Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Container Plantings

– Posted in: Garden Design

Ipomoea batatas ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’ with Jasminum Frojas’ and Zinnia ‘Profusion Fire’ July 4 07Do you ever look at pictures of perfectly groomed container plantings and wonder what they look like a few weeks or months later? I guess I’m a little cynical about the whole container-gardening thing, because I tend to put in too many plants to make them look good at first, then they’re already out of balance a few weeks into the summer. Plus, watering is my least favorite gardening chore, and fertilizing? Forget it. Last year, I finally accepted that I’m just not suited for container gardening, so I limited myself to just a few special potted plants, and it was a tremendous relief. Now I’m free to admire the design skills and dedication of those of you who succeed with container plantings without feeling guilty about failing with my own.

I know both Fran and Steve have lots of experience with container gardening, and I’ve seen some great-looking container plantings on various blogs over the last six months, so maybe those of you with the know-how can show the rest of us how it’s done. Tell us what kinds of containers you like to use, and show off some of your favorite potted combinations, either in your own garden or elsewhere. And if you have any secrets for keeping them looking great through the growing season, please share them. Pots, planters, troughs, and windowboxes, from formal and elegant to rustic or quirky, any kind of container counts!

If you’re new to the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop, here’s how it works: Write a post on any container-related topic on your own blog and leave a link here (archived posts count too), or jot down your thoughts in a comment below. At the end of the month, I’ll gather all of the links into one summary post for easy reference. If you’re interested in checking out previous GBD Workshops, you can find them here:
Paths and Walkways
Fences and Walls
Arbors and Pergolas
Color in the Garden

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Lisa at Greenbow March 1, 2008, 6:34 am

Oh boy. I am so with what you say about containers in your first paragraph. I always struggle through summer with a few containers but they are usually a disappointment. I can pot ’em up but they after a few weeks they aren’t much to behold.
I will be looking foward to seeing what everyone says.

You too, Lisa? Well, hopefully we’ll both learn a lot this month. I’m certainly willing to make another attempt at container gardening if we get some good tips.

Frances March 1, 2008, 6:41 am

Great choice once again, Nan. However, this is not one of our areas of success. We try but it never looks quite right and the watering, fertilizing thing, well, no. It will be fun to see everyone’s lovely containers. Maybe we can learn the trick to beautiful pots o’ plants!

Frances at Faire Garden

Gee, I wonder if I should propose an alternate topic for those of us who are container-challenged. Though I must say, Frances, that your troughs are one of the examples I was thinking of for successful containers!

Tina March 1, 2008, 7:12 am

I don’t know if she reads here, so I’ll point you in Kerri’s direction. As far as I’m concerned, that woman is the Queen of containers! I don’t know how she does it, but what an eye for combinations that work perfectly and look fab!
Colors of the garden: Contemplating Containers
Colors of the garden: Container Mania Continued!

Thanks for the links to Kerri’s blog, Tina. I think those are some of the very posts I had in mind!

gina March 1, 2008, 8:33 am

nan – what a great topic for the workshop! my garden buddy and I are planning to host a monthly garden activity with another of our gardening friends and she picked the first month (may I think) to host “container gardening.” We’ll bring our containers to her house and plant them there using stuff we winter sowed or purchased. This should give us some great ideas!

That’s a neat idea, Gina! Steve’s such a container fanatic that he’s suggested covering the topic twice this year. So maybe those of us who decide to try (or re-try) containers this year can jot down our plans now, take pictures and notes as the season progresses, and then report back at the end of the season.

Karen Arms March 1, 2008, 9:24 am

Nan: I too am container-challenged. Once in a while a window box of pansies or dwarf dahlias looks good for a winter month or two, but I can’t design them. However, I have a friend who I think is something of a genius with containers, so I am off to see if I can get a few suitable photos of his.

Wow, we may need to start a support group for the container-challenged. Or perhaps we already have! I look forward to seeing the pictures of your friend’s plantings, anyway.

jodi March 1, 2008, 10:09 am

This will be fun! Container gardening is actually something I can do quite well, but I suspect it has something to do with the weather as well as plant selection. I’m in, though maybe not this weekend. Then again, trying to do up the recap post for Garden Blogger’s Geography project is gonna be a challenge, and writing about containers is easier…
TIme for another pot of coffee and a little yoga, then we’ll see what comes out today! (besides the snow and rain that’s forecast… 🙁

You have all month, Jodi – no rush!

Greg W March 1, 2008, 10:55 am

Another great selection for a workshop! I only did a couple of containers last year just to see if I can do it and they all failed miserably.

My back deck looks pretty barren and I am determined to create some color there.

This workshop idea always attracts such wonderful ideas. I can’t wait to see what our fellow gardeners come up with.

Another blog you might want to check out is FlowerGardenGirl. She has a lot of great container ideas.

Welcome to the club, Greg! You’re right about Anna’s containers: Anna, want to share your secrets?

Robin March 1, 2008, 12:10 pm

This will be fun to see. I immediately thought of Kerri too.

My containers didn’t do well last year because of our water restrictions. I tried using the water from our baths but tired of that pretty quickly.

I hope everyone will include their container soil recipe!

Good thought, Robin! Yes, we clearly need how-to info, as well as great design ideas.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 1, 2008, 5:40 pm

I have really gotten into container gardening over the last few years. I do all my edibles in containers (easier to manage the pests that way & get them the light they need), but I also like to grow perennials in them. Just yesterday I almost bought another of those plastic pots that look like ceramic. (So tempting, but Spring’s still too far off.) I’m eager to learn any secrets to keeping the containers interesting all season.

Great, MMD! I look forward to hearing about your experiences. Edibles count as well as ornamentals.

Catherine, My Garden Travels March 2, 2008, 9:50 am

I’m not a container gardener myself, for the same reasons, but I pass a house in my travels with the most incredible displays. They are lush and healthy all season. This year I plan to talk to this person and find out their secret. I’ll share it and hopefully have some pictures.

That settles it: We’ll definitely need an end-of-the-season follow-up on this topic so we can report back with what we learn this summer.

Maria March 2, 2008, 10:06 am

I have a garden design business in New York City, so I do lots of container gardens. This one was interesting because the clients had a very badly behaved dog and needed to keep him out of the plants, so we designed a vegetable loft and added lattice to all the containers. You can see a slideshow of it here: (click on the arrow for audio and the pictures to change)

Many thanks, Maria! I look forward to seeing your solution to the dog dilemma.

steve March 2, 2008, 11:11 am

It always frustrates me , I love to make containers to sit on our deck in the spring but very rarely get it look right for the whole season it either looks like a giant mess or it looks like I was tight on putting in the plants. Just for a few weeks I can look at it and admire what I achieved glad I am not the only one

Steve From
The Power Gardeners Guide

Hardly the only one, Steve: More like one of many, apparently!

Dave March 2, 2008, 7:34 pm

Most of my container experience is on the veggie side so I’ll just watch the foray from the sidelines! Should be fun to watch. 🙂

Hey, Dave! I’d be interested in learning more about your container veggies, if you feel like writing about them. I got Ed Smith’s Incredible Vegetables from Containers book last year, and it inspired me to try some edibles in the pots and windowboxes I wasn’t using for ornamentals. I had pretty good luck with potatoes, beans, and lettuce, so I just might attempt some different container crops this year. It would be interesting to hear about your experiences.

Sylvia March 3, 2008, 10:34 am

Containers are very popular here in the UK but we don’t have the very cold winters or the very hot summers which must makes a difference. I live in the south not far from the sea, so our winters are mild. At present I have some containers with pansies, which have flowered all winter, and lots of bulbs. The crocus and daffodils are flowering now with tulips coming up. I also use primroses and polyanthus in pots with ivy or other evergreens.

Tips for winter containers: choice frost proof pots and water in very dry spells. But with only mild frosts and usually wet winters watering in winter isn’t a problem for me. One tip with pansies, is to get them started early enough so they are flowering before the first cold weather. If the plants are too small at this stage they will not flower in mild spells during the winter and start flowering in March/April.

Summer pots are harder to keep going but lots of water is the key. I add water retaining gel into the compost at planting. I also make sure the compost is below the rim of the pot – this allows me to fill it up with water. It is worth using water from a water butt as it is at garden temperature, cold water from the tap can be a shock to warm plants.

Good drainage is important and polystyrene is very good, especially in deep pots, reduced the amount of compost needed and is light. I move my pots around a lot. If I am putting taller plants in then I put bricks in the bottom to help stop the wind blowing them over.

Besides regular watering – sometimes morning and evening – regular feeding is also required. As I am very bad at forgetting to feed, I use slow release fertiliser in the compost at planting or add these after the first four to six weeks.

Containers are a lot of work but great fun! I enjoy the variety, the choice of plants twice a year. I use a selection of bought plants, plants I have over-wintered and plants I grown from seed, last year I grew some vegetables in pots for the first time. I like the evening watering, it is a quiet time to unwind after a days work which I miss in the winter.

What am I going to put in my pots this summer? Well some more vegetables especially salad leaves. For ornamental pots I rather like some of Nan’s dark and light combinations from last months design workshop especially the ones using annual plants with the addition of some bright flowers. Perhaps some Purple fountain grass ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ sweet potato and ‘Profusion Orange’ zinnias!! I am looking forward to the beginning of May when I can plant the summer pots up.

I’m so glad you posted this, Sylvia! You have some great tips here. I think we need to convince you to start a blog of your own, so we can see pictures of how your containers turn out!

Dale Self March 3, 2008, 12:42 pm

RE: Container Gardening Eco Friendly. I combine Eco friendly and container gardening by recycling those Plastic Coolers you see heading out to the Landfill. 48 Quart or bigger cooler, drill drainage holes and you have an excellent large container for flowers or Veges, The insulated walls help summer or winter conserving moisture and keeping temp comstant, and here in Louisiana summer heat means being able to move plants to Semi-shade position saves peppers from heat stress. My Peppers die back from frost but reemerge in march for another season producing early crops thru December. Dale

That’s a neat idea, Dale! I guess garage sales would be a good place to find old coolers too. And it wouldn’t be hard to dress them up with some kind of cover, if desired. Thanks for the tip.

Frances March 3, 2008, 2:50 pm

Nan, would it be allright if I reposted the Trough story, maybe update it a little?

Frances at Faire Garden

Sure, Frances: Either update or give us a link to the existing post!

Frances March 3, 2008, 4:28 pm

Thanks, Nan. Here is the link to the trough post . I will write another container story also, after looking at this older post, there are some other containers that have a story to tell as well.

I knew you’d come through for us, Frances! Thanks for the link, and we’ll look forward to the new stories.

Frances March 5, 2008, 8:55 am

I seem to be leaving way too many comments here, but our post is up, Containers-Part One.

What a fun gallery of containers, Frances! Here’s a direct link to your post.

Shirl March 5, 2008, 6:57 pm

Hi there, Nan 🙂

Sorry. I am yet another that just doesn’t ‘do’ containers. Too much bother and attention needed so I pass on that one. Nobody has mentioned hanging baskets – I am useless at them too! However, I did plant one with a sedum, a grass and a ‘silver’ evergreen that you can see below. I did enjoy seeing that and it survived fine without much attention 😀 and

Ah… but this year I am considering clematis in a hanging basket! I could consider watering that 😀

Hi Shirl! Hanging baskets have always been a disaster for me, even worse than ground-level pots, but I look forward to seeing what you’ve done with yours. I’ve never thought of a clematis in a basket; that would be neat to see!

Frances March 7, 2008, 5:50 am

Hoping to learn from some of the bloggers that have success with containers, like Steve! My final post, Containers-Part two is up for viewing.
Frances at Faire Garden

Thanks, Frances: another fun and eclectic collection. Here’s a direct link!

Elly Phillips March 7, 2008, 6:18 pm

Hi Nan!

Inveterate plant collectors who want some tips on making their motley crew of containers look more integrated and intentional might want to check out our friend Ben’s post “A concatenation of containers” on Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Many thanks for the link, Elly. I remember your collection well!

kerri March 9, 2008, 4:22 pm

I read this with interest when you first posted, but didn’t have time to comment then. Now I get to read all the comments as well 🙂 Great subject! I see Tina has already very generously submitted my 2 recent container posts, but I’ll pop the links in here again if you don’t mind.
I totally agree that containers are a lot of work, and felt I didn’t give mine the attention they really deserved last summer because I had so many (too many)! Watering I managed, but dead heading & nipping didn’t get done often enough. I also felt their constant need for watering, feeding, etc. didn’t leave enough time for my gardens and yard.
My forays are mostly experimental, and like most of us, sometimes I’m happy with the result, but oftentimes not.
I have much to learn about container gardening and look forward to following this month’s topic.
I’ve been working on a post about windowboxes and hopefully will have that posted before the month is over.

Kerri, you may feel you have a lot to learn about container gardening, but you have a lot to teach as well. I don’t know how you have any time for in-ground gardening; your container collection looks like a full-time job in itself!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 20, 2008, 8:04 am

I’ve finally gotten my container post up, at
It’s more about the containers themselves than what’s in them.

Excellent, MMD – many thanks! I look forward to reading about your containers.

Jim March 20, 2008, 8:43 am

It’s WAY too early in the year for me to have my hanging baskets, planters & window boxes put together, but I’ve always got Garden Walk Buffalo photos to share. Please add this post to your list: Garden Walk Container Plantings.

That’s great, Jim; thanks for the link. And it’s never too early to start reminding everyone about the Garden Walk Buffalo event, right?

Heirloom Gardener March 26, 2008, 11:50 pm


I love container gardening and hope my post can encourage others. It is about (i) planting anything and everything in containers, (ii) the importance of your potting soil, and (iii) the ongoing year-round maintenance:

Thank you again for hosting. I learn so much from each monthly workshop.

-Heirloom Gardener

Thanks for sharing your own container tips, HG, and for participating in the workshops every month!

Pam/Digging March 27, 2008, 9:40 am

Nan, my container post is up. As you might have guessed, it involves cattle troughs. Love that galvanized metal!

You bet, Pam – they look superb in your garden. Thanks for letting us know about your post!

kerri March 27, 2008, 12:25 pm

My window box and basket post is up, Nan. Window Boxes and Hanging Baskets
Looking at all that color from last year made me long for the warmer weather even more!
I suppose you probably have the same arctic wind down there as we do. Something’s gotta give! On a happier note: my snowdrops finally bloomed yesterday…shorter than usual, but they sure are a welcome sight 🙂

We’ve been luckier (milder) than you weather-wise, but it’s still somewhat dismal here today, so seeing your color-full containers was a real treat. When the snowdrops start, you know spring’s really here!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens March 30, 2008, 8:44 pm

I’ve added my post on containers:

It is mostly a plea for help!

Heather's Garden March 31, 2008, 12:20 pm

Pretty much my entire garden is in containers because we live in a rental and our soil is 95% tree roots. But a few of my favorite posts on containers last year were:

I am in no way an expert though since this was my first garden ever. I’m looking forward to getting outside and seeing which herbs, if any, overwintered successfully in the containers.

Thanks so much for the links, Heather. I had found your herbs post but not the other two. I hope your herbs overwintered successfully. But if not, then you can buy more!

Kim Ewalt April 1, 2008, 2:02 pm

I have all of my plants in containers save a few (we are renting and I don’t want to give any of them up when we move). I have never had much luck combining different plants into one pot, so instead I group pots together in areas on my porch for the same kind of affect (not as pretty as some of the ones I see here). It makes it tons easier since then if I lose one plant I can just replant in that pot instead of disturbing the plants around the dead one. Plus (since I am ADD) I can rearrange them whenever I get bored or want a different look 🙂

Hi there, Kim. You’re right: Individually potted plants do provide a lot of design flexibility!

Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening August 10, 2008, 5:13 pm

It’s never too late, right? I just wrote about my container plantings for 2008.

Nope, not too late! I appreciate you leaving the link here: I saw your post and was thinking it would be a perfect addition to this one. Thanks!

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