53 cool container gardens
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.).
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).
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
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).
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.
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
- 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
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.
Dwarf kinds form loose mounds about 10 to 15 inches tall ― suitable for hanging baskets, patio containers, and low borders.
More: Our favorite nasturtiums
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.
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.
More: 12 small lavenders
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.
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
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.
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.
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: Get our plant ideas
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.
More: Fall color surprises
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.
Lightweight fiberglass-clay planters, 16 and 20 in. wide; from $69; www.smithandhawken.com or 800/981-9888.
More: Kale in containers
And you'll never have to drag around another hose.
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.
Design: Zeterre Landscape Architecture, Los Altos, CA; zeterre.com
Design: Molly Wood Garden Design, Costa Mesa, CA; mollywoodgardendesign.com
“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.
Left to right: Agave; Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’; E. tirucalli.
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).
Clockwise from top right: Gray-green echeveria; salmon-colored Kalanchoe orgyalis; variegated agave; and red-tipped Mangave ‘Bloodspot’.