Anita Joggerst is a garden writer and the co-author of Best Garden Plants for Missouri. She gardens in the St. Louis area. She is a Master Gardener with the University of Missouri Extension/Missouri Botanical Garden partnership and a member of the Garden Writers Association.

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Great Containers
by Anita Joggerst       #Containers   #Decorating

Showcase houseplants on an attractive plant stand on the patio. The outdoor air benefits the houseplants and the plants benefit the patio design. Included in the display are rose- and lemon-scented geranium, ‘Dragon Wing’ begonia, angel wing begonia, Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) and an amaryllis (Hippeastrum sp.).


For every puzzling garden area, a great container or two (or three) might provide the ideal solution. Containers enhance patios, decks, porches and other places with no soil. Do not limit yourself to those areas — containers work well throughout the yard and garden.

Great containers can fit everywhere or anywhere and can serve any garden purpose. They can: add color, height and interest; be a single container that becomes the focal point in a location; become a grouping of multiple containers; create a monocolor group or a multicolor group; coordinate colors or contrast colors; and conceal flaws (such as a container hiding a utility box).

A single container can make a statement with a bright bold color, its size, and its unique shape or design. Several containers can fill a space, display a vignette, create a mood and hold holiday decorations.

Size it up
Match the size of the container to the size of the garden area. A large container or a group of large containers balance a large space. Small containers tuck easily into a small area. So select containers that fit the space. A white or light-colored container adds light to a dark space, for example. Then select plants that fit the container size and space. Large containers can handle large plants and small containers look balanced with smaller plants. Select plants that coordinate with or match the color of the container.

On the patio
A plain concrete patio begs for the personality of well-planned brightly colored containers. The height of taller pots placed around the edge of the patio defines the space. Select vivid red, blue or yellow pots and fill these containers with equally bright flowers and vines. Plant flowers that fill out nicely such as Begonia spp. and vines that drape over the sides such as the native Passiflora incarnata and ornamental sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas) ‘Tricolor’ or ‘Marguerite’. A patio is also a good location to showcase houseplants arranged on an attractive plant stand. Most houseplants benefit from a summer outdoors in a location with afternoon shade.

On the deck
Decks look a bit bare without planters. Attached containers will enhance deck railings. Fill the containers with gracefully flowing plants to add color and depth. Locate large containers at the corners of the deck and plant lantana (Lantana camara) or hardy Hibiscus spp. The yellow, pink and red clusters of lantana and the huge pinkish blooms of Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ and ‘Turn of the Century’ will keep the color coming all summer. Both varieties grow 3 or 4 feet tall. The size and color of the containers and the fullness of the plants create a garden room on the deck.


Create a whimsical dish garden filled with miniature succulents and lunch plates. Plants include Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’ and hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum).


On the porch
Colorful pots will add pizzazz to a plain porch. For shady porches, think of the traditional Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) overflowing in white wicker hanging baskets and white wicker urns. Add red blooming geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) and locate them strategically throughout the porch. For sunny porches, use more substantial containers such as terra-cotta or ceramic, and fill them with plants that like sun such as pink or red Petunia spp. and coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides). Coleus plants are available in many pretty foliage colors: red, orange, yellow, lime green, burgundy and pink. Coleus also feature various shapes: ovate, long, small and frilly.

A porch is the perfect location for seasonal containers as well. Great containers filled with red, white and blue petunias or Calibrachoa spp. signal Fourth of July celebrations. Red Christmas containers could feature red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) stems, holly (Ilex) and other evergreens.

Containers can conceal flaws
Containers can conceal areas that do not enhance a garden design. For example, air conditioning units deserve covering up. Place tall planters in front of the unit, allowing an air circulation space of a foot or two between the unit and the planters. If the unit is in a dark corner, use darker containers, but lighter flowers such as pink, white and green Caladium spp. For a unit that is along the side of the house in plain sight, build a whole garden of containers around it, making sure to build in a path for maintenance. You can build a trellis fence around the unit as camouflage, but how much more interesting it would be to install a grouping of containers of various heights in front of the trellis. Use a monocolor pot theme with multicolored plants, such as Zinnia spp., for example.

A sunny spot is also a good place for an herb container garden with pots of basil (Ocimum basilicum), mint (Mentha spp.), thyme (Thymus spp.), marjoram (Origanum majorana) and oregano (Origanum vulgare).

Maybe a fence is just not as pretty as it could be. Hang containers overflowing with colorful plants on the fence or place containers in front of the fence. Even if the fence is very nice, unusual containers will enhance it.


A hanging basket overflowing with bright pink petunias, violet pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), lime green ‘Marguerite’ ornamental sweetpotato vine and pink geranium (Pelargonium sp.) adds color and interest to a plain fence.

An unusual terra-cotta planter with a section for each hen and chicks plant adds interest to a fence. Hen and chicks require very little moisture and grow well in a vertical container. The planter is firmly attached to the fence for safety.


Add whimsy
Add whimsy to any garden with containers. Containers shaped like giant frogs or cats bring smiles from visitors. Miniature container gardens or fairy container gardens also add whimsy.

Include garden art in the container among plants to add color or seasonal interest. Use art pieces that fit the size of the container — try placing small garden art pieces in smaller containers and larger art in larger containers. Tuck in statues of little gnomes, frogs, kittens, puppies or rabbits. You might also add miniature garden furniture, garden fairies, Christmas ornaments or Easter eggs. Stick to a theme with garden art, as too many different kinds of unrelated garden art might look junky. For example, the theme could be gnomes, and all the garden art pieces are all gnomes peeking around corners. Or the theme might be rabbits, and all art pieces are stone rabbits hiding under large leaves.


Even a little red wagon serves as a great container in a yard or on a patio. This wagon is home to violets (Viola sp.), basil and playful garden art.


A small cat planter filled with lavender (Lavandula × intermedia ‘Provence’)adds whimsy to a small deck or a patio table and brings smiles.

Create a tiny hypertufa container that is just perfect for a small space. Plant succulent string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) and watch them grow right over the edge of the container.

Greet visitors with a pair of blue garden clogs planted with bright lime green sedum. Both container and plants bring color to the porch.


Create a hypertufa container. Then plant dwarf conifers such as Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star.’Add small decorative rocks, whimsical toadstools and other garden art.



Tips for great containers

Follow these container and plant selection tips to create a balanced garden design.

•  Containers should fit the size and features of the area (large containers or groups of containers in large spaces, smaller containers tucked into smaller spots).
•  Plants should fit the container size (large plants in large pots, smaller plants for smaller pots).
•  Ensure the plants in the container work together (similar moisture and light needs).
•  The plants should be right for the container’s location (sun, part sun or shade).
•  Ensure both containers and plants enhance the space with color and interest



A version of this article appeared in
Missouri Gardener Volume 6 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Anita Joggerst.


Posted: 08/24/16   RSS | Print


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