your plants don’t dry out as quickly. I don’t want to be a prisoner to a pot that wilts in the heat!

This sun container is massive and in a cement planter that keeps the soil temperature even
Try to limit your plant selections to 4 or 5

Cement or heavy ceramic/pottery containers will keep your soil better insulated than plastic, but are much heavier, so create your container where it will remain. Also, limiting the variety of plants simplifies and makes the design cleaner and more restful. You won’t end up with a ‘busy’ pot.

Resist stuffing in too many plants ( I am a big offender of this!) because the plants will fight it out with the most aggressive becoming dominant and the others will disappear. You can help this out by pinching and cutting back the ‘thugs’. Coleus is a big offender of this. I am constantly pinching coleus back to remain small and in scale with the container.

Pink petunia has taken over this container, but I like it!
A perfectly balanced sun, partial sun container; the Papyrus adds drama

Winning Combos

Have you ever taken a swatch of fabric to a wallpaper or paint store to match the colors? Or been inspired by colors found in nature? I love tropical bird colors, like parrots and peacocks and when I see something l like, I take a photo and hope to duplicate it to come up with a winning combination. I need to do a container with parrot colors. The problem is coming up with a cobalt blue as I can’t think of any annuals in that particular color. The closest plant would be a delphinium, a perennial,  but they don’t last long and we have trouble growing them here in the mid-Atlantic as it gets too hot. Yellow and orange are easy-peasey! I need to source a good blue.

Parrots have the perfect combination of colors

Salvia ‘Blue Angel’; I would love to get hold of this one!
Delphiniums seen in Scotland are a beautiful cobalt


Inspired by parrot colors

12 Replies to “Containers With Pizzazz…. !!”

  1. Skyscraper is beautiful as well as the one w/the very large Caladium.
    Containers and bountiful planter materials are stunning!

  2. Thank you for sharing so many helpful hints on planting containers with Pizzazz!
    All of the colors and textures are just beautiful together and I never realized how the container pots play such an important roll in the over all planted design.
    They are all truly a work of art!
    This spring I stepped out of my comfort zone and for the first time placed a Lambs ear in a large pot with three other types of flowers and it turned out to be a real eye catching beauty! I am looking forward to experimenting more next season.

  3. Enjoyed the pics and information in this post. I like orange too. I will be looking for the new salvia.

  4. Exciting topic. So many beautiful containers with unusual plant combinations. I “saved” most of these to Pinterest for future reference. Sad our tour of Ireland had to be cancelled this fall. Looking forward to next years trip. Stay well.

  5. The Rita’s Gold Fern and the Caladium Basket – Did you plant the Caladium up higher or did it just grow much taller than the rest ? Love this container !

  6. These pots are glorious! I’m especially happy with your shade ones as I have very limited sun in my back area. One thing is that I would like to know what size the pots are as I’m not that knowledgeable as to how many plants to put in them to make them beautiful and full. Thank you for wonderful post. Can’t wait for my growing season to start!

  7. Love the information now I know that I had a shade plant in the sun because someone told me I was wrong and it started looking bad and I just moved it today. Thanks 😀

  8. Here in the metro Atlanta area, zone 8, we get Blue Daze in the garden centers. Beautiful blue flowers (almost cobalt) with white centers.

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