The All-Container Garden

How to create a lush backyard without putting a single plant in the ground

Johanna Silver
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Plan B

It started as Plan B: Annette Gutierrez and her husband wanted to create a great room in their Hollywood home but didn’t have the budget for a remodel. “So we thought, Let’s just do it outside!” says Gutierrez. To transform the 3,000-square-foot yard, she created a series of outdoor rooms landscaped almost entirely with potted plants.

Gutierrez may be professionally biased toward containers: She’s the co-owner, with Mary Gray, of Potted, a garden-design shop in L.A.’s Atwater Village. But a potted garden also suits her space. Her three dogs can’t dig into containers as they would with beds. She also likes the color and sculptural look the vessels add: “The plants are accentuated by the pot they’re in rather than just being massed together in the ground.”

Another upside to the garden is that it continuously feeds Gutierrez’s love of design.

“I get to redecorate over and over,” she says. “I just move my pots around a little and I have a whole new yard.”

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Design nooks

A bougainvillea and citrus tree—two of only a few plants in the ground in Gutierrez’s yard—weren’t enough to cover her fence, so she filled in the understory with potted plants, arranging them from short to tall to enclose the space around her chair.

The plants:

Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ (in orange pot), aeonium (in chartreuse pot), Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ (in low blue-green pot), Agave attenuata and aeonium (in tall green pot), and sword fern (far right).

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Create a tableau

Gutierrez uses a weathered wood sideboard to display a selection of potted plants, such as ‘Sunburst’ aeonium with sedum (in red pot) and a tiny succulent landscape in a low bowl. She also takes advantage of the stairs, lining them with plants.

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Top-dress with plants

A container of false aralia is underplanted with a living mulch of echeveria, sempervivum, and senecio. Of course, living mulch grows. “Don’t worry –just pull some out to make more room for others,” Gutierrez says.

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Hang a green chandelier

Above a coffee table, Gutierrez dangled three echeveria from a wooden arbor at various heights. “Staggering things is a great way to create texture,” she says. Orbit planters, $89 each; Geo pot (on table), $135; in store only; pottedstore.com.

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Stunning succulents

Most succulents are better suited to the coast than the desert, and when grown inland, they prefer partial shade to full sun. Echeveria ‘Lola’ is shown here.