Container Gardens with Pizzazz | Midwest Living

Container Gardens with Pizzazz

Horticulturist Gail Estka considers containers an art form in her Illinois yard. See how she creates drama with tropical plants and trees as well as texture, foliage and color schemes.

Welcoming entrance

A welcoming committee of colorful blossoms and foliage flanks a side door. Pots brim with spineless yucca, croton, ageratum, marigolds and coleus; a hanging basket spills over with verbena ‘Bright Eyes’ and Wave petunias.

Air time

Metal orbs give air plants (bromeliads) an unexpected lift.

Tropical movement

Containers are ideal hosts for specimens that you normally wouldn’t plant in a Midwest garden, such as this tropical blood banana paired with trailing geraniums and scaevola.


Hang ups

Contain aggressive spreaders like creeping Jenny in pots and hanging baskets where the foliage adds lushness but is kept in bounds. 

Mass appeal

Grouped containers create a privacy screen for al fresco dining. 

Triple play

Follow this three-part plan for lush containers. Begin with a “thriller,” an upright star player such as this calla lily. Next, add in one or two complementary “fillers,” which can include foliage or flowering plants like lantana and geraniums. Finish with a “spiller”—in this case livingstone daisy ‘Mezoo Trailing Red’—that cascades over the edge. 

Upward bound

Trees add vertical interest to container gardens; here evergreen podocarpus teams with vinca and petunias. You can over-winter some trees, but often it's cheaper to pot a tree—even if it survives only one season—than to fill a container with annuals.

Shear style

Moss rose and corkscrew grass make for a whimsical updo. 

Cascading color

Green, yellow and blue create a soothing color scheme in this garden urn. Calla lily, coleus and duranta offer vertical interest; ageratum, lobelia and lantana fill the middle ground; and trailing creeping Jenny drapes down like Rapunzel’s locks to steal the show. 

Think big

Bamboo palm underplanted with calibrochoa helps create upward movement and visual interest. 

Sitting pretty

A long planter chock-full of flowers and foliage substitutes for a window box on a porch railing. ‘Goldilocks’ creeping Jenny, ‘Burlesque’ pigeon berry, Madagascar dragon tree, calibrochoa and coleus create a lush mix of upright and trailing plants.

Clever and carefree

Tuck a mix of succulents and moss into a trug on the patio table and water once a week. 

Tap into texture

The fleshy blue-green trailing stems of burro’s tail provide enough visual interest to stand alone in a small- or medium-size container. This succulent perennial offers pink to red flowers in summer. 

Bright spot

Versatile containers can easily be worked into a larger landscape to create a focal point or fill in a blank spot. Here, a glazed blue urn filled with petunias, coleus and lantana brightens up a corner of the garden. 

Solo appearance

Using just one plant in a container creates an uncluttered look that lets that specimen shine. Here, ‘Dragon Wing’ begonia‘s densely mounded form easily fills a 10-inch hanging basket and blooms continuously from May until frost. This shade-lover tolerates heat, especially if given sufficient water. 

Mass appeal

Large container groupings give the effect of a garden border at the front door. Plant choices include easy-growing geraniums, petunias, marigolds, creeping Jenny, sedum, coleus, ferns, grasses and croton.

More on container gardens

Click the links below for more container garden inspirations.

Add Your Comment