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Container Collection
by Mary K. Stickley

When I was growing up container gardening in my community consisted of a tire painted pristine white, carefully positioned in the exact center of the front yard, and then proudly stuffed with faux flowers which were changed with the seasons so they wouldn’t look too dirty and old. Talk about a focal point!

I am happy to say, container gardening has come a long way since then. First of all, we actually put real plants in them now! And whereas, tires still work, there are a bunch of other options when seeking that perfect pot.

But seriously, containers really have a purpose in your landscape. They bring attention to a specific location like the front door, a gateway or walkway. As a plant collector, there are some other advantages to containers. If I want to highlight a particularly special plant, placing it in a container rather than the general garden is like putting a frame around a fine work of art. The plant nerd in me has also figured out that I can put a container with three or four plants into the same space as one plant in the garden. I have also discovered I can create unique conditions in a container that were not available in the garden and thus can add even more plants to my collection.

A container can also be used as a focal point to bring extra interest to an otherwise humdrum corner. And as a gardener who is easily bored, I have found I can tuck in some pots and keep changing the plants around so I can always look at something new and interesting.

But just any pot won’t do here. The container style, size, color and shape needs to complement both the plants it contains and also the garden it sits in. In other words, the vessel is just as important as the filler – quite a revelation for a plant nerd!

I visited my local garden centers and found that while they had a nice selection, they just don’t have the pot to fit every garden. So my weekend haunts have expanded to take in various yard sales, auctions, junk shops, trips to the landfill, and yes, even some trash piles on the side of the road. My eye and imagination have begun to see how a not-so-promising item can be adjusted to become the perfect addition to my garden. And now anything and everything is fair game.


Try these containers in your yard:


This cracked birdbath was repurposed to feature a Sempervivum collection that can be easily seen and enjoyed.


A galvanized cattle trough was painted copper to match the terra-cotta dish beside it. The dish is set on top of another terra-cotta pot turned upside down to bring it up above the foliage where it can be seen.


Make your own topiary form for succulents and trailing plants. Or use an old basket sealed or painted to protect it from the elements.


An urn, while not filled with plants, is still a perfect climbing post for ivy in this garden. It creates a scene, a little bit elegant, yet soft and comfortable.


This repurposed column top and vat behind the bench make a beautiful formal division between these driveways.


Two doors and a modern wooden planter were painted to provide a trellis for the plants and a screen to hide the rain barrel behind.


The lush planting around these urns softens their formality. Although several styles of urns are used, the iron touches throughout provide a connecting theme for the scene.


This collection of an antique ladies’ bath mixed with galvanized watering cans and buckets bring together different shapes to create an interesting planting.



(Photos by Mary K. Stickley. From State-by-State Gardening March 2012.)

Posted March 2012


Mary K. Stickley is a horticulturist, landscape designer and a certified arborist through the International Society of Arborists. She currently works as Manager of Gardens and Grounds for the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia. She also owns and operates Countryside Consultations, providing ideas and information to assist homeowners in their gardening endeavors.



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