When Joni Mitchell came out with the song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ in the late 1970s, she sang that “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot”. People all over the world were nodding their heads at the dire concern that trees would be removed, placed in museums, and the world would be covered with concrete. “We’re doomed!” “All is lost!” Goodness gracious, these folks needed to stop their belly-aching and talk to die-hard gardeners where they would find out that a world paved with concrete would not slow a plant lover down much at all. Since not everyone has the luxury of rich soil and open areas to landscape, utilizing garden pots has become a popular option from the balcony bound to those who just don’t want to deal with their hard, packed clay soil.
Garden pots can be used to create an entire landscape design but most often the use of planters for flowers, herbs, and vegetables is more supplementary. Container plantings can be used to define an outdoor sitting area in your yard. Restaurants can use large flower pots to divide a porch or patio from the sidewalk. Rectangular planters are a good choice for creating a distinct border. Make sure to use large planters higher than 18-20 inches, otherwise, you risk having a border that then can become a tripping hazard to the easily distracted.
Container gardeners can also be used as a privacy shield. If you like to entertain on your balcony but don’t want everyone walking past to have a clear view of the great party you’re having, use pots made to be placed securely on your railings planted with tall Angelonia or Coleus and cascades of petunia or mandavilla to obscure the line of sight. Planters filled with evergreens, a Japanese maple, or lemon trees that you bring indoors every year also serve as lovely screening on a porch or patio without being too obvious that you don’t want everyone seeing you drink your morning coffee.
Big empty walls along driveways or sidewalks can be an eyesore, but can be easily remedied with a cluster of tall planters pillowing with a ‘Kimberly Queen’ fern or upright Cordyline. Use big flower pots to hide air-conditioning units or electrical boxes. Bring garden pots indoors to soften up an empty corner and fill them with an easy-care house plant like Philodendron or a ZZ plant (zamioculcas zamiifolia – you can see why we call if the ZZ plant).
Large planter bowls are a creative way to bring interest and color into the blank spaces of the winter landscape. Rather than just plant a bed of pansies and kale for fall and winter, add a planter to bring height and structure into the design. In spring as you are choosing plants for pots, you can create a place for a non-hardy plant as a “permanent” part of your landscape. Let’s say you really want a large standard Bougainvillea which is only hardy to zone 9 as a part of your landscape design, but know that this involves purchasing a new one every year because you live in zone 5. Place a large flower pot where you want the tree to be located but plant up your Bougainvillea in something like our Emma pots that can easily fit inside your decorative flower pot. Enjoy your container throughout the spring, summer, and early fall, then bring the inserted pot with your Bougainvillea indoors for the winter. Fill the empty container that you left outdoors with another plastic pot filled with pansies or maybe a live dwarf alberta spruce that you could decorate for the holidays, or fill it with decorative cut branches of winterberry, red-twig dogwood, magnolia, hollies, or junipers.
When you are looking at plant material options, you can incorporate herb and vegetables into your landscape by placing pots on the empty spots in your yard and filling them with bronze fennel, red okra, tomatoes, blueberry bushes, strawberries, or just about any other produce you want to try. Plant a young slow-growing tree or shrub in a planter so it doesn’t get missed in the landscape. And consider repeating identical planted pots to guide the eye down a pathway, or to create structural diversity in monoculture plantings. Use containers to introduce plants into your landscape that would not naturally co-exist with the surrounding plants such as creating a water garden in the middle of drought loving sedums and evergreens.
Sometimes garden pots are an afterthought and are used to spruce up lackluster gardens for a special event. However, when you incorporate pots into your garden design, you open up an opportunity to create subtle changes throughout the year to a static landscape. Even for those renting a home or apartment, container plantings can help make a temporary location feel more personalized and provides the opportunity to begin collecting those unique or memorable plants. Don’t be afraid to turn around what’s been paved and put up a planter paradise.