Container Gardening 101: Basic Elements
Sometimes we get immersed in the practicality of everything, but container gardening is really a lot like an art form. No, you’re not painting the Mona Lisa, but you are choosing colors, textures, and styles to match and contrast with each other, resulting in a homemade art statement you get to enjoy all season. But, like all art forms, there are some guidelines and suggestions for how to make the best final product. Fortunately, the rules in art are pretty flexible so they’re really more hints for how you can create a great container, rather than solid rules that can’t be bent a little this way and that.
Guidelines are what you need to point you in the right direction but the fun of containers is that they don’t last. Instead of perennials and trees, which will endure from year to year, every spring you get a fresh canvas to play with! Create something fun, daring, or new, and you’ll get one short year to love it before you can try something else. It’s gardening without any commitment, but here are some tips on how to make every year something to treasure:
The Biggest Bloom Doesn’t Always Win
The baby years of container gardening were full of containers that were stuffed full of as many flowers as a single pot could handle. While we still like an intense display of blooms and color, containers have matured a little since then, and the final product certainly shows it.
Instead of sheer volume, we get to play with a lot of other things, too! Containers bursting with interesting foliage, playing with color, showing off succulents or edibles, and giving us some interesting textures and shapes are the name of the game now. Popping up on patios everywhere, the modern way to make an interesting container is by playing with some favorite elements that you fall in love with. You’re not just limited to color and the same 5 blooms, because our containers now involve so much more to look even better.
Here are some of our guidelines and rules of thumb to make your container fantastic without the fuss and guesswork:
- You get to choose the container and the contents of it! Make the whole thing look great by keeping it in scale. Generally, your plants should be your container’s height, plus a third. So, a 3-foot high container needs plants that grow to 4 feet tall.
- Plan the layout of your container based on where you’ll be looking at it from. Something that you’ll view from all sides will need the biggest element in the middle so it looks balanced from any viewpoint – and you might need a bigger container to make it look balanced all the way around. Something against a wall where you’ll only see from some sides, you can place your tallest plant all the way in the back!
- Check the tags on your plants. If you’re buying from modest, little seedlings, you’ll want to know how big they can get before planting and pairing them with others.
There’s a simple formula to make sure that your container looks phenomenal, that doesn’t limit your creativity. We promise, you can still plant that one thing you found and fell in love with at the store! You can just think of this as your secret recipe to make the most amazing and stylish containers every year. Combine one of each of these elements:
The “Thriller”: This is your tallest plant that will be the centerpiece. That doesn’t mean it’s the star of the show necessarily, but it provides a lot of the structure and a focal point for everything. Thrillers can take all sorts of shapes and textures, from vertical, loose, and airy to lush, big, and leafy.
The “Filler”: These are your mounding plants that are either flowering or foliage that provide the bulk of your container. If you’re getting a blooming filler, you can expect them to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to flowers. But we also like to have fun with plants that have interesting foliage instead. Keep proportions in mind here so that your filler doesn’t overwhelm the rest of your container!
The “Spiller”: Trailing plants will spill over the edge of your container, giving it an exaggerated sense of height and more square footage to enjoy your favorite plants! These are also a great plant to use if you have a container you aren’t very happy about, to hide and disguise the style of it behind a curtain of foliage or blooms! Some fillers are spillers, too, so you can get a plant that can even kill two birds with one stone.
With one plant from each of these categories and one favorite to be the star of the show, you’re ready to plan and plant your container! There are still millions of combinations of thousands of plants to choose from to fit your style and home, but sticking to these guidelines will make sure that you have a beautiful planter no matter what you mix and match into it!