July 12, 2014


These lilies reminded me that sometimes, we forget that bulbs can do well in pots - particularly lilies (um...Easter lilies grow in pots, right?) which inspired me to write a pot about some container ideas. It was surprisingly easy to come up with 25 - maybe I should have done 50 ideas?

Last weekend, I spotted this black plastic rain barrel at Home Depot - so for $19.99 I had an instant pond. With a little duck weed and water hyacinth, the feature provided me with some dimension and reflection where before, just a few pots sat in a rather boring arrangement. Now, I added more containers around the tub and suddenly, I have a new garden where the magnolia tree once stood.

1. Use upside-down clay pots to elevate potted plants when you display pots in a group - plants just look better when you create height in a container garden. 2. Add a water feature – even if it is a small one. A large bowl or even better, a tub of water amongst your containers will add reflection and interest ( try adding some aquatic plants to it too!). 3. Paint your stakes using a dip method or with stripes created with masking tape. A bright, coral and light blue colored tip might help you avoid poking your eye while weeding. 4. Here is a care-tip that even I sometimes fail with -water each container well - then water them again - Don't believe me? Water well, and then gently remove the pot and see how far down you actually soaked the rootball…..I go at least 3 times, then check for dryness by removing rootball – you’d be surprised how long you have to water a potted plant before the water soaks all the way through.

Read on for more:

A few tips are demonstrated here - houseplants, tropicals, succulents, vegetables and bulbs in containers with the pot of Eucomis or Pineapple lily. Mix it up and see what happens!

5. Ordinary houseplants when used outside are refreshingly different - like when you sit in a cushy upholstered sofa on a shady lawn at an antiques show, when moved outdoors, things change with our perspective. Try placing houseplants amongst your potted annuals, (don't forget to acclimate them first!) and the same goes for perennials - a pot of blooming delphinium fresh from the nursery can be set in a container for a few weeks for display purposes, until you have time to plant them out in the border.

Containers are very forgiving with what one plants in them, so don't always feel as if you must keep succulents away from tropicals, and annuals away from succulents. I love to combine shrubs, with perennials, bulbs with succulents, and tropicals with vegetables. You never know when  combination is going to look awesome.

6. Set pots of tropical s in your perennial beds to fill temporary gaps - a tub of Phormium or New Zealand Flax can really elevate a tired bed of peonies and iris, once they've done their duty. 7. Plant some containers with herbs to keep near your kitchen door to actually pick  - I mean, right next to it– great for stormy days when taking a trip to the raised bed only means mud, and wet hair. 8. Try dwarf vegetables in containers like dwarf squash and cucumbers – they are fantastic, and sometimes produce as much, if not more than standard varieties. 9. Mix-it-up with insane color combinations with all sorts of plants, my current favorite – steel, grey and silver with black. 10. Grow trees in containers, especially Japanese maples and black pines, they can last years on your deck without protection.

Summer bulbs in pots provide instant and portable color, and few do as nicely as true lilies. These are just some bulbs that I bought on sale at our local garden center - they were marked down because the stems were already emerging a bit too early, so I bought all of them, and potted them up. After they bloom, I will plant them out into the garden.

11. Add twinkle lights to potted shrubs and trees in the summer – why wait until the Holidays when you can’t sit outside at night? 12. Pot up summer bulbs for portable wow – try gladiolus, lilies and Pineapple Lilies for something different. Go more botanical and pot up Sparaxis corms or rain lilies. 13. Pots are transportable, so feel free to rearrange containers frequently, why not? They are portable for a reason.
I use tiered structures made with concrete blocks and boards, where I can display collections of like-plants. Here, fuschia's being trained as standards, along with pelargoniums. Elsewhere, I display begonias.

14. Display plants as if you are at Chelsea - display a collection on a set of fake set of stairs using concrete blocks and boards –  Boom! Instant display. I display about 20 pots of standard fuchsia’s this way, or a collection of begonias, and I have a friend who displays his agave collection this way. 15. Add portable solar lighting to each pot – the same sort used for walks. Shove one  in each plant, and let them shine.

Can't afford garden sculpture? Useful items can be artistic and interesting too, like this kettle bell, which serves two purposes - it reminds me that I need to work out on summer mornings, and it looks pretty cool with all of my steel and galvanized containers and grey plants.

16. Pots don’t need to be clay or plastic, be creative, try planting in odd and surprising containers - plastic canvas shopping bags, felt stitched bags or even giant, oversized tin cans from when you made that purchase of tomatoes at the big box store. 17. Feed, feed feed. Potted plants need lots of fertilizer in the summer, it’s hard to over-feed them, so don’t be afraid to add a time-released fertilizer to a pot – pass on the organic fertilizer as it requires many months in which to release, and winter will be here before you know it! 18. Take this display tip from professional designers and run with it. Repeat a pattern – white pot with lime coleus, black pot with red coleus, repeat, and repeat again. Symetry, geometry, texture - act like a designer. 19. Plant a lawn in a pot. Boutique hotels know style, why not steal a style tip from them – get an epic-sized contemporary container, ( like a 5 foot tall solar-lit one) and plant grass in it. Lawn grass – just trim it weekly, or plant quick growing oat or wheat grass seed sown thickly, for that fancy, manscaped Hollywood look – just trim it with scissors as needed. 20. Can't afford garden art? Add Sculpture that expresses you. If you’re a dude, try adding garden sculpture that fits your attitude - a vintage toy like a 1960’s Tonka pick up truck, or a pair of hip Kettle Bells among your succulents – you don’t need to hide your gear!

I have so many containers that I now have four areas were I group them together, which allows me to be flexible. If I don't like a grouping by mid summer, I can move everything around and rearange displays until it all looks right. With a greenhouse, it does make things a bit easier, as most plants are moved back in for the winter, and thus, become larger and more stately each year.

21. Plant a themed container, your inspiration can come from anywhere – like a cocktail (mohito or bloody mary  pot?) or your fav. Restaurant ( a Chipoltle windowbox with peppers, cilantro and black beans). 22. Flower Farm in a container. Flower farms are all the rage, but if you don’t happen to have a farm handy, why not plant a flower farm in containers? Try easy and fast annuals like cosmos and zinnias, or plant a box of bulbs just for cutting, like gladiolus. 23. Plant it and they will come. Have a big pot but don’t know what to plant? Try corn – Corn makes a spectacular statement, and when grown in a tomato box, one can even get ears to eat from 6 square feet!~ Google it and see. 24. Cant decide on a theme? Use a movie. groupings can really work well, try a movie theme  like ‘Under the Tuscan Sun, with a potted Olive tree, pots of lavender, rosemary and French Thyme. Or plant a vintage beer crate with a hops plant for your beau – just be sure to add lots of colorful mountain climbing rope for it to climb on – as long as 40 feet up the side of a house! 25. Vines in containers – with so many trellises and wire forms now available, there is no reason why one cannot plant morning glories, climbing nasturtiums, cardinal vine, or most any other creeper which can cover a wire form in just a month or two – just don’t be afraid to keep your morning gloried tidy with  a bi-weekly trim to keep them from taking over the family pets and children – no worries, it won’t hurt them!

My friend Jess uses a few of this tips with her Rhode Island garden. Her favorite? Arranging pots at different levels.


  1. Matt, your tips are priceless! Great ideas and helpful pictures. Thank you!
    P.S. I never thanked you for your post about the Sissinghurst book. I visited Sissinghurst in May and took 500 pictures, most of them published in my 8 posts(for ex., http://tanyasgarden.blogspot.com/2014/05/visit-to-sissinghurst-part-2.html). With such fresh memories about the garden, I read your review with great interest and included the book in my reading list. Thank you!

  2. Yes, bulbs can do well in containers, I like to be reminded of that. Gorgeous lilies. What do you do with the bulbs after bloom?

  3. This is a wonderful list! I'm going to share this on Twitter + Pinterest.. I have several blog followers that are always looking for small space gardening tips. Your tips are so helpful, thank you!

    PS - After looking at your 'about' page, I was surprised to find you're from Worcester! Hello from a fellow MA plant-loving resident.


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