Selecting Containers

The second book in the Garden Home Series is P. Allen Smith’s Container Gardens.  It is a collection of 60 seasonal container garden recipes and container gardening how tos.

Here is an excerpt from the book that is about selecting the right style container for your setting.

The real fun in selecting container recipes for your home starts with imagining where they will add the most beauty and style to your garden. Think of the containers as you would pieces of furniture or accessories inside your home. In some cases, they are the center of attention; the first thing you notice when you walk in a room.  Or, they can work quietly to blend and harmonize with other elements of a room’s décor. In that same way, you can place containers to play either starring or supporting roles in developing the look of your garden. 

  1. Before you head out to the garden center take a few minutes to decide where the container will be placed and whether it should stand out as its own accent or blend in with the plants.
  2. Additional factors to consider are how much you want to spend, if the container needs to be frost-proof, the ease or difficulty in moving it and the size it should be.
  3. When deciding on the look of a container, take the lead from your house. Select complementary materials, colors, and sizes that blend with your home’s style. If your house style is formal, planting several classic terra cotta pots with tall Italian cypress and flowers could be a good harmonizing choice. For a more casual setting, wooden planter boxes filled with lavender would be a good pairing.
  4. The shape of a container can suggest a certain style.  Urns are formal, basket-weave planters are cottagey and angular, footed  planters are more contemporary.  When in doubt about the best shape for your setting you can’t go wrong with a classic terra cotta pot.
  5. A successful design calls for a container to be proportional to its setting.  Don’t make the common mistake of selecting a pot that is too small in scale for its surroundings.  Take measurements and bring your measuring tape to the garden center. 
  6. Your color selections can make the container blend in its surroundings or create strong attention-getting accents.  For instance, the weathered patina of a classic terra cotta pot can either blend quietly into the fabric of the garden, or it can be painted a bright color to stand out.

To offer you some new ideas on how to incorporate containers in fun and compelling ways, I’ve listed the 12 principles of design outlined in my first book, P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home.  These basic elements are the guides that I always use to fashion gardens for my clients. The principles are repeated here to offer examples of how those same elements can be expressed in your garden design using planted containers. Review the list and imagine how you might incorporate these elements to enhance your garden.  You can also refer to the principle of design listed with each container recipe in the book and the suggestions I offer for how to place the container in the landscape.

Blue Glazed Container Garden White Concrete Container Garden Boxwood in a Terra Cotta Container


Principle of Design
Enclosure – Grow vining plants on lattice anchored between two containers to create a sense of enclosure.

Shape and Form – Define a formal or informal garden style through the shape and form of plants used in containers.

Frame the View – Plant window boxes beneath windows to frame views inside and outside your home.

Entry – Place matching containers at the entrances of your home and garden to offer a splendid reception.

Focal Point – Create drama and instant attention with a well-placed, eye-catching container of striking plants.

Structure – Extend the style of your home’s architecture into the garden with complementary styled containers.

Color – Harmonize your home’s color scheme with coordinating containers and plants.

Texture, Pattern and Rhythm – Use carefully selected combinations of plants in containers to create distinctive textures and patterns. Multiple containers placed at regular intervals develop a sense of rhythm in a garden’s design.

Abundance – Develop a sense of abundance and generosity with containers full to overflowing in plants. Clusters of containers can add to that generous look.

Whimsy – Add fun and playfulness with quirky plants or a topiary in unusual containers.

Mystery – Build suspense and drama with large containers concealing bends in a path or areas of the garden.

Time – Match the era of your home’s style with plants and containers that mirror that time period.