Through the garden gate — Iconoclastic container plantings

Published 10:51 am Friday, May 13, 2022

Now that warm weather is definitely here to stay, it’s time to prepare new container plantings for the front porch, by the pool, at the end of the sidewalk, and any other place that needs an exclamation point of color and texture. Like many gardeners, I usually follow the guidelines of including a thriller, a filler, and a spiller in my containers. This year, however, I’ve decided to try something different – only one species and color per pot. Does it sound boring? It won’t be, I promise.

I’ve been dreaming about the colorful display of pots by the front porch at Great Dixter. It’s always a cheerful exclamation point to whatever grayness there is in the surrounding world. The pots themselves are rather ordinary, just regular terra cotta, with some relatively tall, others short and flat, and then a mix of every size imaginable. They’re arranged in varying heights and with only a token amount of symmetry for the plants on either side of the steps up to the porch.

The plants in the pots at Great Dixter get changed as spring morphs into summer and blooms pass their peak. The colors can be intense, but are usually counter balanced by a cluster of pots filled with softer shades of the color.

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While I don’t have the budget or the gardening staff that Great Dixter has, I can take some of the core ideas and apply them to the arrangement of pots on my front porch. So…this year there won’t be any mixed pots with a little of everything and there won’t be so much variety in my choices. I’m thinking this is the year of the geranium, an odd choice since I probably haven’t planted any in over 30 years. But… I’ve found some with intensely orange blooms, so bright that they just might glow in the dark. I’m going to fill about half of my containers with just these geraniums and then fill the others with dahlias and something green. I might plant shishito peppers and basil in some of the pots. With the intensity of the geraniums, I don’t need other plants that compete, just a background.

And if this idea doesn’t work as well here as at Great Dixter, then I’ll just modify the plantings in the pots around midsummer. That’s the good thing about container plantings. It’s easy to change them according to whim or the season. It’s a good year to be daring, to break with conventional wisdom, and try something different. Let’s be brave, daring gardeners.

Dr. Cynthia Wood is a master gardener. Her email address is