Creative Containers

Lantana 'Samantha' with Coleus 'Dark Star' in A Garden For All by kathy Diemer

Dramatic contrast: Lantana ‘Samantha’ with Coleus ‘Dark Star’ and variegated plectranthus (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Depending on your climate, container time is nigh!  Dust off those pots, compost last year’s potting soil and round up some gorgeous new plants to adorn your doorstep, deck or driveway.  As always, plant growers have been working overtime to provide many enticing introductions, as well as improving upon the old reliables.  Let’s think outside the box and kick it up a notch with some dazzling flowers and fluorescent foliage.  Here’s a few tips and plant suggestions to do just that:

Before digging in, please consider that your containers will require consistent attention to remain healthy and vigorous. This is because potted plants are restricted to a small area, and therefore dependent on you to meet all their moisture and nutrient needs. However, if you tend to them for a few minutes each day, the outcome will be fabulous!

Amaranthus 'Love Lies Bleeding' with Coleus in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Amaranthus ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ with Coleus and Calibrachoa (photo: Kathy Diemer)

I teach container design classes every year, and these are my tips for creating a container you’ll love through fall:

* Choose plants that will work with your sun exposure

* Consider how the container will be viewed: angles, distance, and background

* Select a centerpiece (for round containers) and build from there

* Remember watering requirements for sunny spots (may be twice daily)

* Fertilize once a week, reduce to half strength in fall

* Dead head, and inspect frequently

Bright Petunia with Coleus in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Bright Pink Petunia with Chartreuse Coleus (photo: Kathy Diemer)

A plethora of choices awaits for container plants, so please don’t restrict your selection to geraniums (although there are beautiful ones) and spike.  The foliage empress for sun or shade is coleus, which comes in an outrageous array of sizes, colors and growth habit.  Want a trailing habit; Solenostemon ‘Red Trailing Queen’ is your girl with a burgundy leaf edged with lime and splashed with fuchsia.  Upright coleus range from chartreuse greens, mixtures of vibrant variegation, tropical oranges to the deepest purple black, and can grow to 24″.  Easily pinched to retain shape, coleus is a great container option for sun or shade.

Lantana 'Tiddley Winks Red' and Plectranthus coleoides in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Hot Combo: Lantana ‘Tiddley Winks Red’ and Plectranthus coleoides (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Flowering annuals also come in many shapes, sizes and colors.  For a daisy type flower, osteospermum choices are vast; bright yellow, rich violet, creamy coral, even a deep red (osteospermum ‘Red Velvet’), sure to whet your appetite.  And, osteospermum will bloom through frost (in half day sun exposure) with moderate deadheading.  For a more delicate flower with a trailing nature, I adore bacopa (pastel colors) and verbena (bright reds, purples, raspberry).  If you love petunias, but want something a bit more petite, try calibrachoa, which also offers some stunning color choices.

Centaurea 'Colchester White' with Verbena, Bacopa, Fennel in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Softer colors: Centaurea ‘Colchester White’ with Verbena, Bacopa, and Fennel (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Grey is the great moderator, so incorporate a hit with plants like Centaurea cineraria ‘Colchester White’, which grows to a fountain at 30″ or a silvery licorice vine to weave between your plantings.  This year I am experimenting with eucalyptus; with its greenish-grey cast and delightful oval leaves, it may become a new favorite.  Sweet potato vine (actually develops a potato root) is an old favorite for its cascading nature and cheery complexion from pistachio to maroon.  Gaura’s two foot spires float like clouds of cotton candy over the lower foliage, and in warmer zones (6 up) can be transplanted into the garden later.  And, don’t rule out a few herbs to add a dramatic flavor.  For height, feathery texture, and pleasantly scented stroke-ability; I love dill and fennel.  They work great in a container, and send out invitations for visits from native insects.  Thyme and oregano fall carelessly over the container’s edge, while sage’s fuzzy leaves create a cozy mound.

Calibrachoa 'Noa Dark Red' & Ipomoea 'Sweetheart Purple' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Calibrachoa ‘Noa Dark Red’ & Ipomoea ‘Sweetheart Purple’ (Photo: Kathy Diemer)

So, my friends, expand your plant horizon this spring.  My suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg, as you would need an ocean liner to fit all the plant choices available today.  Thankfully, for now . . . you only need a container full.


  1. Great writing, LOVE the colors and groupings!!!

    • Thank you, thank you! I love designing containers, the options are limitless. The maintenance of so many pots-because I often get too carried away-gets a little tedious by the end of the summer, though . . .

  2. These are so gorgeous! Living at over 9000 feet, it’s very tough to grow anything colorful. These photos make my day! I think I see buds outside . . . such a long, long winter with no real spring. Sigh!

    • Keep the faith Dina, at the first sign of buds, you know the best is right around the corner. And, I think containers would be just the ticket for you! I’m certain that there are a lot of alpine climate plants (succulents, cactus, grasses) that you could grow in a container outside, and bring in (place in a sunny window) to enjoy through the dog days of winter. Visit a local garden center and see what’s out there, you’ll be surprised . . . and inspired!

  3. Any ideas where to purchase Love Lies Bleeding? Found it one year and loved making arrangements but can’t seem to find this year. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and creativity!

    • Hi Susan, Thank you for your kind words! I get my Amaranthus ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ from Maple Bank Farm in Roxbury, CT Cathy Bronson usually grows it every year, but I would call to make sure they still have some. If they are not within driving distance, I was only able to find seed sources on line. If you have a local nursery that you have a relationship with, you can often ask them to grow something special for you-so, that may be an option for next year. Thanks for writing and good luck in your search! ~Kathy

  4. Hi Kathy, I am wondering what you use for weekly feedings? Is Bloom Booster better than Miracle Grow to keep the blooms coming?

    • Hi Becky, My favorite “all around” plant fertilizer is Jack’s 20-20-20 All Purpose, which works for all plants including flowering. I combine a lot of foliage plants such as vines and coleus in my containers and find this fertilizer provides overall good results. That said, I recommend you try the Miracle Grow Bloom Booster if your containers are primarily flowers, and see if it makes a difference over the regular Miracle Grow. Please let me know what you find and thanks so much for writing!

  5. I liked very much all the tips to find containers that fit seasonal flowers. According to my experience cans of different sizes are my star containers, they are versatile and economic since we can recycle them from different products that we consume every day. For my part I like to paint them in different colors to give them a nice touch and open holes to let the excess water out.

    • I always like to find creative ways to repurpose items. Thank you Emily, for sharing your ideas on using cans as containers. I admit, I would never have thought of it …

  6. Centaurea looks great with fennel, thanks for sharing Kathy!

    • Thank you, Patrick! Containers give us the greatest creative license, and each year gives us even more options with the many new and exciting plant introductions. Happy spring!

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