Idea starters for creative container plantings

A container is filled with tropical plants including elephant ears.

The giant leaves of a Colocasia shelter arum lilies and other exotic plants.

I’m feeling the need to get creative with some fresh container planting ideas. This may have something to do with the fact that the weather right now is…(fill in your choice of expletive here). We’re already well into April but winter is continuing to be annoying, flinging snow, rain and hail all over southwestern Ontario. So I’m just going to take a deep dive into my photo archives and share some of my favourite container inspirations to try–should spring ever arrive.

Going to great heights

Most gardeners who’ve planted up a container or two are familiar with the popular formula of thriller + fillers + spillers. The thriller is supposed to be eye-catching but “in proportion to the container” according to a whole lot of gardening experts. Well, here are some terrific examples of how great it is to break that rule. The planting below left is particularly off the wall. Actually, the gardener planted Virginia creeper to grow on and up the wall. She/he must have to replant the vines into the containers every spring. But, since the plant grows so quickly, why not? The all-blue planting features a Solanum Blue standard (Solanum rantonnetii), a tropical that loves the heat. I predict we’ll be seeing more of this plant at garden centres in Canada.

Tropicals can add such dramatic height and movement, swaying in the slightest breeze.

Piling colours and textures up and up can help take the starch out of a formal container.

When rocks are the stars

Gravel makes great mulch in a container. But why stop there? These containers feature rocks as thrillers. The photos of round containers were taken at Keppel Croft Gardens in Big Bay, Ontario. The rectangular trough was shot at Wisley RBG in England.

Containers that didn’t start out as containers

Got an old stump that’s starting to rot or a bird bath you don’t want to keep filled with water? Recycle by adding some plants.

And then there are succulents
All the garden media trend predictors (yes, they are out there) continue to hail succulents as the hottest of hot plants. At the Toronto Botanical Gardens, rectangular metal containers raised on legs contained a towering variety of succulents and tropicals. During one of the TBG’s tours, I spotted this curious shell-and-giant-barnacle planting. My good friend Liz Duncan created the small succulent container seen held aloft on its black metal stand.

Getting artistic with containers

Both of these photos show containers used imaginatively in wooded settings but, man, what different ideas. The photo on the left was taken on a Toronto Botanical Gardens tour of private urban gardens in the Toronto area. The photo on the right is of an installation at the 2014 International Garden Festival at Reford Gardens, Quebec.

And putting containers to work

I discovered this gorgeous tree in Cedar Keys, Florida. It’s obviously much loved. It plays a role as a plant container, supporting a spectacular stag horn fern. And its owners are helping it out by supporting one long limb with a pole. And just in case a pedestrian isn’t paying attention, a container was placed at the base of the pole.

An old tree in Florida has one limb supported by a pole in a container.

I’m so excited about how much there is to explore this year that I’m doubling up my postings over the next while. This is the kick-off posting for a special series on original container recipes and backgrounders on high performance plants delivered every Wednesday from now through June. I hope you join me in discovering ways to grow boldly. So how are you going to get creative with your container plantings this year?

5 thoughts on “Idea starters for creative container plantings

  1. My choice of expletive isn’t too bad really, as it seems to be “blinkin weather!”
    One minute you can get stuff done, the next you can’t.


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