Asia Scudder of Native Landscapes said the key elements are varying texture, color and height.
“Make sure they all have the same light requirements. That’s the one tricky thing,” she said. “Read the tag. They might make a good color combination, but not go well light-wise. And do a ‘background check’ — you may buy it in full bloom and it may only bloom once per season.”
Containers aren’t just terra cotta pots anymore, although those will do. Try finding recycled pieces, like bathtubs, sinks or watering cans.
“Having fun with pots is really important,” Scudder said.
For example, she advised taking a discarded wooden bureau drawer and lining it with plastic, then poking holes for drainage.
Kitchen garden containers might include cherry tomatoes, parsley, basil, peppers, sage, rosemary and oregano. Herbs and vegetables generally take a good dose of daily sun.
Strawberries also grow well in containers; some pots are marketed just for them. Find a sunny spot for the fruit.
Containers are also good to constrain more aggressive plants like mint, lemon balm, ivies and bamboo.
Scudder suggested maximizing visual impact by placing larger pots in the back, and smaller pots in front. Using evergreens surrounded by lower plants in a complementary color combination is also effective, like alyssum and petunias that drape nicely over the sides of pots.“The only thing with grasses is they kind of need to be pampered for the first four to six weeks,” she said. “At first, they’re pretty tender.”
Another possible combo is geraniums and ivies.
“I like to keep it simple,” she said. Scudder offered ideas for sealed water gardens that include a pump and water-loving plants like papyrus, water lilies, horsetail and cannas.
On the flip side, a container plant that uses little water is lantana, “a nice, full flowering plant, and it’s really tough,” she said.
Commercial gels can be bought in garden centers that can be mixed with potting soils to hold moisture and release it when the pot gets particularly dry. But the main thing is working on making successful combinations, then keeping track of what worked and what didn’t.
“Don’t be scared — just go for it,” Scudder said.