CONTAINER GARDENING 101
Container gardening is like an art form, but that’s not a reason to be intimidated by it. In fact, as a visual art, there are rules and guidelines that you can follow to make sure that your container is looking its best! These guidelines are like hints to point you in the right direction when you need some structure, but are only suggestions so your design can be as uniquely “you” as you want! You’ll be rewarded with living artwork that looks and works its best in your home, and the satisfaction of designing something so pretty yourself— you don’t have to tell your admirers that you just follow our simple guidelines and formulas.
Container gardening is the perfect place in your outdoor landscape for being a bit of a commitment-phobe. It's the perfect place to start trying something new or experiment with what you aren’t familiar with because you can always do something different next year! Even if you’re planting favorites that you’re familiar with, there’s something about the temporary nature of our annuals that makes us appreciate them differently from our steadfast perennials and trees.
Designing your container is like art - but don’t worry, it’s more of an “arts and crafts” than a fine art experience. Just like art, you’ll get the best results if you play within certain guidelines that are tried and true to work. These are like little “hints” that will help direct your creativity the right way, but they are so broad that they leave you all the room you need to play.
Whatever you craft, you’ll enjoy it all the more knowing that it’s only around for a limited time in the one season. What better way to play with your garden and design than when you don’t have to make a bet that you’ll love it for years? Trees, shrubs, and perennials are the place for committing to one classic look, while containers bring something new every season to be perfected year after year!
With just a couple of guidelines, you can be on your way to guaranteed good-looking containers:
THE BIGGEST ISN’T ALWAYS THE BEST
When container gardening was still gaining popularity in the gardening world, the goal was to cram as many big and bountiful blooms into one pot. While we still appreciate the full-bloom look, our style has matured a little since then.
We still love some big bloomers to steal the spotlight, but other more subtle plants like coleus, vines, succulents, and even edibles have been popping up in containers. Depending on your style, you have the options to dabble in the large and impressive, play with colors and textures, or even lean towards the functional and edible! With a broader approach of what belongs in a container, you’re free to design something that is perfect for you.
HINTS OF CONTAINER GARDENING
Here are some starting tips to keep in mind designing a container that works for you:
You choose the container. No matter the contents of your container, you’re in charge of everything from your plants down to where they grow their roots— and it’s all part of your design! No matter what materials and look you choose, your container should be in scale with your plants. Your plants should be your container’s height plus a third— so if your container is 3 feet tall, you’ll want plants that reach 4 feet at maturity.
Plan by location. If you have your container in a spot where it can be appreciated from all sides, you’ll want to place your tallest centerpiece plants in the middle. You'll probably want a larger container to properly display all of your design. For those that are only visible from some sides, you can place your tall plants all the way at the back.
Check plant tags to see what your plant will grow up to look like as the season progresses so that you can plan for something that looks great from now until the end of summer.
HOW TO DESIGN A KNOCK-OUT CONTAINER
While you can experiment with other styles, using the “Thriller, filler, spiller” formula is a tried-and-true way to ensure a gorgeous, well-balanced container. Pair these elements together with your favorite plants from each category for an interesting planter that looks great all season.
Thrillers: These are the centerpiece plants that are the focal point for your whole container. They literally rise above the rest of your plants as an architectural feature. The nice thing is you can choose from so many different types of thrillers, from the very vertical, to the loose and airy, to the lush, green, leafy, and large.
Your thriller centerpiece will usually set the tone for the rest of your container, whether they are the highlighted piece or not. Shrubs are great choices for thrillers as they can then be transplanted into your landscape after a season of container growing!
Fillers: The central plants that spread and take up the body of your container. Just because they’re the least front-and-center of your container doesn’t mean that they have to be backup singers, though! These flowers or foliage with a mounding habit are key to tying everything together and to keep everything in proportion - but they can still be stand-out favorites in your containers. Your filler is usually where all of the color and style heavy-lifting happens!
Spillers: These trailing plants add dimension to your container as they cascade over the side. Some trailing plants provide more volume than others and could even be counted as fillers and spillers in the right container! We love how spillers make your whole container arrangement bolder and look taller than it actually is. With growth spreading both up and down, your simple arrangement will have fabulous texture and look much more intense.
If you have a container that’s the right size but the color or style doesn't suit what you're aiming for, use trailing plants to mask it and cover it up. Enough vines or trailing blooms will obscure your container completely with something a bit more vibrant and pretty to look at. On the other hand, if you have a stout container, keeping the reins on your spiller will help to keep everything in control and well-proportioned.
Designing a perfect container is easy! If you want to get creative you can find all sorts of ways to combine your favorite elements and plants, but for those that are looking for a sure win, following our formula is a great way to make sure you have a look that is ready to impress! Get a little artistic with our hints and guidelines, and you’ll have fun making a statement to last the year— then next year you can start over with something different and exciting.