Sue Speichert owns Gertrude’s Garden Farm, an organic garden shop with public display gardens, miniature farm animals and garden-devoted day care, in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Why Use Pots When You Have a Garden?
by Sue Speichert    

So here I am. It’s spring again and the garden centers are overwhelming with selections of the newest, the best, the brightest and the tried and the true. I have plenty of room to plant perennials, shrubs, trees even, all of them things that will (hopefully) return year after year, requiring little care other than the occasional weeding and monthly fertilizer.

No matter how I try to tell myself that I should concentrate on the plants that I can grow in the ground, it’s no use; I never seem to be able to follow my own advice. I always find myself daydreaming about the plants that I can put in pots. Whenever I’m in the garden section of a store, I find myself wandering over to admire the container gardens. I stroll the aisles with all the new pots and hanging baskets. I make mental notes of the plant combinations, wondering which pots at home I can use to recreate the same look of the ones in the store. This is madness, I think. Why do I grow things in pots even though I have plenty of room to garden in the ground?

A baby buggy makes a colorful conversation piece.

You Can Grow Anything

A bold ornamental banana plant (Musa spp.) dominates this planting.


The first reason is probably the most obvious. I’m a garden junkie. I want one (no, make that several) of every wonderful thing I see in the garden center. That includes all the containers. Tall bananas (Musa spp.) underplanted with Supertunias™, big Brugmansia spp., lush hanging baskets of Fuschia spp. or Begonia spp., combo planters dripping with four different kinds of annuals and a few grasses that I can plant in the ground and overwinter for next year.

The second reason is sentimental. I started with pots when I was a younger novice gardener. I could grow anything I wanted, as long as it was in a container. I grew Nasturtium, Zinnia, marigolds (Tagetes spp.), all in their own pots, and then arranged the containers on the patio to make a colorful display. It was a wonderful way to learn how to garden, how to grow things and how to mix color and texture without having to dig things up and move them around in the garden.

And I suppose that brings me to the last reason why I like pots: I can change my mind. I can mix things up and rearrange them without getting stressed out that I’m going to kill something by moving it for the second (or third or fourth) time. This means, of course, that there are certain plants that go in their own pot so that I can move them around, and other plants that have to be able to withstand a certain amount of transplanting regardless of the time of year.

Tips and Tricks

This container features the “thriller, filler and spiller” arrangement.

Be sure to include various textures and colors in a mixed container.

Over the years of container gardening there are a few tips and tricks that I like to remember, ideas that help make potted plantings all the more enjoyable. These are my own personal rules to live by, giving my container world a sense of order and reason.

My first rule is to decide which is more important, the pot or the plant. I don’t like to make things overly complicated by having a really ornate planter combined with a really complicated-looking planting. I don’t want the planting and the pot to compete for attention. If the container is the center of attention, then I plant a single plant in the pot and let the container tell its story. If the plant (or plants) should be center stage, then I choose a simple pot (often terra-cotta) so that the plants can really shine.

My second personal rule is to group colors together and have different color groups in different places around the house. All the red geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) are placed at the front door. This is formal, simple and uncomplicated. Any plants in other pots near the red geraniums will be colors that coordinate with them. If I plant petunias, they’ll probably be white and dark blue-purple, to recreate a Fourth-of-July-type theme. The bolder, orange-and-blue or hot-red-and-orange combinations are reserved for other areas around the house, especially in the backyard or on the back patio.

My third personal rule is to allow myself to take out plants when they are no longer suitable for the season. Spring pansies go on the compost pile by Father’s Day, replaced by more hot-season annuals. Often I will interplant shorter-lived annuals with stalwarts that will last all year long. This allows the pot to always look full even though I have changed out some of the plants. I don’t have to suffer for three weeks while the containers make the transition from spring to summer or from summer into fall.

And I will admit that I do this so that I can keep shopping at the garden center throughout the summer. When I find something I can’t live without but don’t know where to put it, I can still bring it home. I simply tuck it into a planter, pot and all, until I find the spot that’s just right. And that, after all, is the beauty of gardening in containers.


A version of this article appeared in a June 2013 edition of the State-by-State Gardening eNewsletter.
Photos courtesy of Sue Speichert



Grow Plants in Pots
by DK Publishing

Whether you want to bring impact and beauty indoors or dress up your patio with flowers or productive plants, Grow Plants in Pots is packed with inspirational ideas that explore the full range of plants that can be grown in containers. With gorgeous photography, information on growing fruits and vegetables in containers, and plants organized by growing conditions and key qualities for ease of reference, Grow Plants in Pots features exciting combinations and design ideas, showing plants in situ in the home and on patios and roof terraces.


Posted: 06/01/17   RSS | Print


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