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Garden Topics: Design Ideas

Design Principles For Container Gardens

In its simplest form, garden containers is easily created by just by selecting a few plants that catch your eye, but if your goal is to add a little more sophistication and beauty, you may want to keep the following design principles in mind.  


Place the focus of your creation below the tallest point to achieve balance. To do this you may want to use large, coarse, or bright colored plant material in that area.  

Balance a feeling of stability. 

Symmetrical balance is equal, almost identical elements on each side of a central axis, with the highest point over the center. Asymmetrical balance exists when the two sides of the central axis are not mirror images but have the same visual weight.  

Foliage Color 

All leaves are not green, nor are the green ones the all the same shade of green.  In addition to green, foliage color exists in many variations of blue, yellow, silver, purple, bronze and chartreuse. Variegated leaves, those that contain more than one color, provide a focal point or add an interesting counter point to the other solid colored leaves.  


Vary the form of the plant material you choose; use tall linear species to add height; mounded species to add mass; and low growing, cascading species to fill in, add depth, and soften the edges of the container. We call this technique the "thriller, spiller, and filler" method. The "thriller" is your vertical accent. The "spillers" are plants that cascades over the pot and anchors it to the container. The "fillers" ties both together to create a more professional look and feel. Be aware that too many plants of similar form placed next to one another, can make a boring design.  


'Leaf Size and Form'. Use a mix of plants with coarse, medium, and fine textured leaves. Three to five species will achieve an assortment of forms and textures. In the picture to the left, note the pleasing use of plants with leaves of various sizes, shape and foliage color. Consider shapes such as, grassy, sword-like leaves; broad, rounded leaves; and lacy, fernlike leaves.  


Repeat color at regular intervals around the outside of a round container or along the length of a long rectangular container. Repeat color in several containers to "tie" them together. The graceful lines of plant leaves can add flow and rhythm. Note the example below, note that the same pink coleus was planted in all three containers.      

Plant Selection

We have previously discussed choosing plants plant with texture and form in mind; another recommendation is to include a non- flowering foliage plant in your combination. By doing this, your palette of available plants greatly widens. An even more important reason to include foliage plants is that they provide a constant presence of color that helps keep the arrangement attractive when the bloom cycle of flowering plants slows.  


Use larger growing plants in larger containers, and smaller plants in small containers. Rule of thumb is the height of the tallest plant should not exceed 1x-2x the height of the container excluding pedestals and "air-fairy" sprigs. In asymmetrical it is often best to use odd numbers: one, three, five or seven plants of each cultivar.

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