Container Gardening – Pops of Motivational Color in your Surroundings

Posted: March 10, 2015

For those who have been “holed up” inside this winter, an interesting slant on what color does for us can carry on through from the winter months into spring and summer.
Example of container gardening

Example of container gardening

 Did you know that surrounding ourselves with the color green promotes peace and harmony – a real solid argument for growing plants of all kinds, both inside and out!   Red promotes energy and vitality, orange – optimism and opportunity, blue – relaxation and tranquility, violet – self-worth and inspiration, and yellow – contentment!  So when choosing your favorite colors for planting, think about the benefits. Color influences our thoughts, our health and actions. More information on healing colors can be found in the book Healing Gardens.

Now, back to the basics of building your container gardens with a variety of plants for a variety of places – doorways, decks, and garden beds – of both the edible and ornamental types. There are many more combinations of plants than can be covered in this article, but I will share those ideas that “speak” to me for my own particular local garden design. Thousands of ideas can be found on a plethora of websites. 

A tried and true theory is often referred to as “thrill, fill and spill”.  This means of filling a container directs the gardener to use a medium height plant for the center that will fill the pot’s width. The spill is a plant that spills over the edge and brings the eye downward toward the bottom of the container. The thrill takes the eye up through the use of a tall plant placed near to the back or middle of the container.  The number of thrill, fill and spillers depends on the size of the pot. The contrasting and complementing colors are up to the gardener’s preferences. I choose a color scheme for the deck and another for gardens and then put them together at the nursery to determine the foundations for my plantings. I shop for weeks to find additions to this basic color scheme for the purpose of variety. It’s a journey.

There are a few go-to favorites for me from year-to-year: ferns in wire baskets lined with moss and planted with impatiens for a pop of color along the edge, canna bulbs that are late bloomers but can be moved around where needed in late summer, and small trees either by the front door or on the deck for something different than the standard potted containers filled with flowers.  
In addition to the wire baskets I hang on the side of the deck railing, I really like self-watering planters. They save daily watering when out-of-town for a few days and keep the plants evenly most too. One summer when I had a 10-day trip planned, I filled my deck planters with succulents and they barely missed me! Specialty nurseries and big box stores offer a wide variety of succulents that are making a comeback here in the Northeast for containers. Many of them are perennials in the South and West. 

A growing trend is to keep herbs in planters by the kitchen door for easy availability.  I have perennial herbs growing anywhere in the ground as ground cover – these include thyme and oregano. I have a pot of parsley, basil, thyme, and chives by the deck door so I can snip fresh herbs during the growing season. I love the idea of nasturtiums that bloom along with the herbs, the flower and leaf of which are edible.   I also have a sizeable container on the deck filled with a variety of mints for garnishing and cooking – the container does just that –it contains the invasiveness of the mint roots in my garden.
There are as many versions of containers as your imagine suggests. I take pictures wherever I go as a reminder of something I saw that is a new twist on my existing container practices. Sun exposure is a big part of successful container gardening. Putting shade plants in the sun is of no value.   By the heat of the summer they will shrivel. Consider exposure and read plant tags to be sure to match conditions. Move containers in and out of garden beds to put color where you need it as the summer unfolds.  

To ensure color throughout the spring and summer into fall, keep a few of the flowering plants in the small pots in which you purchased them. As they “fizzle” due to heat at the end of the summer, simply replace the pot of the “fizzled” plant with a new pot of the same size with fresh cool-weather blooms. Yes, gardening is a journey. Whether in the ground or in a container; shrubs, trees or foundation plantings, changing out plants as the seasons change will result in the look you want. Yes, it’ a journey!  

Penn State Extension is located in the Ag Center, 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325-3404, phone 717 334-6271.