Planter ideas for creative container arrangements

Planter ideas: Inspiring design tips for growing gorgeous garden containers

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I am always on the lookout for creative planter ideas. I find them on walks around my neighbourhood, on garden tours, at botanical gardens, even at some of my local nurseries. Besides the endless array of foliage and bloom choices, the containers themselves can also play into the look—or fade into the background, letting the plants get all the attention. It all depends on the look you’re going for. Either way, I look forward to putting together my own planters each spring.

In my containers, I love to have at least one standout bloom. It might be a flowing plant that will cascade over the sides of the pot, like a calibrachoa or supertunia (in a vibrant hue), a showstopper, like a dahlia, or a petunia with a really interesting face.

Don’t underestimate the power of foliage. Coleus, heucheras, and Rex begonias are all favorites, depending on whether my space gets sun or shade. I also tuck edibles into a lot of my containers. Lemongrass often stands in for a spike or ornamental grass. A variety of basil plants, like the variegated pesto perpetuo, add really nice foliage. And different flavours of sage, creeping rosemary, and parsley provide interesting textures.

Before we get to the inspiration, here are some tips for planting up a container

  • Choose good-quality potting soil. Here are some DIY recipes for different potting mixes.
  • The thrillers, fillers, and spillers rule works pretty well, especially if you’re new to container design.
  • When choosing plants, make sure they’re suited to the conditions they’ll be displayed in—sun vs. shade.
  • Don’t be afraid to pack in the plants, but be sure they still have some room to grow.
  • Read the plant tags carefully, so you know what type of care the plant requires throughout the season, as well as how tall and wide it will get.
  • Make sure when you’re planting you fill in any air pockets with extra soil.
  • Be sure your pots have drainage.
  • Don’t forget to water regularly, especially during those long, hot days of summer. Pots can dry out quickly. Sometimes you may need to check on plants twice a day.
  • Fertilize every few weeks, according to the package’s directions.
  • Trim back scraggly plants, so they’ll grow back lush and full.
  • Deadhead, when required. (This is why I love calibrachoas—they are self cleaning!)

Now for the fun part. I’ve gathered a variety of ideas for both the plants you choose and the containers.

Selecting thrillers, fillers, and spillers

This container design rule works pretty well when you’re shopping for multiple plants that will be arranged in a container. Read the plant tags carefully so you know how the plant will grow throughout the season. Thrillers are that showstopper plant, spillers will trail over the edges of your pot, while fillers take care of any extra spaces, creating a lush and full arrangement.

planting spillers in a container

Good examples of spillers include creeping Jenny (shown here), sweet potato vine, creeping rosemary, and alyssum.

Supertunias make good thrillers, fillers, AND spillers.

Supertunias are a favourite in my container arrangements. They fill in beautifully, last well through the summer and fall, are self-cleaning (meaning no deadheading), and come in a variety of gorgeous hues.

Planting ornamental grasses in containers

It’s nice to include some height in an arrangement. This can be accomplished by planting ornamental grasses. I like to use lemongrass, because it’s another edible I can sneak into my gardens. Canna lilies are another favourite.

Choosing a colour palette for container arrangements

I don’t stick to one look every year. Sometimes one superstar plant will determine the colour palette for my container, other times I’ve chosen the same colour for all my planters.

A monochromatic container arrangement

I love the monochromatic palette used for this container arrangement, featuring ‘Ping Pong’ gomphrena, lamium, and Sunpatiens.

Vertical and hanging planter ideas

I like using every available bit of space for containers. That means including hanging baskets and vertical planters that you can attach to a wall or fence.

This hanging planter filled with hens and chicks is one of many planter ideas.

This little hanging planter that I got at the Chelsea Flower Show is perfect for hens and chicks, or an annual that’s going to spill out and over the sides.

Hang a shelf on your fence for pots

Get creative with a vertical gardening DIY—a shelf that hangs on your fence with holes for multiple flowerpots!

Get creative with your planter ideas

Use an old crate as a garden planter

Old crates can be stacked and packed with flowers.

For unique planter ideas consider using natural materials

My friends Marcel and Tamara filled a hollow log with a lavender plant.

I love diverting items from the landfill and using them as containers.

I love diverting items from the landfill and using them as containers. My favourite upcycled pot is a metal colander.

Planter ideas for shade

Finding annuals for shade can be tricky—that section of the nursery always seems to be smaller than the one for full sun. However, there are shade plants that make a big impact despite their darker destination. Rex begonias and hostess are favourites of mine. And I never considered putting hostess in a container until I saw them in a few gardens while enjoying Garden Walk Buffalo a few years ago.

Miniature hostas are great container choices for shady areas of the garden.

Miniature hostas are great container choices for shady areas of the garden.

Learn the power of potscaping

I’d never heard the word “potscaping” until I started working at Canadian Gardening back in the oughties. But I love how creative green thumbs will use a grouping to make an impact in a space.

an example of potscaping

Landscape using a variety of plants and containers. Potscaping can be done on a patio, balcony, or porch. It may look effortless in photos, but it takes some work to figure out the right arrangement.

Add pots to a garden, among the perennials.

Add pots to a garden, among the perennials. I love how portulaca has been planted in the holes of this strawberry pot.

Sneak some edibles into your ornamental containers

I love planting edibles in my ornamental gardens, whether they’re in pots or in the ground. Some container favourites include lemon thyme, chocolate mint, parsley (flat leaf and curly), creeping rosemary, lemongrass, and sage. There are some beautiful varieties of Swiss chard, like ‘Peppermint’ and ‘Rainbow’, as well as ornamental qualities in a variety of lettuces.

Experiment by adding edibles, like parsley, to your ornamental containers.

Experiment by adding edibles, like parsley, to your ornamental containers.

Choose unique foliage to add to container arrangements

There is some gorgeous foliage that can be added to planters. I love the seemingly infinite varieties of coleus, as well as Rex begonias, Polka dot plant, and hostas at the garden centre. Sometimes they can shine all on their own, or compliment the flowers you’ve chosen to include.

A great planter idea is to add vibrant foliage

Add vibrant foliage to your planters that will complement the blooms, or shine all on their own.

Don’t be afraid to add perennials to your containers

The breadth of choices increases exponentially if you throw perennials into the mix of planter ideas. I especially like to use heucheras because they come in so many yummy colours, from purple to caramel. When I change up the container for fall, I either leave it in or pop the plant into the garden somewhere.

Add perennials to container arrangements

Heucheras are a favourite for containers because they come in a variety of interesting shades, like this one in chartreuse.

Make a big impact with singles or doubles

There is definitely strength in numbers when you want to create a lush, packed container arrangement. But there’s something to be said for single plants that can make a big impact all on their own.

Use one big plant in a container to make a big impact.

One of my favourite gardens I’ve been to isn’t a traditional garden, it’s a restaurant’s outdoor space in California. I visited Jardines de San Juan when I went to the Spring Flower Trials with the National Garden Bureau back in 2017. I came away with so many ideas from their garden space, they could have made an article all on their own.

Planter ideas for a small container arrangement

Even on a small scale, a simple container arrangement can make a splash as a centrepiece on an outdoor patio table.

Find more container gardening information and planter ideas

planter ideas for big and small arrangements

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