Focal Point Pots

– Posted in: Garden Design

I’m so enamored with using containers in the garden that I sometimes don’t even bother to plant them. And empty pot can work wonders in the garden. Of course it has to be a good-looking pot, but given that, a container can become an instant ornament in almost any garden scene. All you have to do is drop it into place. Look what this big-big enough for me to crawl into-pot did for Brie Quimby’s Farmington, CT driveway. I love the way the smooth human-made contours of a pot contrast so sharply with the more organic shapes of plants.

I liked this spring vignette in my garden well enough, but it lacked something. My eye wandered aimlessly through the scene, with no destination-until I dropped a pot into the picture. Then, somehow, the 3-foot high terra-cotta pot elevated the whole scene and pulled it all together. Bigger is almost always better when you’re thinking about using a pot as a focal point. sometimes I put a smaller pot on a pedestal to give it a little more oomph.

Empty pots as focal points serve well at any transition area-like this gate at Marietta and Ernie O’Byrne’s garden in Eugene, OR.

Or at the foot of my stone stairway, where this empty pot presides over a passel of smaller containers.


Using two empty pots instead of one provides an element of symmetry and formality here at Wesley Rouse’s Southbury, CT garden.

Even your old, broken pots can be a piece of garden art, as at this archaeological/funereal scene at Jan Nickel’s Green Dreams garden in Avon, CT.

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Layanee March 24, 2008, 10:17 am

Those are all interesting. Is the large one in the first picture put away for the winter? It is hard to tell how big that one is from the shot. It could be three foot tall or six foot tall! I have never seen one just like that one.

Hi Layanee–The first one is a Luna Form pot, a concrete resin formed over a steel mold. It is totally impervious to the elements, impervious, in fact, to anything short of a direct missile strike. It’s about 4, 4 1/2 feet tall and almost as wide. They are really works of art. Priced accordingly, and very, very HEAVY. I bring all my pots in for winter except for one really big one, which I turn upside down, put on planks so it’s above ground, then cover with a tarp to keep it dry. Cold’s not so bad for the pots, it’s when they get wet and freeze and thaw and freeze and thaw–that’s when they start to crumble. If you can keep pots dry, they’ll get through the winter fine.–Steve

jeff-nhn March 24, 2008, 11:26 am

You make a great point! All pots and containers do not have to have plants in them. Your pictures are worth a thousands words.

Right Jeff–Pots are as good a garden ornament as any. I keep finding new ways and new places to use them.–Steve

Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 24, 2008, 4:24 pm

You’ve demonstrated it very well – the smooth human constructed contours are perfect for setting off the amorphous shapes of the plants. That strong structure of the container is exactly what an unstructured plant grouping needs. Maybe my new containers will help bring some much needed order to some of my plantings.

Thanks MMD–It’s a fine dialog between the organic and the inorganic. Wishing you the best with your new pots. In one of my borders I have five identical pots, all set up at regular intervals. They provide a nice sense of continuity to the scene and the always welcome notion of repetition. In my veggie area, I have six pots working the same way. There’s a lot you can do with pots, that’s for sure. –Steve

Fern R March 24, 2008, 6:51 pm

What happens after a rain storm and the pot fills with water? Are mosquitoes and other waterborne pests a problem with unplanted pots?

Hi Fern–For the most part, I use pots with drainage holes, so they never fill with water. But there are a few containers I use as freestanding water gardens–those get either a few 15-cent goldfish, which happily eat any mosquito larvae–or I drop in one of those bT (?) donuts. They are an organic substance that kills larvae. Easy.–Steve

Pam/Digging March 24, 2008, 11:32 pm

I have several unplanted pots in my garden too. Here in Austin it’s not easy to keep plants watered enough in the summer, so why bother? I buy the colorful glazed ones and enjoy them as they are.

Hi Pam–I bet watering gets old really fast in Austin, I also bet you’re lucky enough to be able to leave your pots outside all year round, none of that dragging stuff in and out that plagues container-crazed frost belt gardeners like me. Think I mentioned it to you earlier, but container water gardens are a great way to go–they’re just as low maintenance as cacti and succulents.–Steve

Elly Phillips March 25, 2008, 8:50 am

Great post, Steve! I have a huge old mustard-colored Vietnamese urn that anchors an entire side of my yard. (It’s centered in a circular grove of trees.) I deal with the water/mosquito thing by placing a black plate over the opening. The plate is invisible even from a short distance, and it keeps the water out! I’m always on the lookout for them at thrift shops for this purpose.

Thanks Elly–I love those brightly colored Vietnamese urns too! I have two bright blues ones-empty of course–flanking a bench in my white garden. I never get tired of seeing them. BTW, great idea on the black plate to close up the pot. Next time I’m at one of those cheapo stores–where I’m usually hunting more pots–I’m going to have my eye out for one of those black plates too.–Steve

Frances March 25, 2008, 11:37 am

Okay Steve, I am off to look for big, interesting pots to not plant anything in!
Frances at Faire Garden

Why not, Frances? After all, they are SO easy to take care of. I suggest you look for something taller than knee-high, or else get a pedestal to put it on. Happy hunting! –Steve

Nancy Bond March 26, 2008, 12:43 pm

Those pots make a wonderful focal point for any garden! I love what it did for your tulip photo.

Thanks Nancy-Nothing shows what a pot–or any garden embellishment–can do quite as well as before-and-after pictures.–Steve

Kim March 26, 2008, 7:12 pm

You’re so right about the empty pot “anchoring” the grouping of smaller pots. Without that, it would look busy… I’m definitely going to try that trick for my potted herb garden this year!

Thanks Kim. I think the the trick is to use a focal point pot that really dominates the others sizewise; it doesn’t have to be of the same style though. –Steve

Yolanda Elizabet March 27, 2008, 6:03 am

I use terracotta pots (with and without plants) in my garden a lot as they go so well with everything. I even have a rhubrb forcing pot in my potager that is mainly there for ornamental purposes.

However I do have to bring some pots indoors to overwinter. I find that even so called frost proof terracotta pots will crack after several winters.

Hi Yolanda–Loved your pix of Het Loo. They have some interesting ways of using pots there.

Yes I think pots really dress up potagers, in fact i have a double row o three marching through my tiny potager. And as for frost-proof, that seems to be more of an optimistic idea rather than an actual quality. You have relatively mild winters in Holland, no? And even there they cannot hold up to those repreeated freeze and thaw cycles. –Steve

Gail March 27, 2008, 9:35 am

I love big pots… I saw a 5 foot terracotta strawberry jar a the local garden center. It would have been a fun plant or water feature in the right setting!


Gail-I think you should get back to that garden center and bring that sucker home!–Steve

Priscilla March 27, 2008, 10:45 am

Great post. I think more gardens should use some decorations besides the little stone garden animals. It’s good to look at things in a different way and use them to create focal points in your garden.

I agree, Priscilla. What’s interesting is how often a design problem can be solved with a piece of sculpture or other garden art. There are parts of my garden I’ve struggled with for years, only to add an ornament of some kind or other, and find that the area, all of a sudden, works. Of course you can overdo it. One piece of good advice I heard is that you shouldn’t be able to see more than one piece of garden art at a time.–Steve

jodi March 28, 2008, 12:37 am

Yet another inspiring post, Steve. I’ve never tried this in our garden, mostly because I haven’t a pot large enough–and when I look at some of the huge pots, and their prices, I just think of all the plants I could buy for that much. But you’ve got me really tempted. I suppose we could eat peanut butter and jelly for a week or two…..;-)

Thanks Jodi-Sheer persistence is what got me most of my large pots. I haunted sales, cheapo odd lot stores, Home Depot and Lowes until I found pots discounted to prices I could consider affordable. One trick is to look in the off season. November, when some garden centers are dumping inventory, is good, and I found some real buys in early March this year. So it took years to accumulate my current collection. But they’ve been worth waiting for. PB&J is a small p[rice to pay. –Steve

N. & J. March 30, 2008, 9:20 pm

I never thought about using empty pots but I’ve seen a lot of nurseries use “found objects” like old metal shopping baskets and I love that look. I plan on checking out the spring garage sales to find some cheaper options.

Hey N&J–I think found objects are fantastic garden embellishments. My problem is that I rarely have the foresight to envision how I might repurpose some of the stuff I find floating about. It seems obvious when I see it somewhere else, but…we do have bulk trash day, now there’s a treasure hunt. –Steve

Michelle March 30, 2008, 9:59 pm

Like Pam, I too have several unplanted pots around my home. I also use them upside down as a stand for another planted pot or feeding platform for the birds. The possibilities are endless! I think I will put a link from my blog (Getting Dirty In Texas) to yours. Have a great week!!

Hi Michelle–As you’ve discovered, pots can be used for all kinds of garden artistry. I have a friend who made this very cool, archaeolgical-looking tableau out of old broken pots. So anything is fair game. Thanks for the link. See you there. –Steve

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