53 cool container gardens

Beautiful container plantings for your deck, entryway, or yard

Red and Green Potted Plants

Photo by Jennifer Martiné

Wine punch

Start with the plants, then pick a container that will extend the color theme. Here, a 16-inch-wide olive green pot makes the brighter foliage pop.

More: Wine punch container garden

Texture play

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Texture play

This mix of (counter-clockwise, from top left) Kangaroo paws, Echeveria ‘Afterglow’, Adenanthos cuneatus ‘Coral Drift’, and Sedum reflexum provides a daring blend of textures. Container: $40; Home Depot (homedepot.com for stores)

Cool hues

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Cool hues

A Chamaerops humilis palm (top left) and a ‘Frosted Curls’ carex (center) add texture to Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ (bottom left) and Goodenia affinis ‘Little Luna’ (bottom right). Container: $60; Pottery & Beyond (potsby.com) 

Fireworks

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Fireworks

Calandiva Goldengirl Yellow kalanchoe (bottom left) pops between ‘Silver Shadow’ astelia (right) and Euphorbia characias ‘Silver Swan’ (top left). Container: $40; Target (target.com for stores) 

Star power

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Star power

Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’ (center) takes center stage against ‘Silver Shadow’ astelia (top), ‘Black Adder’ phormium (right), and Plectranthus ‘Mike’s Fuzzy Wuzzy’ (left). Container: $60; Pottery & Beyond (potsby.com)

Succulent mini landscape

Photo by Aya Brackett

Succulent mini landscape

Plum-colored foliage is a rich accent against soft greens in these easy-care containers. Arrange taller plants in the center or back, trailers near the pot’s edges. For immediate effect, choose large plants and big pots (shown above left: 10 in. across, 14 in. tall; right: 16 by 18 in.). Start smaller for a less pricey combination. Design: Daniel Nolan, Flora Grubb Gardens (floragrubb.com)

Grow them: Pick pots with ample drain holes and use fast-draining potting soil. Set in full sun. Water well, then only when top several inches of soil are dry.

Container at left (clockwise, from bottom left corner of pot): Aloe humilis (6 in.); Phormium ‘Guardsman’ (5 gal.); Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ (5 gal.); Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (1 gal.); Echeveria pulvinata (4 in.); Aeonium leucoble­pharum (6 in.).

Container at right (clockwise, from bottom center of pot): Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (1 gal.); Sedum adolphii (4 in.); Coprosma ‘Evening Glow’ (1 gal.); Chondopetalum tectorum (1 gal.); Echeveria ‘Coral Glow’ (6 in.); Kalanchoe ‘Fantastic’ (6 in.); Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ (1 gal.).

Cocoa Potted Plants

Photo by Jennifer Martiné

Cocoa colors

Deep bronze, burgundy, and plum shades mimic the colors of autumn right on your porch.

More: Cocoa fall plant containers

Golden Potted Plants

Photo by Jennifer Martiné

Harvest gold hues

Orange-striped blades of grass, apricot-tinged leaves with purple undersides, and matching gold containers make for autumn-inspired pots.

More: Harvest gold fall containers

Splash of white

Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Planting ideas for garden pots

Splash of white

For a hint of spring on your patio, arrange several plants in a wide, low planter as you would in a garden bed ― layer by layer. Include pockets of green (grasses or ferns), bursts of color, and a soft carpet base (such as Irish moss).

In this garden pot: feverfew, ranunculus, licorice plant, Johnny-jump-up, blue star creeper, bacopa, and primula obconica

 

Davis-Thomsen

Norm Plate

Plant a pot of living color

Like a canvas waiting for paint, an empty garden planter can become anything you desire: a meditation in violet, a carnival of oranges and limes, or a quiet study of leaf shapes and textures.

Here, Seattle container designer Marsha Davis-Thomsen used Purple fountain grass, Zinnia 'Profusion Orange', Pelargonium 'Tango Violet',variegated English ivy (Hedera helix 'Gold Ripple'), Calibrachoa 'Liricashower Blue', and Acorus gramineus.

More: See the planting plan

Erchinger

Charles Mann

Colors that complement

Designer Kirstin Erchinger of Santa Fe is a horticulturalist with a floral-design background. She starts with a plant she falls in love with, then selects companions that flatter it, not compete with it.

She filled this 24-inch pot with Hibiscus 'Maple Sugar', Agastache 'Sunset', Nassella tenuissima, Lantana 'Landmark Flame', and Petunia 'Suncatcher Saphhire'.

 

Bartos

Steven Gunther

Maximum impact

Container designer Mark Bartos likes to create maximum impact with a minimum number of plants. "Because this container was so narrow, everythying in it had to be [visually] strong," he says.

The galvanaized metal container, 16 inches wide by 28 inches tall, is from Ikea (about $18). Bartos raised it on a stack of concrete pavers.

The plants: Adenanthos sericea, Sedum morganianum, rattail cactus (Aporocactus flagelliformis).

 

Entrance pots

Thomas J. Story

Big entrance

Designer Bartos created these planters to fit a ranch-style home with a bit of art deco thrown in.

They're simple and contemporary; they're large and have strong architectural shapes. Bartos prefers big pots ― 24-inch-diameter minimum. You need that scale to create drama.

Each pot contains Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Marjorie Channon', cotoneaster, red 'Dragon's Blood' sedum, and chartreuse juniper.

Modern hanging baskets

Thomas J. Story

Woolly pocket wall garden

Try a modern take on traditional hanging baskets with a wall of these Woolly Pockets. Since they're lined with moisture barriers, you don't have to worry about any leaking.

More:  How to make a hanging plant display

Easy pot of succulents

Thomas J. Story

Mini garden in a pot: 3 easy pieces

With copper-tipped Echeveria subrigada ‘Fire and Ice’ (center) playing off rich chocolate Aeonium arborescens ‘Tip Top’ (left) and cascading Sedum rupestre ‘Blue Spruce’ (right), this pot of sculptural succulents creates a dramatic focal point, yet takes just moments to pull together.

How to plant this succulent pot:

Buy the plants in 4-inch pots. Transplant them into a container, with drainage holes, that’s partially filled with potting mix. (The oval stone planter pictured is 7 inches wide, 14 inches long, and 6 inches deep.)

Care for these easily maintained container gardens by providing a sunny or partly sunny location and watering when the soil gets dry. They’ll fill in fast. — Julie Chai

Succulent frames

Photo by Thomas J. Story

Vertical container garden

Containers don't have to sit on the ground. Here, cuttings of assorted succulents knit together to create colorful, textural living tapestries for a garden or entry wall.

More: See how to make a vertical succulent garden

one pot garden

Thomas J. Story

One-pot vegetable garden

Not everyone has the room or time for a big edible garden. But even if you’re limited to a lone container, you can still enjoy a summer’s worth of homegrown produce for pasta, Gazpacho, and even garden-fresh Bloody Marys.

How to plant this one-pot vegetable garden

Potted bamboo

Marion Brenner

Potted bamboo and maples

Potted bamboos and maples dress the gravel-covered patio inspired by the architecture of Japan.

More: See this Sunset reader's Japanese-inspired garden

Small pots

Rob D. Brodman

Small pots

When speckled with blooms, Copia 'Gulliver's White' bacopa looks especially cheerful in 5-inch-wide, glossy green pots.

Beach garden in a pot

Rob D. Brodman

Beach garden in a pot

If you yearn for the beach but live miles inland, you can re-create the look easily in a pot.

You'll need:

  • a low, wide pot or bowl, approximately 14 inches in diameter
  • potting soil
  • 3 small, slow-growing plants in 4-inch nursery pots
  • horticultural-grade washed sand (a 1-qt. bag is enough for a 14-inch pot)
  • small pieces of driftwood or other found objects
More:  Get our step-by-step

Three plants potted in minimalist white containers

Photography by Jennifer Cheung

One-plant pots

Just one plant went into each of these white ceramic ‘Cylinder’ containers, from Gainey Ceramics.

A single plant with a bold, sculptural shape is easier on the eye than a mixed planting. And a white pot allows it to shine.

You don’t have to buy large, expensive specimens―smaller agaves, ferns, other other plants suitable to your area will work this way, too.

Country charmers

Country charmers

Nasturtiums are carefree creepers with a range of flower colors.

Dwarf kinds form loose mounds about 10 to 15 inches tall ― suitable for hanging baskets, patio containers, and low borders.

More: Our favorite nasturtiums

Shades of green

Thomas J. Story

Lime green container pot

Soft textures and bright chartreuse tones light up bronze-colored 17-inch-wide containers.

The plants:

Restio multiflorus: A wispy, grasslike plant that grows 3 to 4 feet tall or more, it develops brown seed heads that hang on through winter.

Libertia peregrinans: Stiff, narrow leaves have warm tones of olive and orange; plants reach 2 feet tall.

Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae: This spreading foot-tall plant has rounded grass green leaves.

Coleonema pulchellum 'Sunset Gold': Feathery green-gold foliage glows in soft autumn light. Plants reach 1½ feet tall.

 

3 pots

Thomas J. Story

Trio of textures

A cluster of pots gathers on center stage.

Left pot: Aeoniums flank a dwarf mugho pine, with Dianella tasmanica 'Variegata' and 'Silver Dragon' liriope behind.

Center pot: dwarf Alberta spruce and 'Burgundy Lace' ajuga.

Right pot: silvery Artemisia' Powis Castle', 'Moe's Gold' helichrysum, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Glacier'Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Golf Ball', and black mondo grass.

Compact lavenders

Thomas J. Story

Compact lavenders

Dwarf lavenders, which stay under 2 feet tall, are compact alternatives to the common varieties that can grow to 4 feet or taller. They're particularly suitable for small beds, border edgings, even containers.

More:  12 small lavenders

Silver falls in aqua pot

Rob D. Brodman

Cool pot

Freshen your landscape’s look practically instantly: Just combine crisp white blossoms with a shower of icy blue or silver foliage in a glazed aqua-colored container.

Here frosty blue Dichondra argentea 'Silver Falls' cascades over the lip of an aqua pot, while blue oat grass fans out between a pair of angelonias and conceals a mealycup sage directly behind it.

More:  See how to plant this container garden

Home-grown herb container garden

Thomas J. Story

Home-grown herb container garden

This two-tiered container garden holds a selection of basic herbs. Trailers and fillers ― chives, rosemary, and thyme ― tumble over the edges of the bottom pot (about 24 inches wide).

Dwarf purple and sweet basils grow in the top pot (about 16 inches wide) with thyme filling in around the edges. To keep potted herbs healthy fertilize and water them regularly.

More:  18 easy herb recipes

Industrial light fixture becomes chic pot

Thomas J. Story

Industrial light fixture becomes chic pot

Unwanted light fixtures (and other vessels) can become plant vessels with a contemporary edge.

Be sure your object can sit upright (flat bottom). Because there’s no drainage hole, we recommend using plants that don’t demand much water.

No such containers around your house? Try salvage yards for your own vessel to repurpose.

Wild about grasses

Brown Cannon III

Gardening with ornamental grasses: A sweet scent

Chasmanthium latifolium and Acorus gramineus  ‘Licorice’ get into a delicious tangle in an oval gray stone container.

When bruised the acorus’s leaves have a licorice scent.

More:  Wild about grasses

Concrete bowl

Thomas J. Story

Meadow in a bowl

Small-leafed plants share a 30-inch-wide concrete bowl.

Silvery Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue' fills the center while purple fountain grass hens and chickens a silver-leafed hebe and 'Teenie Genie' a slow-growing dwarf Syzygium (also sold as Eugenia) grow around it.

Veggies in pots

Thomas J. Story

Veggies in pots

Even if you don't have much sunny ground, you can still experience the pleasure of harvesting your own vine-ripened tomatoes and other crops.

All you need is a generous-size container, good potting soil, and a suitable spot ― a patio, deck, or corner that gets at least six hours of full sun a day.

More:  How to grow veggies in pots

Containers for all seasons

Thomas J. Story

Container for spring and summer

Sago palm anchors this composition in a 22- by 24-inch glazed urn. Below it are 'Orange Profusion' zinnias, yellow Pachystachys lutea, and trailing variegated vinca.

More:  Containers for all seasons

Choose unthirsty plants

Karyn R. Millet

Unthirsty plants

Dramatic, low-water Echeveria and New Zealand flax fill a pot in a drought-tolerant garden.

Urn as patio table – or container for a living bouquet

Thomas J. Story

Urn and succulents as patio table

Root succulents by putting them in an 18-inch-diameter urn filled to 6 ½ inches below the rim with potting soil, then center a 24-inch round of tempered glass ― sold as a tabletop ― on the rim. The mini-greenhouse doubles as a table for a lightly shaded patio.

More:  Unique ideas to use urns in the garden

Poolside planter

Rob D. Brodman

Poolside planter

A lush poolside planter almost glows with color, all from foliage.

Medium green Lysimachia nummularia and lime green L. n. 'Goldilocks' tumble down the sides of the 16-in. square pot, while Stipa arundinacea provides a soft backdrop for 'Rustic Orange' coleus and blue-green Euphorbia polychroma.

 

Halloween in a pot

Norm Plate

Halloween in a pot

Celebrate Halloween with orange and black plants. Combine black foliage with orange blooms in pots of similar hues like ebony and persimmon. Then add some gnarly twigs ― like the pod-laden phormium stalks shown ― from your garden or a craft or floral supply shop among the plants.

More:  Get our plant ideas

Touch of bronze

Thomas J. Story

Touch of bronze

Bronze and chartreuse foliage mingle in a 16-inch rose-blushed celadon pot.

The plants:

Pieris  'Forest Flame': Fiery red new leaves fade to pink, then turn dark green when mature. This shrub prefers part-shade and can reach 10 feet tall.

Dryopteris erythrosora: The hardy wood fern’s feathery new growth blends copper, pink, and gold tones that turn rust-colored in fall. It grows 2 feet tall.

'Little John' azalea: Bronzy leaves make this azalea, which can reach 6 feet tall, a choice focal point.

Fall color

Thomas J. Story

Fall color

For a modern look, plant your arrangements in glazed pots of deep burgundy, forest green, or pebble gray. You'll create a fresh autumnal mood without having to rake a single leaf.

More:  Fall color surprises

Rectangular container

Thomas J. Story

Mini landscape

Threadleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Seiryu') towers over red-leafed 'Little John' azalea, variegated ivy and abelia in a 2- by 4-foot rectangular black zinc container.

Group pots

Thomas J. Story

Group pots

These pots, of different sizes but the same color, contain plants in shades that echo the garden's overall scheme.

In the smallest pot, fiber optics plant mixes with heuchera, lamium, and cyclamen. In the one at left, nandina pops against lamium, cyclamen, and hellebore. The tallest pot holds fine-leafed rosemary, cordyline, cyclamen, and heuchera.

More:  Quick winter garden spruce-ups

Patio snow

Rob D. Brodman

Patio snow

Fluffy white azaleas and hydrangeas piled in containers resemble snowballs. Forced into flower for the holidays, both plants are sold at nurseries, garden centers, and grocery stores, usually in 6-inch containers (www.hanabayflowers.com for store locations).

Lightweight fiberglass-clay planters, 16 and 20 in. wide; from $69; www.smithandhawken.com or 800/981-9888.

More:  Garden gallery: White and silver plants

Kale in a container

Rob D. Brodman

Kale in a container

Because these showy cabbage relatives tolerate cold weather and can hold their brilliant color all the way into spring, they're ideal for growing in pots to display on porches, patios, or beside entryways. They grow 1 to 2 feet tall.

More:  Kale in containers

Container gardening basics

Video: How to plant a container

How to add color, dimension, and great-looking plants to your backyard using container gardening.

1-minute video:  How to plant a container

A single emitter

Thomas J. Story

Drip watering

A simple, automated drip-irrigation system, which applies water slowly and directly to roots, frees you from hand-watering and helps eliminate harmful fluctuations in soil moisture. Plants respond by growing full and lush.

And you'll never have to drag around another hose.

More:  Drip watering for containers

Carefree container

Photo by Jeffery Cross; written by Johanna Silver

Carefree container

Follow these simple steps to create your own self- watering (technical term: subirrigated) pot and come home to happy plants. A reservoir at the bottom allows more time between waterings, while an overflow hole prevents overwatering.

  • Start with a thin-walled, nonporous pot (at least 12 inches wide and 16 inches high) that has no drainage hole but will be easy to drill into—like the plastic ones shown here (Skörd planter, from $30; ikea.com). Drill a 1/4-inch- wide hole into its side, about 4 inches up from the bottom.
  • Take a smaller plastic pot— roughly 6 by 6 inches—and drill 1/4-inch-wide holes, a few inches apart, into the sides and bottom. Fill with potting soil, then center in the bottom of the large container. (If your large pot is wide, like the one shown above right, use two small pots.)
  • Cut a disc of sturdy plastic (we used the lid of an old storage bin) to fit securely in- side the large pot when sitting on top of the soil- filled one. Drill 1/4-inch holes, an inch apart, in the disc. Cut a 1-inch-wide hole near the disc’s edge, then place the disc on the pot, inside the large container.
  • Cut a length of 1-inch PVC pipe that’s slightly longer than the height of the large container. Cut the bottom of the pipe at an angle (so it won’t clog), and insert the pipe through the 1-inch hole in the disc. Push pipe as far into the big pot as it will go.
  • Set your plant on the plastic disc (next to the pipe). Fill in the space around it with potting soil, mixed with some controlled-release organic fertilizer, to 1 to 2 inches below the pot’s rim. (Don’t worry if some soil falls through to the reservoir below.)
  • Cover the top of the soil with plastic sheeting, cutting an X in it to let the plant through and tucking it down into the sides of the pot. Hide the plastic with a layer of rock or bark. Pour water down the pipe until it flows from the drainage hole. Refill as needed, likely once or twice a week.

“Tidepool”

“Tidepool”

Echeverias and other small succulents, planted in a blue bowl, look like underwater creatures.

Mood & attitude

Thomas J. Story

Mood & attitude

“This is the It Plant of the moment,” says San Francisco nursery owner Flora Grubb of the icy blue powder-covered Echeveria cante, pictured at bottom left. “I’ve never seen a plant as iridescent as this one.” Here, the succulent shimmers against moody dark foliage—‘Cheryl’s Shadow’ geranium and ‘Black Adder’ phormium, which add structure in back. The 16-inch-wide container is made of lightweight plastic.

Fireworks, contained

Thomas J. Story

Fireworks, contained

A variegated Aloe arborescens with subtle stripes appears to explode above Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ (provenwinners.com) in this 14-inch-high zinc container. “It’s the best sedum I’ve grown,” says Jarrod Baumann, who designed the planting. “It stays full and lush and doesn’t look ratty, even after it’s done blooming.”

Design: Zeterre Landscape Architecture, Los Altos, CA; zeterre.com

Tiny treasures

Thomas J. Story

Tiny treasures

Costa Mesa garden designer Molly Wood fills vintage metal chicken feeders with tiny succulents for a rustic centerpiece. Hen and chickens (Sempervivums), echeverias, and a dainty stonecrop grow in cactus mix in a 4 1/2-inch-deep trough. Find similar ones at flea markets or on mollywoodgardendesign.com or etsy.com.

Design: Molly Wood Garden Design, Costa Mesa, CA; mollywoodgardendesign.com

Bigger, Better

Thomas J. Story

Bigger, better

A potted succulent may be pretty on its own, but group it with bromeliads and cactus, and it has presence. Whether it’s on a porch or is part of a large yard, a vignette of containers “condenses beauty in a small space,” says Oakland landscape designer Joshua Stenzel. In his work, he often mixes quirky drought-tolerant plants from Australia and the Southwest. The results are dazzling compositions that need only the occasional watering.

“One thing I’ve learned with small-space designs is to skip the dainty little pots and go for big and bold,” says Stenzel. Make an impact by including one tall planting and repeating one strong color in either the foliage or the pots.

The plants

Left to right: Agave; Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’; E. tirucalli.

Bold texture

Thomas J. Story

Bold texture

“I almost always include something lacy, something hanging, and something architectural,” says Oakland landscape designer Joshua Stenzel. Then “throw in one thing that’s unexpected,” such as the Sempervivum succulents dripping out of a low pot here.

The plants

Upright Euphorbia tirucalli (back left); feathery Acacia iteaphylla (back right); Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea’ (left); strappy bromeliad (Vriesea philippo-coburgii, center); variegated ‘Cornelius’ agave (bottom right); cascading mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis, bottom left).

Color Coordinated

Thomas J. Story

Color coordinated

Start with a plant or pot you love and let it lead the rest of the design. For this quartet, akland landscape designer Joshua Stenzel first chose earthy ceramic pots, then selected plants in a complementary palette of coral and pale green.

The plants

Clockwise from top right: Gray-green echeveria; salmon-colored Kalanchoe orgyalis; variegated agave; and red-tipped Mangave ‘Bloodspot’.

Edible Topiary

Thomas J. Story

Edible topiary

A Greek basil grafted onto the sturdy rootstock of a shrubby wild basil, the Savour Greek basil tree has the pretty formality of a traditional topiary, but with spicy edible leaves and stems. Place a pair next to your front door or garden gate throughout summer and move them to a sunny window indoors when the weather cools. Water about once a week (let dry between waterings) and feed with a well-balanced organic fertilizer twice a month. As you harvest, just snip to keep the shape; the ideal width of the topiary is 6 to 8 inches. Look for the Savour Greek basil tree in nurseries in late spring, or go to savourtree.com for updates on availability.

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