Container garden design is a matter of personal style and preference. Some like their garden neat, others like them wild. You may prefer foliage, while your neighbour favours flowers. That’s part of the excitement – injecting your own style, making what you want, and arranging it whichever way you want.
While there are no hard and fast design rules, and creativity remains the foundation of your own container garden design, there are some general principles that can make your containers (and the garden as a whole) look better.
Sizing your containers is not only important in terms of care, but also in design. Plants in the wrong size pot – whether too big or too small – can look out of place. Balance sizing so your plants look healthy in their home, not weak and diminished. It is also possible to go too big. You don’t want your pot to be top-heavy or overflow from the sides. Keep the plant size around double the height and width of the pot at the most.
Colour can have a massive impact on the design of your containers. Widespread colour design principles used indoors apply here too. For a dramatic look, place contrasting colours (in pots and plants) next to each other. For a calmer, harmonious look, choose plants and pots with similar shades of the same colour. Don’t forget foliage when considering colour – flowers may not be around the entire year, but foliage often is and can add a pop of colour in off-seasons.
These principles don’t only apply to colour, they can also apply to the texture, size, and design of your pots. Contrasting textures in leaves and flowers add variety and interest. The same goes for the sizes of the leaves and flowers, or their density. For harmony and uniformity, choose plants with similar textures and sizes. You can also contrast the pot itself with the plants inside it. Use simple pots with flamboyant plants, artsy pots for simple plants, or keep the pot colours and textures uniform to highlight the plants themselves.
Before planting, consider arrangement within the pot and the wider garden. The first, and most important, factor to keep in mind is plant care. When placing plants in the same pot, they will be sharing sunlight, soil, and water, so it’s vital to ensure all these requirements are correctly matched. Never place two incompatible plants in the same pot – no matter how good they look together.
Matching plant’s needs within the same pot doesn’t have to be a headache though. It actually gives you an advantage in plant care. As the needs of each plant in the pot are the same or similar, they all require the same type of soil, the same sunlight levels, and the same watering levels. By creating your own soil mixes that suit the plants perfectly, placing the pot in the ideal sunny spot, and watering as needed, you’ll cut down your care time and make it all the more likely that your plants will thrive.
After care, comes design and placement of the plants within the pot. The tallest plant in your pot should ideally go in the centre or at the ‘back’ if the pot is placed in a corner to form a focal point. Surround the centre plant with smaller, complimentary plants called fillers. The edges of a pot are ideal for trailing plants, as if they are spilling out of the pot. Trailing plants also make a good cover for any unsightly marks on containers. It comes down to three fundamentals: thriller, filler, and spiller.
When arranging your pots, apply the ‘Rule of Three’ by grouping pots of different heights together. Add one or two tall plants (trees are ideal) to ensure the garden does not appear one dimensional. Group plants of different types – flowers and foliage, or shrubs and succulents – to add variety.