Container Theme Gardens: 42 Combinations, Each Using 5 Perfectly Matched Plants

Container Theme Gardens: 42 Combinations, Each Using 5 Perfectly Matched Plants


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Simple and foolproof! Enjoy beautiful container plantings with no stress or fuss. Container Theme Gardens offers 42 plans for container arrangements, each using just five specific plants that you can find at your local garden center. There’s something here for every setting and every style, including a meadow in a box, a pond in a pot, a simple salad garden, and a combination that will attract hummingbirds. Each plan includes photographs of what the full planting will look like, as well as a handy shopping list so you know exactly what you need.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612123981
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 01/26/2016
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,108,387
Product dimensions: 8.00(w) x 9.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Nancy J. Ondra, author of Container Theme Gardens, is a garden writer and editor as well as the former owner and operator of a small rare-plant nursery. She is the author or co-author of a dozen gardening books, including Foliage (winner of the 2008 Book Award from the American Horticultural Society), The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer (winner of a 2006 Silver Award from the Garden Writers Association), Five-Plant Gardens, The Perennial Care Manual, Fallscaping, and Grasses. She currently gardens in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and blogs at

Rob Cardillo has been photographing gardens, plants, and the people who tend them for more than 20 years. Formerly the director of photography at Organic Gardening, he now works for major publishers, horticultural suppliers, and landscape designers throughout the United States. Visit him at

Read an Excerpt


Why Try Containers?

No matter what size yard you have — or even if you have no yard at all — containers give you the opportunity to be a gardening star. Working with five plants gives you plenty of options for interesting color combinations and a diversity of plant forms: something upright, something trailing, and a few in-betweens to nicely fill out the middle. That's enough to create an entire garden in one spot, with no need for digging, mulching, or even weeding; no huge budget for buying dozens or hundreds of plants to get a good show; no worries about getting stuck with design or planting mistakes for years to come. Just add water (and some fertilizer now and then), and you can enjoy beautiful blooms and lush, lovely leaves even if you swear you've got the blackest thumb in the neighborhood.

Containers appeal to a wide range of people because they serve a wide range of purposes. For many folks, they're an aesthetic indulgence. In the same way that artwork and knick-knacks give an interior room a finished look, well-chosen container plantings can serve as design accessories around the outside of your home: by your front door, on a deck or patio, or around a pool. Or they can serve a simpler function: to give you a spot of color to brighten your day as you head out the door in the morning or have a moment to sit down out back after dinner.

Well, color's great, but if that's all you're after, you could pop a bunch of silk flowers in a pot and not even need to water. So why container plantings? Living plants have so much more to offer than just color: for one thing, they change as they grow, marking the changing seasons and giving you a reason to keep watching them. They appeal to your other senses, too: you can enjoy sweet, flowery, or spicy scents; revel in the flavors of fresh-picked edibles; listen to rustling leaves and stems as they move in the breeze; and appreciate the soft touch of a fuzzy leaf or delicate petal on your skin. Living, growing plants also provide food and shelter for interesting creatures, such as songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and moths, bringing them right up into your outdoor living space for easy observation. If you spend a good part of your week cooped up in an office, on the road, or stuck in your house, the opportunity to interact with a little bit of nature for a few minutes a day is a gift you can give yourself without guilt.

If you're more interested in the practical side of gardening in containers, there are plenty of excellent reasons to consider here as well.

Nine Reasons to Try Containers

1. Provide ideal growing conditions. Containers make it much easier to supply the right conditions for the plants you want to grow. Simply tailor your watering routine to your plants and set your container in the right shady or sunny spot!

2. Supply privacy. Plants are super for providing screening around a pool, patio, or other sitting area, but borders and hedges need a good bit of ground space and take several years to fill out. With a collection of containers, you can block the view of ugly eyesores, screen out nosy neighbors, and give exposed outdoor living spaces a sense of enclosure within just a few weeks.

3. Start right away. If you're brand new to gardening, or if you've moved to a new place but have not yet had time to dig beds and borders, containers give you a place to play as soon as you like — no need to rush into landscape design decisions that may turn out to be a mistake later on.

4. Contain your experiments. Want to try out a new plant or try out a color combination you've never used before? Pots and planters let you give plants and partnerships a test run before you commit to planting them in your garden.

5. Control creepers. Some perennials, ornamental grasses, and ground covers are lovely to look at but scary-fast spreaders if you let them loose in your garden. When you plant them in containers — and keep them on a hard surface, so their creeping roots can't escape through the drainage holes — you can appreciate them without worry.

6. Save time and money. For around $50 (or up to several hundred dollars, if you want a really nice pot), you can buy five plants that will give you months of pleasure and a container that you can use for several years — and all that will take up only a few square feet of space.

7. Pamper tiny treasures. A garden filled with lush, leafy plants is pretty to look at, but it can be a tough place for small-scale gems, such as succulents, alpines, and dainty woodland wildflowers, to compete with bigger plants. Give these little guys a container, though, and they'll grow happily with no worries about them getting smothered by more vigorous companions.

8. Create instant impact. Need quick color for a backyard wedding, family reunion, or other special event? Fill a collection of containers with flowers and foliage to make your yard look amazing without the multi-year commitment of big in-ground gardens.

9. Make maintenance easy. Keep your containers close to an outdoor faucet and watering's hardly a chore. Containers are within easier reach for planting and grooming, too — ideal if you have limited mobility. Containers can also keep your plantings safe from rabbits, voles, and other small critters — possibly even deer, if you keep the pots close to your house.

Basics of Container Gardening

Rein it in. Once a week or so, pinch or snip off fading flowers, damaged leaves, and stems that are outgrowing their space. If one plant is crowding out the others, prune out some of the biggest leaves or most vigorous stems.

Pair like with like. Select plants with similar climate and site needs. Plants that need shade and those that demand lots of sun won't thrive together in the same planter. Succulents like this stonecrop, for example, prefer drier soil and full sun.

Choose the right size container. Small pots limit your plant choices, need more careful watering, and are more prone to getting knocked over. Larger pots are more expensive to fill, but they greatly expand your plant options. And because they hold more soil, they don't need to be watered as often.

Let the water flow. Make sure your container has drainage holes. If it doesn't, you'll need to create some; it's easy to make holes in plastic, resin, and wooden planters. If your container doesn't have feet, like this one does, you'll need to raise the base of the pot an inch or so above the saucer, deck, or paving in order to prevent the drainage holes from becoming blocked.

Five-Part Harmony of Color

If color is your primary interest when you're creating container combinations, playing with harmonies can be a fun way to focus your plant choices. This container is based on an "analogous" color scheme: in other words, colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, which goes from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo to violet, and back around to red. Pick one dominant color — red, in this case — then a secondary color from one side or the other. I could have chosen orange, but I went with purples instead for this pot. These simple sorts of harmonies are easy to make and guaranteed to please.

The 5-Plant Palette


Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra'

One 6-inch pot

ALTERNATES: Another 12- to 20-inch-tall, upright or spiky plant with rich red to near-black foliage, such as 'Eaton Canyon' fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), 'Black Pearl' pepper (Capsicum annuum), or 'Religious Radish' coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)


Cuphea llavea

One 4-inch pot

ALTERNATES: 'Flamenco Cha Cha' or 'Firefly' cuphea or another 8- to 12-inch-tall, bushy plant with red flowers, such as BABYLON RED verbena (Verbena 'Oxena'), 'Infinity Red' New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri), or SUPERTUNIA RED petunia (Petunia 'Ustuni223')


Heuchera 'Inheuredfu'

One 6-inch pot

ALTERNATES: 'Cajun Fire', 'Fire Alarm', or another heuchera with deep red to purple foliage, or another 6- to 10-inch-tall, bushy plant in that color range, such as bloodleaf (Iresine herbstii) or 'Wizard Velvet Red' coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)


Setcreasea pallida

One 4-inch pot

ALTERNATES: Another 6- to 10-inch-tall plant with deep purple foliage, such as BLACK SCALLOP ajuga (Ajuga reptans 'Binblasca'), ILLUSION MIDNIGHT LACE sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Ncornsp011mnlc'), or CHARMED WINE oxalis (Oxalis 'Jroxburwi')


Calibrachoa 'Kleca13257'

One 4-inch pot

ALTERNATES: MINIFAMOUS COMPACT DARK RED ('Kleca07145'),SUPERBELLS RED ('Uscali28'), or another calibrachoa with bright red flowers, or another 4- to 6-inch-tall, trailing plant in that color range, such as SURFINIA RED petunia (Petunia'Sunremi')

Five-Part Harmony of Color


SPRING. The primary color impact in spring comes from the container itself, along with the vivid red foliage of DOLCE CINNAMON CURLS heuchera and purely purple purple heart. You may also get a few flecks of early bloom on the 'Flamenco Samba' cuphea and MINIFAMOUS DOUBLE RED calibrachoa. Japanese blood grass tends to be a late riser, so it'll probably just be short green shoots at this time.

Get this container started once nighttime temperatures stay above 50°F/10°C (many of these plants are quite cold-tolerant, but the cuphea's growth may be stunted if it gets chilled). Once the plants are in place, water thoroughly to settle them into the potting soil.

EARLY TO MID SUMMER. As the weather warms up, so do the rich hues of this five-plant container. The purple-and-red blooms of 'Flamenco Samba' cuphea echo the leaves of both DOLCE CINNAMON CURLS heuchera and purple heart, as well as the dainty double flowers of MINIFAMOUS DOUBLE RED calibrachoa. The Japanese blood grass starts showing off now, too: mostly green, but beginning to blush red at the tips.

Water regularly to keep the potting soil evenly moist (but not soggy). Add a liquid fertilizer every 10 to 14 days as well, to encourage vigorous growth and lots of flowers. If necessary, clip off some of the older leaves of the heuchera to keep it from smothering the Japanese blood grass. The purple heart may produce pink flowers at the shoot tips, but they don't complement the others colors in this container, so trim them off.

MID TO LATE SUMMER. The harmony keeps humming through the summer months, with the various purples and reds all firing now to create a stunning display.

Continue with watering and fertilizing to support the lush growth and abundant blooms. Take a good look at the entire container every week or two and do whatever trimming is necessary to keep the plants in proportion to the container and to one another. Keep clipping off the flowers of the purple heart.

FALL. This profusion of reds and purples still looks lovely into autumn, with the Japanese blood grass reaching its best redness now to complement the colors of the other foliage and flowering plants.

Keep watering (but not fertilizing) as long as the plants are still growing and flowering. As the weather gets cold, the cuphea will bloom less and eventually get nipped by frost; once that happens, add the cuphea and calibrachoa to your compost pile. Pot up the purple heart and bring it indoors for the winter. The heuchera and Japanese blood grass are hardy in many areas (usually Zone 4 for the heuchera and Zone 5 or 6 for the grass), but they may have trouble settling in before winter from a mid-fall planting.

Bold Contrast

Strong contrasts are guaranteed attention-grabbers, making them a terrific theme for a container planting in an entryway or on a deck or patio where you do a lot of outdoor entertaining. There are lots of ways to create contrasts: by size, for instance, with one tall plant surrounded by carpeting and trailing plants, or with large leaves paired with tiny ones. Or, consider contrasting textures, such as spiky or grassy foliage with broad or lacy leaves or glossy leaves against fuzzy foliage. And then there are high-impact color contrasts, of course. This collection features rich reds and brilliant yellows, but there are plenty of other possibilities, such as blue or purple with orange or gold; or red, hot pink, or even black with white or silver.

The 5-Plant Palette



One 3- to 4-inch pot

ALTERNATES: MINIFAMOUS VAMPIRE ('Kleca09172') orSUPERBELLS POMEGRANATE PUNCH ('Uscal08501') calibrachoa, or another 4- to 6-inch-tall, semi-trailing plant with red flowers, such as 'Empress of India' nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) or SUN PARASOL GARDEN CRIMSON mandevilla (Mandevilla 'Sunparacore')


Salvia splendens

One 3- to 4-inch pot

ALTERNATES: 'Golden Delicious' pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) or another 2- to 3-foot-tall, upright plant with red or red-and-yellow flowers, such as 'Lucifer' canna (Canna), or with red or yellow foliage, such as BIG RED JUDY ('Uf06-40-01') or 'Redhead' coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)


Ipomoea batatas

One 3- to 4-inch pot

ALTERNATES: 'Compact Margie' or 'Sweet Caroline Light Green' sweet potato vine, or another 4- to 6-inch-tall, yellow-leaved or yellow-variegated trailing plant, such as golden hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica 'Aurea') or 'Walkabout Sunset' dense-flowered loosestrife (Lysimachia congestiflora)


Pentas lanceolata

One 3- to 4-inch pot

ALTERNATES: 'New Look Red' starflower or another 12- to 18-inch-tall, bushy plant with bright red blooms, such as SUNPATIENS COMPACT RED impatiens (Impatiens 'Sakimp024') or 'Gallery Singer' dahlia (Dahlia)


Lantana camara 'Balucgold'

One 3- to 4-inch pot

ALTERNATES: 'New Gold' lantana or another 6- to 12-inchtall, bushy plant with yellow flowers, such as 'Lemon Gem' signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia) or 'Profusion Yellow' zinnia (Zinnia)

Bold Contrast


SPRING. You'll get a hint of the colors to come right from planting time, thanks to the yellow leaves of the 'Goldfinger' sweet potato vine and the yellow-specked foliage of 'Dancing Flame' scarlet sage, as well as whatever blooms are just beginning to open on the 'Callie Bright Red' calibrachoa, 'Graffiti Bright Red' starflower, and LITTLE LUCKY POT OF GOLD lantana.

Don't be in a hurry to get this container started, because some of these bright beauties (especially the sweet potato vine) can be stunted by cold weather. It's best to wait until nighttime temperatures are consistently at least 55°F/13°C before planting them outdoors. After planting, water regularly to encourage steady growth.

EARLY TO MID SUMMER. As the weather heats up, so does the color impact of this container, with bright new blooms on the 'Callie Bright Red' calibrachoa, 'Graffiti Bright Red' starflower, and LITTLE LUCKY POT OF GOLD lantana. The 'Dancing Flame' scarlet sage may have a few flowers now, but it's mostly contributing flashy foliage, as is the 'Goldfinger' sweet potato vine.

Keep up with watering, and add a dose of liquid fertilizer every week or two to support the abundance of new growth and developing flowers.

MID TO LATE SUMMER. Rousing reds from the 'Callie Bright Red' calibrachoa and 'Graffiti Bright Red' starflower and glowing gold from LITTLE LUCKY POT OF GOLD lantana are radiating with richness at this time of year, complemented by the bright yellow leaves of the 'Goldfinger' sweet potato vine. Toward the end of the summer, new flowers start forming at the shoot tips of 'Dancing Flame' scarlet sage; until then, the brightly variegated leaves keep looking great.

Regular watering and fertilizing are critical for maintaining all of the lush growth and flowers now. Clip off the bloom clusters of the starflower and lantana as soon as all of the blossoms drop, to encourage the plant to branch out and make more flowers. The sweet potato vine may need a harder pruning if it gets too enthusiastic: cut the vines back by half or more if they're getting overly long.


Excerpted from "Container Theme Gardens"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Nancy J. Ondra.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Why Try Containers?
Nine Reasons to Try Containers
Basics of Container Gardening
Playing with Color
  Five-Part Harmony of Color
  Bold Contrast
  Pretty in Pastel
  Rich Reds
  Orange All Over
  Growing Sunshine
  Singin' the Blues
  Regal Purple
  Elegant Whites
  Sparkling Silvers
  Back to Black
Through the Seasons
  Spring Cheer
  All-Summer Color
  Autumn's Brilliance
  Winter Wonders
  Year-Round Interest
Location, Location, Location
  Made for Shade
  Beat the Heat
  Balcony Beauties
Designed to Attract
  Hummingbird Haven
  Butterfly Banquet
  Kid Attraction
Small Wonders
  A Mini Meadow
  Pond in a Pot
  Magic in Miniature
Fun and Colorful Edibles
  Salad on Deck
  Herbs on the Windowsill
  A Pot of Tea
  Bursting with Berries
Special Themes
  Just Right for Night
  Living Perfume
  Asian-Inspired Beauty
All about the Plants
  Annual Appeal
  Perennial Punch for Shade
  Tropical Sunset
  Lovely Leaves
All about the Container
  Terra-Cotta Charm
  The Versatile Plastic Pot
  Copper Beauty
  Cemented in Place
  Country Hardwood
  Eye-Catching Ceramic

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