Container Planting
Ornamental pots with campanula and petunias in a simple but elegant combination

In the midst of winter, it can be daunting to take on a large-scale landscape project.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t make transformative changes to your outdoor living space during this time!  If you need to create a point of interest, a cooling sense of lush foliage or a splash of color on your patio or in your garden, container plantings are a perfect solution.  The subject of containers is discussed in every garden magazine, with many spectacular examples out there, but we like to think we have a few of our own insights to share!  Here we share some concepts and combinations for elegant containers that are sure to enliven your outdoor living.

“Thrill, Fill, Spill?”

If you read garden theory, you know what we’re talking about, if not you may think we are crazy!  But hang on… This catchy idea, first introduced by Better Homes and Gardens in 2010, has surely been used by designers for centuries, though perhaps without the catch-phrase. But what does it mean?

In our interpretation, this cute phrase refers to the idea that there are three points of interest in a dynamic container planting- a tall element, a central body, and a low element.  Interestingly enough, once you start looking, this type of 3-part composition is used in many designed things, from paintings to floral arrangements.  There is clearly something behind it!

Ikebana lines

Ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging, uses a 3-part composition very similar to this concept!

Elements placed in a vase at these three points are naturally in balance.

heuchera, black mondo grass and variegated ajuga in a layered planting composition

The ‘Thrill, Fill, Spill” technique is used in this simple planting. Having these elements in balance is crucial.  Too tall, and the design becomes awkward.  Lacking body, it feels empty and sparse.  Too thin of a ‘spiller’ and the entire arrangement looks unhealthy!  Of course it’s not always necessary to follow this formula, but it does seem to have quite the effect.  Try it out and see what you think.

If The Pot Fits
J. Montgomery Studio door with planted container and fern in antique metal milk jug

In container planting, the vessel you choose can make all the difference.  Containers should always match your personal style.  If you have an eclectic style, you can think outside the box!  Antique stores have endless options for things that make elegant containers for planting… here at the J. Montgomery Designs Studio, we use found objects like this Corten steel planter (shown above) as vessels for succulents, ferns, and flowers.  If something doesn’t have a drainage hole, you can create one or use the container as a Cache-pot (French, pronounced cash-poe), by placing a draining pot inside of it.

Why It Needs to Drain

terra cotta pots in different style, one showing a drainage hole

Almost every plant requires or at least benefits from a container that drains.  There are a few reasons for this.  Believe it or not, waterlogged plants may be unable to breathe correctly (in other words drown), and may be at higher risk for disease.  Water that runs through organic material (like soil) can harbor bacteria, algae or fungi that will harm the plant if they proliferate in high numbers.  When you provide drainage, you allow the soil to maintain a natural balance and prevent dreaded root rot.  If you have a draining pot inside a Cache-pot, you may occasionally need to remove the pot and drain the water that collects.

Grouping Containers

One of our favorite techniques to enliven a patio corner is a container grouping.  A well-chosen and thoughtfully planted collection of pots can feel like a miniature garden vignette!  Varying sizes and levels can give the collection interest, while cohesive planting (continuing colors or themes) between containers can make them read as a unit.

shade container plantings with light pink flowers and lush ferns

This sweet grouping also creates interest around the backyard and highlights the afternoon rays of sun.

Color-Coordinated Containers

Just as in fashion, color coordination can make for container plantings that wow.  Infinite possibilities surround the world of color in planting… here we offer just a few combinations that we have been really pleased with.  We try to keep it exciting and unusual!  Try them out or borrow a plant idea or two for your own inspiration.

container planting in pink, rust-red and burgundy summer colors for sun
Shade plantings in terra cotta pots include lime heuchera, blue dianella, and carex grass
Shade plantings in terra cotta pots include lime heuchera, blue dianella, and carex grass

We hope these ideas help you spice up your outdoor living space!  If you are looking to tackle the entire yard or redesign to accommodate for your dream space, please reach out to the design team directly.