New Ideas for Captivating Containers
Freshen up your flowerpot displays with interesting choices, decorative touches and unexpected plants.
By Teri Dunn, Gloucester, Massachusetts
We've all grown plants in containers—who hasn't? But when was the last time you planted a container, or saw one in someone else's yard, that really excited you? That's because many times, such displays are an afterthought. Usually, the gardening season is under way and we're impatient for some quick color or just trying to dress up a dull part of the patio.
This season, resolve to put containers first! Look past plain clay pots and petunias for something fresh and fun.
Here are some ideas to get you started!
A Practical Pot
One of the easiest ways to freshen up your containers is to consider the pot—not the plant—first. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what a difference this approach can make, both in how it looks in your yard and also the way containers and plants can come together to make something spectacular.
First, though, let's attend to the vital matter of making sure your plants will prosper. Make sure any container you choose has a drainage hole. If it doesn't, or you can't drill one into the base, you may get away with putting a layer of gravel or pot shards in the bottom to keep excess water from rotting plant roots. Just be sure not to overwater. Alternatively, you can put your plants in a slightly smaller plastic pot, then nest this inside a larger, decorative container.
If you're a busy person or just inconsistent with watering, consider one of those nifty "self-watering" pots, an external or internal watering reservoir, funnel or other monitoring gadget, or adding moisture-retaining beads to your soil mix. Find these helpful items at any well-stocked garden center or from mail-order gardening suppliers.
Also, be sure to choose a container that's large enough—the most common rookie mistake is putting in plants that outgrow their pots. Last but not least, always fill pots with lightweight potting soil, not heavy garden dirt.
A Little Something: Adding Décor
Just as a large garden benefits from decorative elements, so can a container display. The trick is to stay in proportion. That is, don't put a wee clay turtle into a pot of hostas, whose robust leaves will soon hide its charms from view. Nor should you insert a whirligig on a stick that rises too high above the plants.
The most effective decor is something that provides a finishing touch: a cute, decorative birdhouse with bright colors that match or enhance the pot or its contents, a miniature pink flamingo among some lush tropical leaves, or a flag or small banner whose colors and patterns don't compete with the container or plants. A fairy figurine perched on the edge of a pot of dainty flowers, or a cast-iron frog, snail or bird peeking out from under any leggy plant can be quite charming.
Natural objects also make good pot decor: glossy stones, a twiggy trellis, seashells, sea glass, driftwood, eggshells, interesting dried seedpods and pinecones. In any event, aim for ornaments or objects that are in keeping with their surroundings.
Because potted plants dry out more quickly than their in-ground counterparts—and watering as often as needed is easier said than done—it's a good idea to add a little mulch. A thin layer of something that allows water through yet retains soil-mix moisture is best.
If the mulch also looks nice, so much the better! Some informal-looking choices include moss, bark mulch, wood chips, acorns and colorful pebbles. For a fancier pot, to enhance more elegant-looking plants or to help a display fit into grander surroundings, try pebbles of gray, brown, or white; marbles (clear or colored); or flaky cocoa hulls (which smell wonderful).
Show Them Off!
Arranging potted displays is a big part of the fun. Plant needs must be attended to, of course. Sun lovers like to be in bright, open spots, while plants that prefer shade or pots that dry out quickly are better off with some shelter from sun and wind. Nor do you want your pots too far from a water source or from daily opportunities for both appreciation and maintenance.
Solo containers look best when the pot is larger and/or elevated. To keep the display looking good from all angles, rotate the pot or its support a quarter turn every day or so. If that's not possible, at least keep the plants well groomed, and tuck in fresh reinforcements as needed.
Grouping pots grabs attention, and also turns out to be practical. There's strength in numbers—local humidity stays a notch higher. Plus, you're more likely to maintain them all with equal diligence. Like-size or similar-material pots can be grouped. Or you may prefer to mix things up for a more dynamic display.
But most importantly, make sure your creative efforts get noticed. Put container displays in surroundings that are not too busy with other things (such as other plants or patio furniture). Give them a chance to stand out—set or elevate your containers at eye level, or at varying levels on chairs, stands or shelves. Shift things in and out of center stage, depending on the season, your mood or whether a plant is blooming at any given time.